posted @ 5:05 am in [ Snake & Freaky John Novel ]

Saul Hersch awoke a little after one in the morning. He rose from his bed and used the toilet. Washing his hands at the sink, his eyes lit on a little pot of lip balm on the vanity top. Helena liked that particular style of lip balm, he remembered. It smelled of rose hips and ginger and made her lips shiny.

Mr. Hersch smiled at the thought of his daughter. Such a good girl. She’d married a doctor, of course, and she lived in Princeton, near her mother, but she drove up once or twice a month to visit with her old dad, and they’d go to Boston Chicken (a place he enjoyed but wasn’t too expensive—Mr. Hersch did not like the idea of his daughter spending money on him when she could be saving it for potential grandchildren) and out to a movie, or sometimes they would take a walk around Pavonia Newport Mall. The drive from Princeton took an hour, so Helena usually left in the evening, although sometimes she stayed overnight. When Helena slept over, Mr. Hersch liked to surprise her by taking her out to the International House of Pancakes for breakfast in the morning as a treat. After so many years, Helena probably wasn’t surprised by the IHOP trip anymore—how could she be?—but she was a good sport and always acted as though it was unexpected.

Mr. Hersch missed his daughter. She had her job in Princeton, of course, he understood that. Princeton had been her other home for most of her life, since her mother moved there to marry a physicist after the divorce. Helena was just thirteen then. It was hard to believe she was in her forties now. Time marches on, after all.

Walking back to bed, Mr. Hersch noticed that the door to the spare bedroom was closed, as it always was when Helena wasn’t there.

How strange. Hadn’t she come to visit earlier that day? She had planned to stay for a while, hadn’t she? Mr. Hersch opened the spare bedroom door. The bed was still made. Oh, dear. She’d returned to Princeton, and he hadn’t even remembered. Oh, curse this dreadful aging process! He went back to the bathroom. Yes, she’d certainly left her lip balm. He picked it up and ran his fingertips over the container. He wasn’t imagining it. It was real. She had been here.

What if she needed the lip balm? He’d never purchased it, but it looked expensive. It probably wasn’t easy to get on a Sunday. Many stores were closed on Sunday. Poor Helena might be looking all over for this, when he had it right here. She could hardly be expected to drive all the way back to Hoboken for the balm.

Very well. If Mohammed could not go to the mountain, the mountain would go to Mohammed.

Mr. Hersch retrieved his wallet and his keys from the dresser in his bedroom. He donned his brown bathrobe and tied it around his waist, putting the pot of lip balm into his pocket. On his way out of the building, he considered tapping at Jonathan’s door, but there was no reason to wake him. Let the poor boy sleep.

Outside, the street was deserted. Mr. Hersch walked to the end of the block and turned toward the park. A taxicab was cruising slowly down the avenue. When Mr. Hersch waved, the taxicab pulled over and waited.

“Could you drive me to Princeton, please?”

The driver, a dark-haired man of about fifty, shrugged. “Hop in.”

“Thank you.” Mr. Hersch settled into the back seat and took the pot of lip balm from his pocket to show it to the driver. “I have to go to Princeton, you see, because my daughter forgot her lip balm.”

The driver eased out from the curb and made the turn around the park. “What’s in it?”

“Lip balm.”

“You don’t just go running off in the middle of the night because somebody forgot their chapstick.”

“Is it the middle of the night?”

The driver stared at Mr. Hersch in the rear-view mirror. “It’s one-thirty a.m.! What’s your daughter doing at one-thirty in the morning that she’s gonna need chapstick for?”

“One-thirty! I thought it was later in the morning than that.”

“She a hooker?”

“Beg pardon?”

“Never mind.”

“Helena’s a good girl. Married, of course. His name is Grant. He’s a neurologist.”

“Your daughter’s married to a brain surgeon?”

“Oh, no, not a brain surgeon. The other kind of neurologist. Very nice young man. He works very hard, you know. And she’s got her doctorate in special education, or something like that.”

The driver shook his head. “I wish your daughter would talk to my daughter. My daughter’s boyfriend is not very nice. A bum. You always want the best for your children. This boy is not the best, not by a long shot.”

“I want grandchildren. And I want Helena to move up here. I have Jonathan, of course, but I feel so alone sometimes.”

“Without family, what do you have? Nothing,” the driver replied, answering himself. “Family is everything.”

“I’ve always felt that way. Now I’ve outlived just about everyone but my daughter and my ex-wife. If only Helena would have a child.”

“You love her very much. Taking a taxi all the way to Princeton in the middle of the night.”

Mr. Hersch smiled. These were his last years. As clouded as his mind might be, he was aware of his frailty. Sylvia, Helena’s mother, was much younger, in her late sixties. Sylvia would outlive Saul by a good twenty years. Why couldn’t Helena and Grant move up to Hoboken? Why couldn’t his family be near him for however long he had left? He loved Jonathan, of course, like a son, but Helena…

“Sir? Are you crying?”

Mr. Hersch wiped at his eyes. “How long to Princeton?”

“No traffic. Maybe forty minutes.” The driver glanced up at his mirror. “Are you all right?”

“I’ll be better once I’m with Helena. It’s funny. I used to be the one she looked up to. Now I go to her for solace.”

“The way of the world, my friend.”

Mr. Hersch removed the lip balm from his pocket and looked at it. There was some writing on the bottom. Squinting in the glow of a streetlight, he could now make out that the cosmetic had been purchased at a large chain drug store, open seven days a week. What a foolish old man he was! He remembered his worry and concern when he’d found the little pot in the bathroom. He hadn’t been as lucid then as now. The periods of vagueness appeared to come and go. The result was that Saul Hersch questioned his every thought, whenever he had the clarity to do so. Certain times he questioned more than others, he thought wryly. Ah, well. He would arrive at Helena’s doorstep in his pajamas and bathrobe, bearing lip balm on this midnight errand of mercy, and his daughter would open the door and look upon him with pity in her eyes. She would thank him for the lip balm, of course, and act as though everything were fine. He, too, would act as though everything were fine. She would find him there, and he would say, “Hi. It’s me,” and she would reply, “Hi, Me,” just as they had for over thirty years, and they would pretend that nothing was awry. And then he would silently cry himself to sleep in the spare bedroom of Grant Spitznaugel and Helena Hersch-Spitznaugel’s home.

The spare bedroom had very comfortable pillows, he remembered. Big and soft, they contoured to fit the sleeper’s head, aiding posture. Very comfortable, he yawned to himself, warm and…

“Sir? Sir?”

Mr. Hersch blinked. He was in the back of a car. A taxicab. How had he gotten there?

“We’re here, sir. You fell asleep.”

Where? Mr. Hersch leaned forward to look out the window. A familiar house—a big, rambling two-story with a fountain in the front garden. “This looks like Helena’s.”

“Do you want me to go ring the bell for you?”

Mr. Hersch felt in his pocket. “No, I have a key. Thank you for driving me. How much?”

They settled the tab, Mr. Hersch tipped him, and the driver waited until Mr. Hersch had unlocked his way into his daughter’s house before pulling away.

Grant had installed a touch-pad alarm system, but he and Helena had accidentally set it off so many times that the police stopped coming for the alarms. While the house was equipped with intimidating-looking security, all Mr. Hersch needed was a key to get in.

No reason to wake poor Helena. Mr. Hersch knew where the spare bedroom was, and he could take a train back in the morning. Why had he come here, anyway? He didn’t think Helena was expecting him. Then again, perhaps she was. Mr. Hersch made his way to the master bedroom and tapped softly at the door.

There was no answer. Were Helena and Grant even home?

Mr. Hersch eased the door open and peered inside. Two heads, close together, on the pillows. Ah. They were asleep. Better not to disturb them, then. He closed the door and shuffled off to the spare bedroom and its contoured pillows.

Where he could not sleep. The bed was firm and supportive, the pillows as luxurious as he remembered, but slumber eluded him. After an hour or so of tossing and turning, Mr. Hersch got up from the bed and went back downstairs to the den.

Grant had a big-screen television in the den. Mr. Hersch had some trouble operating the remote control, but eventually he found a documentary channel with an interesting program about penguins. It was quite interesting, though he had to leave the sound very low in order not to wake his daughter and her husband.

He dozed intermittently. Drowsing was easier in the recliner than in the bed, for some reason.

At seven, Mr. Hersch got up and made coffee. This was not as complicated as it sounded. The coffee machine was a sleek, tall cylinder of chrome that was always set up the night before. All one had to do was switch it on. Mr. Hersch was primarily a tea drinker, but coffee was a pleasant change from the ordinary, and Helena’s coffee gadget made a cracking pot of coffee. Mr. Hersch found a container of half-and-half in the refrigerator and sugar in a stainless steel canister on the countertop. Delicious!

Coffee in hand, Mr. Hersch returned to the den and a particularly nice program about the history of flea circuses. Not long afterward, he heard someone padding into the kitchen. “Morning!” he sang out, not wanting to alarm Helena and Grant. “It’s me!”

No one replied, “Hi, Me.”

Peculiar. This was Helena’s house, was it not? Of course it was. He had let himself in with the key, he had seen them sleeping in their bed. There on the shelf was their framed wedding picture—well! It lay face-down on the shelf. He must have accidentally knocked it over at some point. Mr. Hersch righted the photograph and made his way into the kitchen. The kitchen was empty. He heard footsteps scrambling up the stairs.

Mr. Hersch made his way to the foot of the staircase. “Helena? Grant? It’s all right! Only me.”

Grant came down the stairs, tying his robe. “Hello, Dad. Did you come back during the night?”

“Yes. I made coffee. If you don’t mind, I’d like to take you kids out to IHOP. Wouldn’t that be nice?”

“Sorry, Dad, I don’t think that would be a good idea. Where’s Helena?”

“Haven’t seen her yet this morning. Took a taxi last night to bring her this.” He held out the pot of lip balm. “I hope I didn’t shock you kids by turning up like this.”

Grant took the little pot and studied it carefully. “Did Helena come with you?”

“No, as I said, I haven’t seen her.” Something about this didn’t feel right. “Would you like some coffee?”

“Sure. Why don’t you make me a cup. I’m going to make a phone call.”

“At this hour? Well, I suppose you doctors are used to telephoning people at all sorts of crazy hours. You go on, Grant. I’ll fix your coffee right up.”

Grant left the room, returning a few minutes later.

“I couldn’t remember if you preferred milk or half-and-half, so I took a chance and used the creamer. Plenty of sugar, and I added some nutmeg from the spice rack. This coffee will knock your socks off.” Mr. Hersch laughed. “We used to say that, back when I was younger. ‘Knock your socks off,’ and ‘swell.’ Now I expect I sound as old as the hills, talking like this to you.”

Grant accepted the coffee.

“Try it.”

Without a word, Grant sipped the coffee.

“Is it all right? I can make you another if you don’t like it. Too much sugar, maybe?”

His son-in-law set the cup down on the counter. “Dad, who just answered the phone at your house?”

“Beg your pardon?”

“I called there just now, and a man answered. Who was it?”

“Oh, dear. Jonathan, perhaps. I didn’t tell him I was leaving. I should call him. He’ll be wanting me to take my pills. I hope he’s not upset.”

“It wasn’t your friend Jonathan. I’ve heard his voice before.”

“Perhaps you dialed a wrong number.”

“I used the speed dial.”

“A crossed wire, perhaps. I don’t know. I don’t understand telephones nowadays, with the satellites and digital gizmos and all. Try again.”

“I did.”

“Well, did you ask the gentleman who he was?”

“Helena’s not answering her cell phone, either.”

“Why are you calling her cell phone?”

“Where’s Helena, Dad? Did she come with you?”

“Heavens, no. She is here,” Mr. Hersch replied. “I may be getting on, but I am certain that my daughter is here.”

“She’s not here.”

“Then whom did I hear in the kitchen before you came downstairs?”

Grant colored slightly. “You must have imagined it.”

“When I came in last night, I looked in on you both. Helena is here.”

Grant took a long sip of coffee and smacked his lips. “Tell you what, Saul. You get dressed and meet me out by the garage. We’re going to drive back up to Hoboken.”

“I didn’t bring any clothes, I’m afraid.”

A raised eyebrow. “You came in your nightclothes?”

Mr. Hersch shifted on his feet. “I’m afraid I did.”

“Well. You finish up your coffee, then, and I’ll throw on some jeans, and we’ll drive up to Hoboken together.”

“Why? I just got here. Let’s make a day of it. We’ll all go to IHOP. I’ll pay, of course—”

“Oh, that sweetens the deal.”

“Don’t be snippy. We’ll go to IHOP, and then perhaps the museum. Princeton has such a lovely history—why, did you know that Grover Cleveland lived here?”

“Saul, there’s a strange man in your apartment. Helena’s not answering her phone. I’m very concerned about your daughter. Do you understand that?”

“Oh, dear. Are you saying she could be in trouble?”

Grant barked an angry laugh. “There’s trouble, all right.”

“Oh.” Mr. Hersch considered this. Perhaps he wasn’t as lucid as he thought. “But you’ll put everything right, won’t you?”

Grant set his jaw. “I’ll get to the bottom of this, one way or another. You’d better believe it. Get in the car, Saul. We’re taking you home.”

Mr. Hersch’s eyes lit up. “And we can stop for pancakes on the way!”

They didn’t.

Copyright 2006 Amy Frushour Kelly. All rights reserved.

Reproduction by any means prohibited without prior written consent.

posted @ 9:01 pm in [ SPASMS ]

We picked him up at a general store at the junction of two county roads somewhere in southern Indiana.

I don’t know how old he was. Mid twenties, perhaps. Ages are hard to guess when you’re a child. He approached us as we left the store. “Where you headed?”

“North,” Dad replied. “Why?”

“Been hitching since yesterday. Got to get to Elbert tonight. Buy you a tank of gas if you’ll take me.”

Mom shrugged. Dad grinned. “Okay. I’m John, this is my wife Helen and our daughter Audrey.” The hitchhiker nodded a greeting, and we were on our way.

He wasn’t much for talking. We sat at opposite ends of the back seat, leaning against our respective doors with his guitar between us. He had long brown hair and a faded denim vest with fringe. After a while, he slipped off his sandals and examined his feet. Without warning, he drew a knife from his pocket and began cutting the calluses from his soles.

“Doesn’t that hurt?” I whispered.

He shook his head. “Dead skin. See?” He stabbed at his heel. “Nothing.”

That was it for conversation for a while. My mother dozed in the front seat and my father listened to a baseball game on the radio. The hitchhiker continued cutting away dead flesh on the seat beside me.

We stopped for lunch by the side of the road. We sat on a blanket under a shady tree, eating sandwiches and potato chips. Dad took a cat-nap and Mom lay next to him with a paperback.

The hitchhiker picked up his guitar and strummed softly. I didn’t recognize the words, but he had a surprisingly sweet voice. He smiled when I began to sing along with the chorus: “Better run for your life if you can, little girl…”

“Trespassers!” The farmer had snuck up from behind us. He had a shotgun. “You’re on my property!”

My parents bolted upright. The hitchhiker stopped mid-strum.

“I’m sorry, we didn’t realize,” said my father. “No harm done. We’ll clean up and be on our way.”

The farmer smiled unpleasantly. “That’s up to me. And I say nobody’s leaving until I get a kiss from the young lady.”

My mother paled. Dad put his arm around her. “Call the police if you want to, but you’re not touching my wife.”

The shotgun made a nasty sound being cocked. “Your daughter, then.”

I screamed.

The barrel swung toward my nose, then suddenly upwards as the hitchhiker held his knife to the farmer’s throat. He’d snuck around behind him, just as he’d done to us.

“Drop it,” he said through clenched teeth.

The hitchhiker tossed the shotgun into a lake a few miles up the road and we continued on our journey. As before, he wasn’t much of one for conversation.

We dropped him in Elbert, as planned.

Never saw him again.

Copyright 2005 Amy Frushour Kelly. All rights reserved.
Reproduction by any means prohibited without prior written consent.

SNAKE & FREAKY JOHN – rough chapter 1
posted @ 8:45 pm in [ Snake & Freaky John Novel ]

“Course, fuckin’ spinach didn’t exist before Popeye came along,” Snake declared, pausing to fire up a bud. “After the cartoons came out, kids all over are clamoring for spinach, but it’s just a joke they made up, like Soylent Green, so they fuckin’ genetically engineered it.”

Freaky John took a toke himself and swallowed the smoke. “No fucking way.”

“Way, dude. Why do you think it tastes so bad?”

Freak acknowledged that this was true. “But dude, lots of shit tastes like shit. Fuckin’ liver, for instance.”

Snake sat up, offended. “Motherfuck! You don’t like liver?”

“Fuck, no!”

“How the fuck can you not like liver? It’s like, fuck, it’s like—nature’s perfect food!”

“It tastes like shit,” Freak enunciated.

“Dude, you’re just gonna sit there telling me you don’t fuckin’ like liver and onions?”

Freak blew a smoke ring. “Shit and onions.”

“But…” Words failed. “You’d like it if I made it.”

“No fuckin’way.”


“No,” Freak repeated, slowly. “I. Do not. Like liver.”

Suddenly Snake was on his feet. “Up! Get up, fuckface.”

Freak looked suspicious. “Why?”

“I’ll tell you why, moron. We’re gonna go out, we’re gonna pick up some fuckin’ liver and onions, I’m gonna fuckin’ cook it for you, and you’re gonna sit there and eat every bite and you’re gonna fucking love it, that’s why! Now get off your ass, we’re going to Food Town!”

Freaky John crossed his arms over his chest. “I’m not going to fuckin’ Food Town.”

“You’re going to fuckin’ Food Town.”

Freak glared. “You got any money to pay for the liver?”

“Need I remind you, asshole, I am the wheels of this fuckin’ operation. I pay for the gas, car insurance, license, registration, fuckin’ inspections, windshield wiper fluid—”

“I’m not going to Food Town!”

“—oil changes, hubcap fees, parking tickets, speeding tickets—”


“Are you listening to me?”

Freak cupped a hand to his ear. “What?”

“Fuckin’ retard.” Snake took a deep hit to calm himself down.

“Hey, man, pass the bud,” Freak protested.

“Fuck you,” Snake replied, charitably. He went over to the window and looked out at the street. It rained earlier that night. Now the streetlights made funny-colored reflections on the wet pavement. He leaned his forehead against the cool glass and finished the joint. “There’s liver in White Castle burgers, y’know.”

“Is not.” The Freakster stretched out a toe to hit the button on the remote control. The TV glowed to life. “News is on.”

Snake was back on the couch. “That anchor lady’s hot. I tell you about that dream I had?”

“The one where she’s a nun?”

“Yeah, I guess I did.”

“Only every night this week, man,” Freak giggled.

“Dude, nuns are hot.”

“Fuck!” Freak sat up and looked at the television. “Is that Margaret?”

Snake leaned forward and squinted. “Yeah, it is. See, the thing about nuns is—”

“Dude, what the fuck is Margaret doing on the ten o’clock news?”

“Freak, we’re talking about nuns here, okay? Don’t change the subject, it’s rude.”

“Shut up, I’m trying to hear.”

“Why? She’s right next door. You can listen to Margaret anytime.”

“Aw, fuck, it’s over now. You can’t shut the fuck up for three fucking seconds? Three fucking seconds? Cause that’s all I asked, was three fucking seconds.”

Snake opened his mouth to reply, closed it, looked down at his watch, counted to three, and looked up again. “Obviously.”

Freak pushed himself up from the couch and reached around in his shorts for his keys. “I’m going next door, see what’s up with Margaret.”

Snake bounced up and straightened his biker vest. “She’s fine. Unless she’s, like, dead or something.”

“That’s why we gotta find out. Although it’s a win-win situation either way.”

Snake lifted an eyebrow. “Because…?”

“If she’s alive, we can still get in through her kitchen window if we run out of food, and if she’s dead, then she can’t complain about the stereo.”

“Well, what are we waiting for?” Snake pulled the door open. “After you, sir.”

Freak slipped into his sandals, went out into the hall and banged on Margaret’s door. “Yo! Margaret! Open up!”

No answer.

Snake took his turn. “Yo, Superstar! We saw you on TV! You looked hot!”

The apartment was silent.

Freak tried again. “Margaret! The building’s on fire! We gotta get out!”

The door across the hall opened and elderly Mr. Hersch peered out. “The building’s on fire, you say?”

“Not really,” Freak answered. “We’re just saying that to get Margaret to come out.”

“Certainly she should come out if the building is on fire,” Mr. Hersch replied sensibly. “You’re good boys.”

Snake shook his head. “The building’s not on fire, idiot, we’re just trying to get Margaret to come out.”

Mr. Hersch blinked. “If the building’s not on fire, then what is on fire?”

“I dunno, your pants?”

The old man gasped. “My pants are on fire? Jonathan, is this true?”

Freaky John patted Mr. Hersch on the arm. “No, it’s all a joke. There’s no fire, and the aliens haven’t landed, either.”


Snake pointed over Mr. Hersch’s shoulder. “Yeah, aliens! Look, there’s one down the hall! I think he’s the one that set the fire!”

Mr. Hersch blanched. “Really?”

Freak rolled his head back and belched. “No.”

The old man set his jaw. “Make a run for it, boys! I’ll stand guard! No alien bastard is going to set fire to this building on my watch!”

“You do that, Mr. Hersch.” Freak looked at Snake. “You hungry?”

“Yeah.” Snake patted his stomach. “I got a craving for liver and onions.”

Freak was already heading down the stairwell. “Dude, I’m not eating liver and onions.”

“Your mouth says no, but your eyes say yes.”

“Fuck you.”

“No, thanks.”


Snake flicked his tongue out and made devil horns, which settled the argument.

Outside, the night was warm and sticky. Freak and Snake stood around for a minute, looking around the street.

Freak was the first to speak. “Dude, where we going?”

Snake tossed back his hair nonchalantly. “Food Town.”

“I told you, no fuckin’ liver and onions.”

“You think that’s all they sell, turd-brain? A whole motherfucking supermarket and they don’t sell anything but liver and onions?”

Freak nodded toward a black 1986 Monte Carlo with a three-foot cobra decal on the hood. “Walking or driving?”

Snake hesitated, stroking his goatee. “Snakemobile’s low on gas.”

“Dude, it’s two blocks.”

“Snakemobile is fuckin’ low on gas.”

“Unbelievable.” They turned and started walking. Freak pulled a joint from the pocket of his shorts and fired it up. After a nice deep hit, he passed the bud and shrugged. “How low is low?”


Freak nodded sagely. “What about kiwis?”

Snake took another hit and coughed. “What about ‘em?”

“They taste like fucking shit, man. Were those genetically engineered too?”

“I don’t see why not. Fuck, man, that makes sense. Kiwi probably stands for something, like a homonym or shit.”


“Homonym. It’s where you got the first letters of a name and it makes a word. Like ‘Kleenex.’”

“Fuck, really? What does Kleenex stand for?”

“Shit, I think it’s the Klu Kux Klan or some shit.”

Freak stared. “The KKK invented Kleenex?”

“Sure. You see, back in the day, on off days when they weren’t wearing those white hoods and the hoods were just sitting in a fuckin’ closet or something, when one of the KKK guys had a cold, what do you think they blew their nose on?”

“You’re fucking kidding.”

“No joke.”


“See, that’s why a true American always picks his nose.”

Freak was skeptical. “Why not just use toilet paper?”

Snake shrugged. “Sure, you can do that. That’s what the French do.”

“The French are cool. They make the best fuckin’ toast I ever ate.” Freaky John grabbed Snake’s arm. “Dude! Let’s get toast!”

“They sell toast at Food Town? You don’t have to make it anymore?”

“Fuck, they genetically engineer the fuckin’ vegetables, they can probably manage toast.”

Snake looked admiringly at his friend. “Now, that’s fuckin’ logic. You learn that in law school, too?”

The electric door of the supermarket opened before them. Inside, Food Town was awash with bright fluorescents and air conditioning. An older woman wearing a green Food Town tunic was stocking a pyramid of cans of tomato sauce on a table. Snake thumped her shoulder. “Dude, where’s the toast?”

She glared. “I’m not a dude.”

Snake scoffed. “I can see that, but that’s not what I asked.”

“We don’t sell toast, dude. You have to buy the bread and make it yourself.”

The weed was really starting to hit. Freak shook his head and tried to remember something important and logical about genetic engineering. He’d just had a thought about that a minute ago… “What about kiwis?” he asked importantly.

“Produce aisle. And stop coming in here smelling like marijuana. You guys should be ashamed of yourselves.”

Snake swept his mane back magnificently. “Bet your liver tastes terrible.”

She ignored this. “Liver is in Meats, next to the tripe.”

Freakster remembered something. “Fuck, I left the TV on!”

“Do you have to curse?”

“What about ice cream? Dude, you got ice cream?”

The woman scowled at Snake. “I told you, I’m not a dude.”

“Not you, him! Freak, you got any ice cream?”

“Aisle fifteen, dairy.”

“Don’t interrupt, it’s rude,” Snake chided.

“No, I don’t have ice cream…what?”

Snake had Freaky John by the arm, propelling him toward the left side of the store. “Cherry Garcia time, baby.”

“I’m sure I left the TV on.”

“That’s not what’s important right now.”

“I’m pretty sure it is.”

“No, it’s not.”

“What are we talking about again?”

Snake squeezed Freak’s shoulder reassuringly. “You’re freaking out, man. Let’s get some ice cream and cool you down. Look, there’s Margaret.”

Freak’s eyes vaguely focused on an attractive woman about his own age, with dark-rimmed glasses and straight brown hair, selecting a tub of Haagen Dazs from the cooler. “Yo, Margaret. We just saw you on TV.”

His next-door neighbor burst into tears. “It’s on the news?”

Freak patted her arm awkwardly. “Don’t cry, Margaret. I mean, I’m sad I left the TV on, too, but it’s no reason to cry.”

“It’s not bad enough I lose my job, but do they have to put it on the news, too? What did they say? Do they think I did it?”

Snake laughed. “You had a job? Fuck, man, jobs are for losers. You’re better off without one, you ask me.”

Margaret’s shoulders sagged. “Shockingly, this doesn’t make me feel any better.”

Freak struggled to clear his head. “Why were you on the news?”

“I don’t want to talk about it here. Let’s go home, and I can tell you about it in private.”

“Fuck, being unemployed is the best thing that ever happened to me,” Snake added encouragingly. “Sleep in, go where I want, get paid for doing frigging nothing. Shit, everybody should do it.”

Margaret blinked. “Why do I even talk to you people?”

Freaky John grabbed a random tub of ice cream and headed toward the checkout. “I got what I want. Let’s get out of here.”

Snake excavated something from his nose. “So why’d you get fired, anyway?”

She sighed and followed Freak toward the cashier. “I told you, we can talk about it when we get back to the building.”

Snake was walking with her. “Did you sit on the copier? Cause I’d want copies of that.”


“Did you get caught fucking in the break room?”


“No? Well, fuck, you didn’t steal anything, did you?”

Margaret stopped in her tracks, tears shining on her cheeks. “Shut up, okay? I’ve had a bad enough day as it is. Now that I’ve lost my job, I shouldn’t even be spending money on this.” She looked down at the carton of ice cream in her hands.

Snake took the ice cream and plunked it on the counter next to Freak’s. “We’ve got it. Don’t sweat it, hot stuff.”

Freak patted his pockets. “Fuck. Snake, you got any money?”

“Oh, now I have to pay for everything?”

“Dude, I forgot my wallet! I’ll pay you when we get back.”

“Did you check your boxers?”

Freak unzipped the fly of his shorts and reached around inside. His face brightened as he pulled out a crumpled twenty. “Hey! Good call!”

Margaret wrinkled her nose. “You guys keep your money in your underwear?”

“Hell, no.” Snake adjusted the leather belt over his jeans. “I go commando.”

“Jesus Christ.”

Outside, Margaret shivered. “Funny how getting back into the heat makes you realize how cold it was in there.”

Freak stared. “That makes no fuckin’ sense whatsoever.”

Snake stroked his goatee wisely. “When you look at it logistically, it makes total fuckin’ sense. It’s all about the differential of the square root of the thermometer and shit.”

“I have no fuckin’ idea what you just said.”

“Me either,” said Margaret. “Let’s just enjoy the silence till we get back, okay?”

Freak nodded. “Okay.”

“Silence is golden,” Snake declared. “Silent night, right? Right?”

They reached the building door. Margaret took care of the lock while Freak held the grocery bag. Snake stood around for moral support.

Freak stepped aside to let Margaret up the stairwell first. “After you.”

“Thanks.” They reached the top of the stairs and turned the corner.

And were met by an icy blast of foam.

“Ha! Think you can just come down in your spaceships and set fire to my hallway? Well, you can take your UFOs and go right back where you came from!”

Margaret screamed and ran back down the stairwell. Freak slipped on the foam and fell on his ass. Snake wrestled the fire extinguisher from Mr. Hersch. “Fuck, who let you have one of these?”

“Oh, Jonathan, Snake, is that you? I beg your pardon, dear boys, I thought you were aliens. Oh, well, honest mistake.” Mr. Hersch smiled pleasantly at Freak, Snake and Margaret, who was peering around the corner. “Would you like to come in for a cookie?”

Copyright 2006 Amy Frushour Kelly. All rights reserved.

Reproduction by any means prohibited without prior written consent.

posted @ 5:41 pm in [ SPASMS ]

Sally looked up from the check she was writing. “What’s today’s date?”

“The fifteenth.”

“Already?” She scribbled the date emphatically. “I’m going to be married in three weeks!”

Jay nodded while the cashier processed the check. “Time flies, huh?”

She beamed up at him. “Not fast enough!”

“Here’s your receipt. Thank you for shopping at A&P,” interjected the cashier.

Jay took the grocery bags and followed her out to the parking lot. Sally used the remote to open the trunk. “I get the chills every time I think about it. Good chills,” she added.

“Good for you.” Jay placed the groceries in the trunk and straightened up.

“Being widowed is the best thing that ever happened to me!”

He stared in disbelief. “What?”

“Well—I mean—I’ve finally met the love of my life. You know?”

Jay lowered his eyes and closed the trunk. “Get in the car, Mom.”

Copyright 2005 Amy Frushour Kelly. All rights reserved.
Reproduction by any means prohibited without prior written consent.

posted @ 4:21 am in [ halloween -SPASMS ]

This is my favorite Halloween story, which I post every year at this time. (Its companion piece will be posted tomorrow.) 

Happy Halloween, folks.

xo, Amy


Gene was washing the dishes when he heard someone at the door.

A kid dressed as a wizard held out a pillowcase. “Tricker treat.”

Halloween already? Gene didn’t have any candy in the house. “Just a second. Be right back.”

He closed the door most of the way and looked around quickly. No candy, of course. There were some apples on the counter, but the kid’s parents would think he put razor blades in them. Damn. On impulse Gene picked up something and returned to the door.

“Here you go. Happy Halloween.”

The kid stared. “What is it?”

“A waffle iron.”

The kid looked dubious.

“This is better than candy. You can make your own waffles, all year round.”


“Sure.” Gene couldn’t remember if the damn thing worked. He hadn’t used it in years.

“Okay. Thanks.” The wizard walked to the house next door.

Jesus. Time to go buy some candy. Gene went to his dresser and looked in his wallet. Twenty bucks, and that had to last him till Wednesday. Shit.

Knock, knock, knock.

Gene grabbed a few random items from the dresser and went to the door. Good thing, too, because it was a group this time.

“Here you go, everybody. Happy Halloween.”

A girl in a Tinkerbell costume made a face. “Speed Stick?!”

“Oops! Let me have that.” Gene took back the deodorant and gave her an old deck of cards instead.

A Mighty Morphin Power Ranger took issue. “I want candy.”

“You’ll have to settle for this watch.”

“Cool! Does it work?”

It didn’t. “Batteries not included.”

The Power Ranger didn’t seem to mind.

A punk rocker accepted the remote control to a DVD player Gene no longer owned without comment.

Gene closed the door and tried to think. He couldn’t just give away everything he owned. What on earth did he have to give out this year?

He went back to the kitchen. Maybe he’d stashed a Snickers bar in the fridge. Gene opened the refrigerator door. The opening notes of Also Sprach Zarathustra thundered around him. He took the carton and set it beside the door.

Back to the linen closet. The box was still there, unopened. Thank God he’d started buying in bulk. He settled himself in a chair near the door and waited for the fun to begin. He had beside him a carton of thirty-six eggs and a box of one hundred shaving cream samples.

Gene was gonna be the coolest guy on the block.



Copyright 2007 Amy Frushour Kelly. All rights reserved.

Reproduction by any means prohibited without prior written consent.


posted @ 6:20 am in [ reader participation -SPASMS -two word ]

I’ll be writing today’s SPASM tonight, and I’d like your help! Please leave a comment of just two words (no more than two, please!) at the end of this post. When I get home, I’ll pick a comment, use that as my title, and write a story to go with it. The old “Two Word Stories” rules apply (here, in case you’re not familiar with the concept). 

Don’t worry about your words not being good enough, or whether they go together or whatever. Just try to avoid profanity and obscenity. I provide plenty of that as it is.

This’ll be fun!

xo, Amy

posted @ 6:36 am in [ book -buy stuff -SPASMS -update ]

Hey, folks! Things have been happening at Castle SPASMS. Obviously, I’m writing them again, but there’s more:

1) I’m planning to self-publish a collection of about 200 stories. The stories are already written, of course, but there’s an actual designer designing the book, and I’m not sure how long it’s going to take. Even if it takes months, it will be worth it, because this lady is GOOD. I’ll keep ya posted.

2) I have a CafePress shop. I don’t think I ever mentioned that on LJ, because the shop is small and kind of sucky, but you can check out what’s there if you like:  If I get my act together, I’ll be updating the products to reflect instead of the URL for my LJ.  Anyway, if you’d like to buy a SPASMS mug or t-shirt, go for it. I’m thinking of buying a mug for my desk at work.

3) You might’ve noticed that some of the new SPASMS are a tad longer than before. I’ve always tried to stick with 500 words or less, but writing novels will tend to make you verbose. They’ll shrink to 500 as we go, probably. Think of it this way: More SPASMS for your money! Oh, wait. You don’t pay for these, I give them to you out of the kindness of my own heart! Well, just be grateful, then. 

Thanks to all who’ve been with me for the long haul (since 2004!) and thanks to my new readers. You guys rock. Go forth in triumph.

xo, Amy

posted @ 7:24 am in [ flower -garden -SPASMS ]


It snowed, but only in the front yard.

The back was a lush paradise of verdant grass and foliage. Cool, tropical-scented breezes tickled the leaves. Exotic orchids bloomed around the patio. A puddle near the back of the yard that had never dried from the previous year deepened, clearing and becoming home to koi and miniature frogs. A single lotus blossomed among the lily pads.

It had been a typical suburban garden until the new housekeeper came. Olga was Hungarian or Ukrainian or something. She barely spoke English, just like anybody else from the agency. Olga wasn’t a spectacular housecleaner. There were dust bunnies under the couches and trails of dirt below the cupboards. But the very day she started, a vase of flowers that Mrs. Belleci was going to throw away came back to life. Mrs. Belleci didn’t immediately connect the two events. She was more concerned with Olga’s substandard vacuuming.

Mrs. Belleci’s children were the first to notice the changes in the back. Her son brought an orchid in from the yard and gave it to her. Where did you get this, Mrs. Belleci demanded. From the yard, he said. Mrs. Belleci didn’t believe him, so he insisted she look. It hadn’t come together yet, and there were no signs of actual work—no shovel, no plant containers—but somehow, the yard was being transformed into a botanical garden.

Mrs. Belleci went to confront Olga. Clearly, this was why the housekeeper did such a poor job. Well, gardening was all well and fine, but Olga was being paid to work, not play with flowers. Olga said she didn’t go in the yard. She stayed in the house all day. To prove it, Olga showed Mrs. Belleci the soles of her shoes. They were clean.

Olga continued to work for the Bellecis, and the garden continued to grow. Autumn had arrived, but the trees hadn’t changed their colors. Leaves littered the street in front of the house, but it was still summer in the back. Olga went on a week’s vacation in November. The garden languished. Within minutes of the housekeeper’s return, the grass was green again. The neighbors’ yards were bare and frigid. It was January, after all. Mrs. Belleci’s yard was sunny and warm.

One day, Mrs. Belleci asked Olga to come sit with her on the patio. Mrs. Belleci gave Olga a glass of iced tea. When Olga entered the yard, the flowers opened.

You have a great gift, said Mrs. Belleci. You should not be working as a lowly maid.

I have nothing to do with this, said Olga.

I am going to remove the walls around my yard, so that our neighbors can see your work and appreciate your beauty.

I have nothing to do with this, said Olga. Do not tear down your walls because of me.

I must, said Mrs. Belleci. It is a crime not to share this.

The next day, a team of men came to take down the fences. By the end of the day, the snow had melted from the surrounding neighbors’ yards. By morning, the neighbors’ trees were budding.

Olga was suddenly very tired.

Mrs. Belleci made Olga lay on the couch. She rubbed Olga’s feet. The Belleci children brought Olga tea and chicken soup for strength.

By nightfall, Olga could barely find the strength to speak. I must leave, she whispered.

No, Olga. Please don’t leave. You make our home so beautiful.

I must.

The next morning, Olga’s room was bare. Mrs. Belleci and her children searched the house. Olga had gone.

The flowers by the patio were already dead.

Mrs. Belleci cried.


Copyright 2008 Amy Frushour Kelly. All rights reserved.

Reproduction by any means prohibited without prior written consent.


posted @ 8:09 pm in [ perdiferous -SPASMS ]

Thanks to all who commented and e-mailed me reagrding this post. I was really tired when I posted it, and I neglected to mention that it was a standalone piece. We did two separate stories with the same title, which is why I captioned it “Take 2.” Here is the first. We didn’t post the second one because we weren’t sure whether to develop it further.

Anyway, glad people liked it! Sorry there isn’t a conclusion. Maybe there will be, someday.

xo, Amy

posted @ 8:27 pm in [ jam -SPASMS -tim_x ]

 This is a jam, written about two years ago, by [info]tim_xand myself. Enjoy!

From the journals of Dr. Henry Wilkes Tonnage III


My dear friend Howard,


I am delighted to hear that my latest missive finds you well, too many of our friends have dropped out of contact, the reasons for which run the gamut from mortality to geography. All that are left now, old friend, are you, Wesley Barr & I. Wesley, that old adventurer, is planning a trip back to the dark continent; a journey which you can be certain I warned him against making. Especially considering what happened when last we were there. Do you recall that night, Howard? That dark night of screams in the jungle? Of the things we saw, and of our damnable guest?



Henry, old friend,


It has been many years since that fateful venture, yet I recall it every day. I thank you for warning Wesley against repeating the journey; you may rest assured that I have just penned a missive cautioning him against the same.  I am not ashamed to tell you, Henry, that I have relived that horrifying night many times in my dreams. I remember the screams, old friend, but the memory that haunts me most is the recollection of hiding in the tangled foliage in ebon night, daring not to move, lest our guest perceive my labored breathing…




I got a deuced chill when I read your words pertaining to that night.  I sometimes think, perhaps wish, that I had imagined it all, but holding your letter in my hands dashed me back into reality.  I paid a visit to Wesley’s estate, in one last attempt to persuade him from folly, but I’m afraid he has already boarded the Tramp Steamer “Obeisance” to Africa.  All is lost, I fear, for Lord Barr will go once more into that jungle seeking to claim what he believes is his by right…but it is that which will claim him, for it belongs only to our guest of that dark night of long ago.






My dearest Mary,


When you read this letter, darling, I shall be on board the H.M.S. Victoria, headed east. You may contact me via the ship’s wire if needs must. Henry and I are returning to the jungle to save your brother, Wesley. My love to you and the children. There is a possibility I may not return…


My dear Howard,

It pains me to hear that, once again, my brother places your life in jeopardy.  I am not even certain that you will receive this letter before you leave.  Know that my heart goes with you and, should you fail to return dies with you in that forsaken jungle.

To: Quartermaster Jervis, Fort Britannia- Africa
From Dr. Howard Phillips

Mr. Jervis,

I am forwarding this request to alert you of my arrival, and request that you ready the necessities for my compatriot and me.  When I was last in your care I left a particular locked trunk in your storeroom.  Please have it cleaned and ready for me.  That is all.



Copyright 2008 Amy Frushour Kelly and Tim Mucci. All rights reserved.

Reproduction by any means prohibited without prior written consent.


posted @ 7:25 am in [ infection -rob -SPASMS ]

Rob has an infection and is on massive anti-biotics. The upshot? He’ll be okay, but I got no sleep whatsoever last night, and now I gotta get ready for work.

Hopefully tonight, after work, drum lessons and whatnot, I’ll write a SPASM.  Fingers crossed that I don’t fall asleep first!

xo, Amy

posted @ 6:12 am in [ SPASMS ]

Thanks to Sue for the first sentence.


“The son of a gun is a bullet,” he says, cradling the revolver.

I don’t know what to say, so I don’t say anything.

He squints up at me, looking for a response.

“Okay,” I say. Lamely.

“In films, how many times have you seen the villain talk to his victim before killing him? Explaining what they’re about, giving some long spiel about the Bible or some such thing?”

“Like in Pulp Fiction?”


I swallow. It isn’t hard to see where he’s going with this. “A lot, I guess.”

He nods. “That never made sense to me. A hit man is hired to perform a task without calling attention to himself or his client. Why prolong the event? Why waste time on chat?”

What am I supposed to say? “Right.”

“I know now, of course. It’s a power trip. He’s not talking to the victim, he’s talking to himself. It’s a way to keep yourself from going crazy. That’s my theory, anyway. For the moment.”

I look down at my shoes.

“Then again, there’s the times when a hit man is a sadist, too. Some of us like to torture our victims. The rationale, I believe, is that the target’s not going to live, anyway. He’s dead the minute we lay eyes on him. He’s a toy now.”

I can’t look at him. And yet, I can’t not look. He’s still watching me, cradling the revolver. “You said the son of a gun is a bullet,” I remember. “What did you mean?”

“The gun is supposed to be phallic. The barrel. But think about it the other way. It’s a birth canal.”


“Or put it another way. A gun is an intention.”

An intention. I shift; my body is itching with anxiety.

He checks the chambers to be sure the gun is loaded. “Don’t look,” he advises.

I blink. How can I not look?

“Please,” he whispers.

In the moment it takes to blink again, blood is spattered all over me. He’s on the floor. The right side of his head is missing. My ears are ringing. The gun is still in his hand.

Great. Now how am I supposed to get out of these ropes?


Copyright 2008 Amy Frushour Kelly. All rights reserved.

Reproduction by any means prohibited without prior written consent.


posted @ 6:57 am in [ killer -middle ages -SPASMS ]


He had murdered two women already. It was difficult now to weigh his compulsion to kill against the widening police investigation. The urge to kill was mitigated by his instinct to stay alive and free.

Fortunately, the murderer was an intelligent man, a reader. He enjoyed books on history and science. He was also good with his hands. This all came into play when he hit upon his most brilliant idea: to build a time machine.

Feudal England—or, rather, Angleland— was the perfect place for him. No police force, no forensic science, fingerprinting, technology. Additionally, late Middle English was close enough to what people spoke in modern-day England that he believed he could get by. The possibility of killing an ancestor was remote, as his family hailed from Russia. The schematics for the time machine were downloaded from the internet. He gauged that he might be able to travel to the Middle Ages, but probably not back. That meant no toilets. No baths. No modern medicine, were he to be injured or fall ill. Very well, he would take precautions, get any applicable immunizations. True serial killers had to be perfect planners. His own case required a special kind of care.

It took years to build the time machine. During that time, the murderer schooled himself in the technology, trying desperately to engineer a method of return. He was growing older, and the thought of being stuck in feudal England at an advanced age with no medical care did not appeal much to him. Still, he held up his dream of finally being able to satiate his urges. That would have to suffice until the machine could be built and he could travel back and forth safely.

Finally, he discovered that while it was impossible to return from the past, it was possible to return from the future. This was because the future hadn’t happened yet, he reasoned, and this discovery agreed with current scientific theory. He was disappointed, but realized that he was, after all, in possession of a working time machine. He decided to write a paper and hold a press conference. Soon, he was a very rich, if somewhat old, man.

Years later, in his seventies, he decided there was nothing holding him back now. He was old, and he would die soon. Why not go back and satisfy his compulsion? He wrote a note, vaguely explaining that he was going back in time to fulfill a lifelong dream, and entered the time machine.

Instantaneously, he appeared in the middle of a street, crowded with serfs who immediately recognized him as a witch and stoned him to death.


Copyright 2008 Amy Frushour Kelly. All rights reserved.

Reproduction by any means prohibited without prior written consent.



posted @ 4:16 pm in [ SPASMS ]

Of the two sisters, Karen was the nice one. Marilyn was the one most likely to do something stupid. Which was exactly what she did, one too many times. When Marilyn was caught driving drunk, she already had a suspended license for exactly that reason.

Easy enough to solve, she thought. “Sorry, officer, I forgot my license. My name’s Karen Cauldwell, and I live at—” she was slurring, but sober enough to give her sister’s address.

The officer checked, and sure enough, a Karen Cauldwell matching the drunk’s description lived at that address. The face that came up on the computer screen was similar enough to that of the drunk, and the physical description—five foot six, brown hair, green eyes—fit. Marilyn was booked and fingerprinted under Karen’s name, and Karen’s license was suspended.

The first thing Marilyn did when she was released on bail the next day was go online to the Department of Motor vehicles site and change Karen’s address to her own. That way, the suspension notice would be mailed to Marilyn’s own home, Marilyn would pay the fine, switch Karen’s address back, and nobody would be the wiser. Karen wouldn’t get mad, and Marilyn wouldn’t get in trouble.

Except that the very day after her address was changed without her permission, Karen went to the DMV to renew her license, and found it was suspended. Angry, Karen paid the fine—she had to have a license, after all—and determined to confront her sister.

But a couple of bad checks Marilyn had written caught up with her, and she left town, pronto. Karen arrived at Marilyn’s apartment, only to find her sister gone.

Well. Time to play a little identity theft herself, Karen mused. Her husband had ruined her credit before their divorce. Marilyn had just been given a credit card by some credit company who wasn’t paying attention. Karen went through the unopened mail, found the card, and decided the American Express card with the $5,000 limit was payback for the fine.

But Karen was basically a decent person. She could never let a bill go without paying it. In no time at all, Marilyn’s credit rating had skyrocketed.

A year later and several states away, Marilyn developed a drug habit. Inevitably, she hit upon the idea of calling up for a credit card. She was astonished to be awarded a $14,000 card with no questions asked.

Karen was disappointed, but not surprised, to find the credit rating she’d worked so hard to establish dropping before her very eyes. It wasn’t difficult to track her sister down in Nevada. Karen didn’t bother contacting Marilyn to let her know she was in town; she simply waited in the dark alley behind the diner where Marilyn worked, with the engine running. When Marilyn came out from her shift, Karen floored it.

Afterwards, Karen took the new credit card and ID card from Marilyn’s wallet. She put her own driver’s license in its place and drove away.

A crackhead came upon Marilyn’s body a short time later. The woman wasn’t too strung out to take Karen’s driver’s license and the cash.

That license sure would come in handy.


Copyright 2008 Amy Frushour Kelly. All rights reserved.

Reproduction by any means prohibited without prior written consent.



posted @ 8:14 am in [ hypnotism -SPASMS ]


The Great Mesmero entered the room and spoke to the young woman sitting at the computer. “You have not vacuumed, I perceive.”

She turned in her chair. “No. I was over at the next-door neighbor’s all morning. Lucky for you, she’s not going to press charges.”

The Great Mesmero smiled and made a small gesture, as though he were wiping something away. “But of course. That is to be expected, my dear.”

“Not forever. Post-hypnotic suggestion doesn’t last too long. I had to promise her you’d fix the broken tread on her front steps before she agreed not to make a fuss.”

The Great Mesmero turned to look at Gail. “I didn’t break her steps. I never even entered her yard.”

“I know, I know, all you did was work in the garden naked and convince her that you were really wearing clothes. I get it. Kinky, but you didn’t hurt anybody. The thing is, she remembered after a while. She was in the house, doing some dishes, and suddenly realized you were out there in your birthday suit, and that’s when she started screaming. But she’s okay now, and like I said, she’s not pressing charges.”

The Great Mesmero stroked his goatee thoughtfully. “Perhaps I should pay her a call.”

“Perhaps you should wear pants when you go outside! Geez!”

The Great Mesmero patted her shoulder. “I shall endeavor to remember. The mere fact that I did such a thing really does, in your parlance, suck. But I shall make a clean sweep. You do not need to—”

“I don’t vacuum, Frank. Administrative assistants don’t clean. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to finish answering your fan mail. Oh, and we might have a gig in Finland. Hopefully we’ll hammer out the details this afternoon.” She glanced down at her desktop and saw the envelope. “And another thing. The blank pieces of paper won’t work on me. I want a real paycheck by the end of the day, or I walk.”

The Great Mesmero nodded, embarrassed. It was rather unfortunate that his new assistant wasn’t susceptible to suggestion.


Copyright 2008 Amy Frushour Kelly. All rights reserved.

Reproduction by any means prohibited without prior written consent.