Writing Prompt: Masks – The Bank Robbery

Very short story inspired by a writing prompt posted by Rachel Poli.  Subject: masks



A masked man entered the bank. He went to the nearest window, pulled out a pistol, and held it low as he pointed it at the teller.

“Fill this up!” the bank robber ordered as he tossed an empty paper sack st the teller.

The surprised teller picked up the sack as he stared at the pistol. Then he looked up at the bank robber, and started to chuckle.

“What the hell are you laughing at?” the bank robber said angrily.  “I’ve got a gun!”

“Your mask,” the teller answered between chuckles. “It’s ridiculous.”

The bank robber was flabbergasted. “Your life is in danger and you’re laughing at my mask?!”

“But it’s a clown mask,” the teller explained after he finally composed himself. “And a loud, garish one at that.”


“Well how do you expect to be taken seriously as a bank robber if you look like an escapee from the circus?” the teller pointed out as he started laughing again.

“Will you just fill that up with the top drawer so I can get out of here?” the bank robber demanded. “I’ve got places to be!”

“Oh, of course, right away,” the teller assured as he picked up the sack. He slid open the top drawer, then started laughing again. “Seriously? A clown mask?”

“Okay, you made your point. Now give it a rest!”

“I mean, could you imagine John Dillinger wearing a clown mask? Or Bonnie and Clyde? Everyone would laugh at them!”

“Maybe I didn’t have time to find a proper ask. Did you consider that?”

“All right, sorry for laughing at you,” the teller apologized as he kept laughing. “It’s just so totally absurd!”

“I don’t believe this,” the bank robber said with exasperation.

“Look, it’s not you, it’s me,” the teller admitted. “I just tend to laugh at inappropriate times.”

The bank robber threw up his hands. “You know what? I don’t need this.” He began to leave.

“Now wait a minute, I’ll get you your money.”

“I didn’t come here to get laughed at!” The bank robber put the pistol back in his pocket and walked away. “I’ve got feelings too,” he muttered under his breath.

“Aw, c’mon,” the teller called after the bank robber. “I promise I won’t put in the exploding ink cartridge.”

The bank robber exited out the front door, got into a getaway car, and shook his head discouragingly at the driver. The driver looked dejected as he drove off.

The teller looked at the empty paper sack and thought of the bank robber’s lost opportunity. “Some people just don’t know how to laugh,” he said with pity as he slid the top drawer shut.


©2018 Robert Kirkendall



Hillside Trail

Erica stared out the IHOP window, deep in thought on what to do next.

“I really think this is a mistake,” Alan said from across the table.

Erica continued to look past him at the traffic on Lombard Street.

“I’ve been good to you, I’ve been there for you,” Alan pleaded. “When did I ever let you down?”

Erica remained stoic.

“Have you really thought this through?”

She finally looked back at Alan. “There just isn’t much to think about.” He was looking at her with an achingly earnest expression, and she remembered how she used to find his sincerity endearing. “We just want different things out of life.”

Alan leaned in. “Do we? We both want a long term, committed relationship. We agree on most things, we get along with each other’s friends. We don’t even fight for the remote control,” he added desperately.

Erica tried to maintain her coolness.

“Is it troubles at work?” Alan went on. “Your parents getting on you? Is it the pressure of living here? We all know how expensive it is.” His plaintive stare was beginning to affect Erica. “Please, just tell me what it is.”

Erica was conflicted as she realized breaking up was going to be more difficult than she had anticipated. “Alan, you’re a nice guy, and you’ve been good to me, but I think you want this more than I do.”

“What?” Alan appeared shocked. “When did that happen?”

Erica was unexpectedly sympathetic. “Well, I think it’s always been that way.”

“But why did you go out with me in the first place?”

Alan’s sincerity put Erica on the spot. “I don’t know,” she admitted. She thought back to the time when they first met. “I had just gone through a difficult break up, I was wondering where to go next in life, and then you showed up at the right place at the right time.” She leaned in. “But I’m just not that person anymore.”

Alan looked down in disappointment. “And all this time I thought we were on the same page.”

Guilt came over Erica. “Well, maybe you were actually hoping,” she suggested while trying to sound nice. “Sometimes it happens that way.”

Alan let out a breath. “Maybe I was.” He looked back up hopefully. “But I really think I deserve another chance.”

A server walked up to their table. “All done with that?” she asked in a friendly tone.

Erica looked down at the remains of her late lunch “Yes, thank you. I’m done.”

“Well I hope you enjoyed it,” the server said as she took her plate then Alan’s. She pulled the check out of her apron with her free hand and placed it on the table. “A beautiful weekend day. Any big plans?”

“None so far,” Alan answered, “but the day is young,” he added with superficial cheer.

“Well I hope you have a nice rest of the day,” the server said and left.

Alan looked at the check, then got his wallet and pulled out some cash. “You know, that might be a good idea.”


“We should do something today.”

“I don’t think so,” Erica replied warily.

“You don’t even know what I had in mind,” Alan pointed out.

Erica was torn. “Okay, what did you have in mind?”

“How about a nature hike?”

“A hike?”

“Yeah, why not?”

“But I’m not wearing any hiking boots.”

“Okay, just a walk in the woods. It’ll be nice and pleasant.”

Erica was flummoxed by Alan’s sudden request and wondered if he had any ulterior motives. “It’s not going to change my mind,” she forewarned.

“One last thing to do together,” Alan beseeched. “Would that be so bad?”

Erica considered what to do. I could just walk out that door, she thought, take a bus home and get on with my life. She looked back at Alan. He was struggling to convey persuasiveness. Why does he have to stare at me like that? she thought irritably, trying so hard to tug at my heart strings, and if I say no he’ll probably give me his sad, lost little boy look. “Did you have any place in mind?”

“How about the Muir Woods?” he suggested eagerly.

“Isn’t that kind of far?”

“Just over the Bridge to Marin County. We can be there in half an hour.”

“But without hiking boots I don’t know if I can do it.”

“This won’t be a hike, more of a walk, and the trails are well maintained.” Alan pointed at a downward angle. “And you have your running shoes on, that’ll be plenty good.”

Erica looked down at the Adidas she slipped on whenever she went out. She thought some

more about doing something outdoors, and the idea of being in a natural setting began to appeal to her.

Oh, there I go again, she thought frustratingly, giving in to him. She then thought some more, and conceded that it would be nice to get out. I am feeling cooped up in this city, she admitted to herself, spending some time out in nature may be just what I need, and he’ll probably keep pestering me if I say no…and I kind of did end up hurting him. “Can we get a bottle of water on the way there?


Alan maneuvered his car out of the Valero station next to IHOP and into the westbound lanes of Lombard Street. Erica sat in the passenger seat with a half liter bottle of water from the station mini mart in her lap. They drove along with the brisk traffic, merged right onto another busy avenue, and entered the US 101 freeway. The freeway twisted through the wooded Presidio then straightened as it pointed north and left solid land. As they drove over the Golden Gate Bridge, Erica looked across San Francisco Bay toward the urban mass of Oakland and Berkeley. She was reminded of its density and felt its cramped oppression. The buildings shimmered in the sun as it began its arc away from land and over the Pacific Ocean. They drove under the second burnt orange support tower and into the greenery of Marin County. Erica was relieved to be in open space.

“I think you’ll like this,” Alan began. “You just can’t beat mother nature.”

Erica continued to look around at the scenery.

“Have you ever been up to the Muir Woods?” Alan asked.

“Hm? Yeah, my school went on a field trip there once.”

“One of the last places in California that has old growth redwoods.” They drove under the rainbow painted archway and through the lit up tunnel. “It was nice of Caltrans to rename this tunnel

after Robin Williams,” Alan remarked.

“Yes it was.” Erica agreed.

“Really too bad what happened to him,” Alan said, and seemed to want to keep the conversation going.

“Mental illness is a problem for a lot of people,” Erica replied. “Very sad.”

“Yeah,” Alan said wistfully. “A great talent, and he gave so much.”

“He did, and I respect his talent and his career, and I’m sympathetic for him, but I think you’re more more of a fan of his than I am.”

“Fair enough.” They emerged from the other end of the tunnel and drove alongside Sausalito east of the freeway and groves of evergreens to the west. The freeway veered to the northwest into Marin City then alongside the marina at Richardson Bay. Erica gazed eastward at a couple of sailboats out on the bay and found the view tranquil as they merged right onto the Highway 1 exit lane. She looked upon the bay some more then their car made a sharp turn left, went under the ramped up freeway, and into the wooded suburb of Tamalpais Valley. The highway went west, north, then meandered its way into the woods. They turned north onto another highway and drove through a green valley, then turned west onto a mountain road that twisted its way into the towering redwoods of the Northern California coast.

“When you get this far into nature you can forget that you’re near a major metropolitan area,” Alan observed as the road curved right then left as it went further west.

“You’re not going to leave me out here, are you?” Erica joked.

“Ha! You’re too funny.”

Ha! I should grab the keys and leave you out here for the mountain lions, Erica thought

mischievously, then she reminded herself that she was mean to him earlier, and resisted further devious ideas. “I have my moments.”

The road curved to the south until they arrived at the visitor center, a man made island in the middle of wild forest. They parked and Erica put her water bottle in the front pocket of her sweater as they got out. Other visitors were milling about as Erica looked all around. The tall evergreens stood proudly rigid, a wall of dense forest, and appeared imposing. They walked along a trail until they came to an old wooden building with a ticket window. Alan went to the ticket window as Erica looked around some more. The towering redwood trees blocked out part of the sunshine, and began to intimidate her.

“Got our day passes,” Alan surprised Erica. “I see you’re taking in the beauty of nature.”

“Oh, just looking around. Shall we get going?”

“Okay, let’s,” Alan replied with anticipation.


The beginning length of the Main Trail went north at a level grade and ran along the right side of a gently flowing, rocky creek with shallow banks covered in ferns and clover. The creek and the trail curved toward each other, then pulled away separately. Erica could hear its flow beyond the trees as the trail continued north and slightly veered left. Alan walked briskly as Erica followed at her own pace.

“The great outdoors!” Alan said grandly.

Erica thought his remark clichéd. “Yeah, it’s all right.”

“But nature puts us in a different mindset, away from all the trappings of civilization.”

“And all its conveniences,” Erica reminded.

Alan looked back and slowed a bit. “But leaving our man made surroundings for something more primeval helps get rid of the clutter. It clears the mind.”

“I wasn’t aware that my mind needed clearing.”

Alan chuckled. “Not what I meant. All I’m saying that excursions away from our normal

routine helps bring perspective.” He continued to lead them along the path and they came to a trail head on their right. They stopped.

“Which way?” Erica asked.

“Well,” Alan began as he pointed east, “this path curves to the left, climbs up north in the mountains, and will take us pretty far away. We’ll stay on the trail we’re on.” Alan continued on and Erica followed. The trail began to elevate slightly and curve a little more left to the west. They came to a wooden foot bridge on their left.

“Let’s cross here,” Alan suggested.

“Shouldn’t we stay on this trail?”

“It’ll just keep going to the north for quite a far distance before it turns around and comes back, but if we cross here the trail will loop around and bring us back to where we started.”

“You’re the guide.”

They went over the bridge and came to an intersection. The other length of the Main Trail loop crossed the other side of the bridge and ran north to south. To their right diagonally was another path marked Hillside Trail.

“That’s where we want to go,” Alan pointed. “Hillside Trail.”

“But isn’t this the way back?” Erica asked as she pointed south down the Main Trail.

“We’ve barely begun. Besides, that’s for tourists,” Alan said dismissively. “We’ve got more

nature to see. ”

“But how long will it take?”

“Not that long. It’s just a bigger loop. As long as we don’t dawdle we’ll back in no time.”

“Okay,” Erica relented.

The smooth, flattened trail continued to the north then curved left to the west as it slowly climbed higher. Trees rooted into the moist earth appeared one after another to Erica. Some were old and wide, others young, thin, and struggling upward into the light. Green from leaves, needles, moss, and ferns colored the landscape along with red and brown from the tree bark. Erica felt surrounded by earth tones and the cool humidity of the forest. Alan continued his brisk stride as Erica struggled to keep up.

“How long is this trail?” she asked.

“Not long, just over a mile until the next trail.”

Erica was crestfallen. “There’s another trail?”

“Well, yeah. This trail will dead end onto the next trail, and we’ll go left which will take us south, then east, and head back down to the parking lot.”

The trail wound into a clearing and they were back in the sunlight. Erica looked up and noticed

that the sun was getting closer to the horizon. “We’ll be back before dark, right?” she asked.

“Of course, as long as we keep moving.”

“Glad one of us is good at directions.” The trail continued its windy upward path then made a sharp left turn. The trail made a long U-turn around a steep ravine and Erica was careful to not look down. The trail made another left, continued to the west, and finally reached its end at a bisection. The sign read Ben Johnson Trail. Erica pulled out her water bottle from her front sweater pocket and took a drink. “So to the left?” she asked.

Yep,” Alan answered. You know who Ben Johnson was?”

You mean the playwright?

Yes, there was a writer by that name, but this Ben Johnson was a caretaker that used to live

here long ago. He carved out this trail back in the the 1930s.

Well you’re very informative.”

“Yeah, maybe a little too much.” Alan seemed to expect a response as Erica silently put away her water bottle. They resumed hiking. There was another Ben Johnson from old Hollywood,” Alan continued. “Did a lot of Westerns.”

Also sounds like a name a man would use when he checks into a hotel with a hooker.

Ha! Another one of your moments.”

I must be on a roll.”

The new trail rose at an upward angle as it curved right and to the west. Time seemed to stretch out for Erica as she tediously trudged up the meandering, escalating trail. The surrounding trees and plant life stayed in her periphery as she focused her attention to the path ahead. Occasionally they’d pass another hiker or group of hikers coming toward them. Alan would nod or say hi to them while Erica kept looking forward. Why did I agree to this again, she rued. Alan slowed down periodically until Erica caught up. She thought his encouraging smile as he waited for her was a bit too smug. As if he has me where he wants me, she suspected.

He stopped and waited for her.

“You’re just loving this, aren’t you,” Erica accused.

“Aren’t you?”

“I’ll love it when we get back to our car.”

“Well we better get going,” Alan encouraged and he resumed hiking.

“Hope you appreciate me joining you on this death march,” Erica called out then started hiking. “Don’t you like the climb? Good exercise.”

I can go to a gym for that.”

The trail curved to the left and Erica assumed they were circling back to where they began. The trail then turned to the right as it climbed up, and Erica was exasperated. She noticed the sun was getting closer to the horizon and both were in her eye line.

Will this trail finally go downhill?”

Of course,” Alan assured.

The trail continued its meandering westward rise, bordered by phalanxes of trees and the occasional small clearing. The primeval terrain seemed a world away from civilization to Erica, and her unease was turning to apprehension. The overhead sunlight was dimming as it struggled to reach over the treetops. Erica breathed a little heavier as she tried to pace herself without getting too tired. Alan maintained his stride and appeared energized. Anticipation continued to stretch out time unbearably as Erica kept waiting for the trail to curve around to the left and back toward their car. They passed a couple of more hikers coming the other way and she envied how they were moving downhill. Gradually the trail veered south but still continued westward.

Eventually they came to a junction with another trail. “Finally!” Erica announced. “I hope we’re heading left.” She took another drink of water.

“Or we could also keep going straight ahead to Stinson Beach.”

If you want to do that, then give me the keys,” Erica demanded. “I’m heading back to the car.”

Okay, okay,” Alan chuckled. “Back to the car it is. Mind if I have a sip?

Erica handed him the bottle of water.

Alan took a drink then handed it back to Erica.Thanks.”

Erica stashed the bottle into her front pocket as they headed down the south trail. Their hike continued its upward climb as it moved straight ahead, sharply turned right, climbed up further, then switched back to the left and kept elevating. Erica looked behind her and saw the sun getting closer to the Pacific Ocean. The impending darkness made her apprehension grow. Time continued to stretch out as she tried to keep up with Alan. The trail climbed on and upward until it finally reached the ridge peak. Alan stopped and looked around.

“Quite a view,” he proclaimed.

Erica looked to the west and saw only the sun moving closer to the horizon. “How much longer before this trail ends?” she worried.

“We should be about halfway there, but at least we’ve reached the peak so it should all be downhill from here,” Alan reassured. “But it doesn’t hurt to look around and take in Mother Nature’s beauty and creation.”

“Wild animals are also Mother Nature’s creation,” Erica reminded.

“Don’t worry,” Alan assured, “I’ll protect you.”

“Can you fight off a mountain lion?”

There have been no mountain lion sightings around here lately. We’re safe.”

Well let’s get going in case one decides to show up,” Erica insisted.

After you.”

Erica began walking down the trail and let the downward slant carry her along. The trail angled one way then another as it continued southward through the woods. Erica kept her focus on the path ahead of her and ignored the scenery. Eventually they came to a dirt road. “Now which way?”

“Well this is a fire road.” Alan pointed across the road. “And up ahead that way is the trail that will take us back to the parking lot.”

So which way?”

“I’d like to stay on the trail, see some more woods.”

Erica looked to the west, saw the sun at the horizon, and was becoming anxious. “Which way will get us back quicker?”

Either or, they mostly parallel each other. They’ll intersect again.

Erica looked down the fire road, then to the other trail in the distance, and then over to the setting sun. “I guess we can go on the other trail.”

“Cool, and if we move quick we should before it gets too dark.”

They crossed the fire road and continued along the trail. It rose again as it went southeast, and the gradually dimming sunlight spurred Erica to move quicker. She felt a rush of adrenalin as she raced against the setting sun. The trail reached another peak then gradually lowered as it traversed the darkening forest. The trail came into a clearing and Erica felt relieved to be back into open space, then she saw that the sun was almost completely below the horizon. Twilight spread over the clearing and she hurried along as Alan came up next to her.

“As long as we stay on the trail we’ll be all right,” he reassured. “It’ll take us straight to the parking lot.”

Erica kept walking.

“At least we’re going downhill,” Alan added helpfully.

“Yeah, we sure are,” Erica replied as she focused on the path ahead. The trail wound through

the sloped clearing and into another thicket of trees. The forest was becoming darker and more menacing as it blocked out the disappearing twilight. The trail then emerged out of the woods and into another clearing. Erica was relieved again to be back into open space but saw that it was getting darker. The trail narrowed and ran straight along a path carved into the hillside in between grasses and shrubs. Erica was racing against the darkness careful not to fall down the hillside. The trail then intersected diagonally with the fire road. “Now which way?”

“Straight ahead.” They kept moving along the trail as it wound ahead then back into the increasing darkness of the forest. Erica’s fear grew in the encroaching presence of nature and she began to worry about wildlife. The trail then merged with the wider fire road and curved one way then the other as it kept its southeast angle.

The trail came into another clearing which was almost as dark as the forest. Erica looked toward the horizon and the sun was almost completely gone. Survival instincts took over her consciousness. She kept moving ahead and the trail branched off the fire road. “Which way?”

“We can stay on the fire road,” Alan said. “They merge together again up ahead.”

The moved along the coarse, sandy road. The forest bordered the left side of the path and imposed upon Erica threateningly. The right side of the trail sloped downward dauntingly as Erica kept looking in front of her. They came to another fork. The fire road continued on the right and the trail went to the left. “Now which way?” Erica asked nervously.

“The trail is a more direct route to the parking lot.”

Erica looked left down the trail and struggled to get a better look. She saw the tree canopies forming into a dark tunnel. “Looks scary.”

“But if we hurry we should be able to make it to when it merges back into the fire road before it’s dark.”

Well it’s getting dark already so we better hurry,” Erica said apprehensively. They took off down the trail. Erica’s consciousness continued to alter as the light disappeared to the west displaced by blanketing darkness. She struggled against the panic that was trying to take over and sensed that Alan was also feeling some fear. Erica hurried along the trail as it came out of the trees again and into another clearing that was almost as dark as the forest. The clearing was quickly surrounded by more trees and the darkness made the trail hard to follow. The trees became thicker and Erica became confused as she tried to figure out which part of the ground was the trail “Are we going the right way?” she asked worriedly.

“Of course,” Alan assured, “we just need to keep moving ahead.”

“What the hell are we doing here anyways?” Erica bemoaned as her frustration mounted. “This was supposed to be a fun little walk in the woods!”

“Hey, it wasn’t bad.”

“What, being stuck in the woods after dark? We should have stayed in town! Why did I agree to- aaaah!” Erica suddenly lost her footing and slid down the hillside. She panicked as she quickly scraped downward along the earth, rolled a couple of times, tangled up into a large bush, and crashed into a tree.

“Are you all right?” Alan called out down the hillside.

“No! I’m not all right!”

At least your fall was broken!”

“Are you trying to be funny?” Erica yelled. “I could have fallen to my death!” She helplessly groped around in the darkness. “And I can’t see a god damned thing!” Her arm hurt where it struck against a tree and her ankle was twisted and sore. She struggled to free herself and avoid falling further. Her heart raced and her sense of direction was obliterated. “Why did I do this?!”

Hang on, I’ll get you!” Alan carefully stepped down the hill, and Erica saw his silhouette advance upon her. She panicked some more at the sight of the dark figure coming for her and had to remind herself in her terror that it was Alan. The looming dark form outstretched an arm. Erica hesitatingly reached upward and his hand grabbed hers. He pulled upward and Erica disentangled from the web of little branches. She scrabbled up the hillside with help from her free hand as she reoriented herself. Pain shot from her right ankle when she stepped on it. Alan helped her up back onto the trail.

“Ouch!” Erica yelled out as she walked around on her hurting ankle.

“Wanna sit down for a minute?” Alan offered.

“No! I want to get the fuck out of here!” Erica limped ahead and focused on the trail. Alan walked up alongside and tried to help her. Erica pulled away. “I can make it!They moved ahead as Erica kept her weight off her hurt ankle. The fire road came up from the right and joined along the trail. They crossed over to the wider fire road. Erica adjusted to her limp and moved ahead quickly and felt some relief to be on a more defined route.

Their path came to another fork as the trail went to the left and the fire road to the right. “Can we stay on the fire road?” Erica demanded.

“The trail will take us to the parking lot, the fire road goes further to the south.”

Then the trail it is,” Erica decided as she limped ahead. The trail gradually lowered as it curved through the darkened woods. Erica took advantage of downward angle and let gravity carry her as Alan kept up. Time moved a little quicker as Erica sensed the end of their journey. The trail made a couple of more sharp turns then straightened out in a downward slope. They came to a bridge that crossed over a gently flowing creek. The sound of the running water ended the brooding silence. The trail continued then gradually emerged from the trees. Erica saw the parking lot lit up by lampposts and was greatly relieved by the sight of a man made setting. As they approached the parking lot she saw their car and a park ranger vehicle. They left the earthen trail and walked across the pavement. They came to their car, then the park ranger vehicle started up and drove off. Erica took the bottle of water from her front pocket and drank the rest of it.

“Any of that left?” Alan asked hopefully.

“Nope.” Erica tossed the empty bottle into a nearby trash receptacle.


They drove through the twisty mountain roads until they got to the 101 and headed south. The lights of Sausalito glowed to the left and more lights shone across the Bay.

How’s your ankle feeling?” Alan asked.

Erica tried to rotate her ankle and felt dull pain. “Still a little sore,” she said. “Probably wouldn’t have sprained it if I was wearing boots,” she added.

“I’m sure it’ll feel better tomorrow.”

Erica brought her foot up and massaged the ankle as she was readjusting back into civilization. “We’ll see.”

They drove into the lit up tunnel. “At least I was there to help you.”

Erica looked at Alan incredulously. “I was only on that trail because of you.”

“Well, yeah, that’s true,” Alan admitted as they emerged out of the tunnel. “But at least I didn’t abandon you,” he added hopefully.

Erica lowered her foot back down. “I didn’t know we were going to take the long way around.”

“But still, it’s good to get out and have an adventure.”

“At least one of us had fun,” Erica replied.

Look, I’m sorry. This is my fault.They approached the Golden Gate Bridge. “Should have

planned it out better. Next time we’ll get an earlier start.”

“That’s presumptuous,” Erica resisted.


“Next time,” she mimicked.

“I don’t think you mean that,” Alan corrected.

“I know what I meant,” Erica shot back. They drove onto the bridge.

Well I didn’t know you felt that way,” Alan said aggrievedly.

They drove under the first, lit up support tower. “Did you plan it like this?”

“What?” Alan responded with surprise. “How could I have planned you falling down like that off the trail?”

“Getting me into an unfamiliar setting so I would be reliant upon you.”

“Now why would I do a thing like that?”

“Because you’re the kind of guy that likes to come to the rescue,” Erica pointed out as they drove under the second support tower.

Alan seemed to consider what Erica said. “Is that really such a bad thing?”

“It is if you cause the trouble.”

Alan laughed. “Am I really that diabolical?”

The roadway left the bridge and onto land as it curved through the Presidio. “I can’t tell if

you’re being deceptive or if you genuinely don’t know what I’m talking about.”

They drove back into the city. “Well I never tried to deceive you, if anything I’ve only tried to help.” Alan seemed to await a response. “I know I have my problems like everyone else, I just wish I knew what I’m doing wrong.”

They drove along Lombard Street and went past the IHOP. Erica wanted to reexplain their differences but was too tired. “I’ll make it simple for you,” she finally said. “I am not your, or anyone else’s, damsel in distress.”

“What? I never thought that.”

Erica looked at him disbelievingly.

“Honest,” Alan asserted. “Certainly not the distress part,” he added coyly.

Erica looked away wearily. “Just drop me off at home.”


©2018 Robert Kirkendall

99 Word Prompt: Lighthouse

July 6: Flash Fiction Challenge

Wendy and Jack approached the old lighthouse with other tourists.

“I just love these old buildings!” Wendy gushed.  “Don’t you, dear?”

“They’re okay, I guess,” Jack replied.

“But it’s so grand looking!  They knew how to build things then.”

“It’s just an archaic brick building with no more use.  Modern ships rely on more advanced technology.”

“But it’s historical!” Wendy reminded.

“It’s useless,” Jack insisted.  “There is no more need for it.”

Just then the long, ugly sound of a ship crashing upon rocks and resulting screams filled the air.

“Okay,” Jack admitted, “maybe this lighthouse is still useful.”

Power Play

(This is the second installment of the Andrew chronicles; a hapless, comical figure trying to get through life. In the first installment, Diridon Station, Andrew runs into an old flame that he has a hard time remembering. In this story, we see Andrew at his workplace.)

Andrew left the break room after lunch feeling sated and slightly caffeinated then a hand grabbed him and pulled him into an empty office. He was face to face with three of his coworkers.

“Can we trust you?” Sterling demanded.

“Uh, what’s going on?” Andrew wondered.

“We ask the questions here!” Damien barked. “First you must swear not to betray us,”

“But what’s going on?” Andrew asked worriedly.

“I don’t think we can trust him,” Gwen said suspiciously.

“Dammit, you must swear!” Damien ordered. “You don’t want to piss off this one,” he warned as he pointed to Gwen.

“Okay, I swear,” Andy promised hoping to reduce the tension.

The three workers eyed Andrew intently. “I think we can trust him,” Sterling finally said.

“What’s happening?” Andrew finally managed to say.

“So how do you like working here?” Damien asked leadingly.

Andrew thought for a moment. “I can’t complain.”

“Hmmm,” Sterling pondered. “Interesting.”

“He doesn’t complain about anything,” Gwen mocked. “When we got a cake for him for his birthday, he took so long getting to the break room that we ended up eating the entire cake before he showed up. Remember?” she said to Andrew.

“Well, total strangers do walk up to me and tell me that I should lose a few pounds,” Andrew placated as he looked around his waist.

“That’s why we call him No Cake Andy,” Gwen continued.

“Oh,” Sterling said with enlightenedness. “I thought it was because of the hazing incident of ‘05.”

“Guys, I think we need to get back on track here,” Damien advised.

“Of course,” Sterling agreed. “Now to the business at hand.” He placed his hands on his hips.

We’ve decided to stage a coup,” he announced as he looked directly at Andrew.

“A coup?” Andrew puzzled. “Where?”

“Here!” Damien added. “Aren’t you sick and tired of slaving for Mr. Weatherby?”

“Well, he’s not that bad,” Andrew replied.

“He is a dangerous, out of control demagogue!” Sterling declared.

“A dictator drunk on his own power!” Damien yelled.

“A multi-headed hydra that must be slain!” Gwen rallied.

“Figuratively of course, right?” Andrew queried.

Gwen appeared amused by Andrew’s question. “Of course.”

“So what brought all this on?” Andrew asked sincerely.

“Increased hours!” Sterling began.

“Stagnant wages!” Damien followed.

“Oppressive and uninspired work environment!” Gwen completed.

“But don’t some of those things have to do with the current world economy and are out of the control of Mr. Weatherby?”

“Don’t those things have to do with world economy?” Gwen mimicked sarcastically. “He’s the one in charge, he’s the one that needs to be taken down!”

“Have you thought this through?” Andrew cautioned.

“Yes,” Sterling answered. “With strength in numbers we’ll confront him and he’ll have no choice but to give in to our demands!”

“Which are what?” Andrew wondered. “That he depart into exile like an overthrown junta?”

“That he let’s us sit in on the board meetings,” Sterling answered.

“Oh, I thought you would’ve had a bigger plan than that.”

“Dammit, you have to start somewhere!” Sterling vociferated.

“So here’s the plan,” Damian began conspiratorially. “We’ll all march in together, shoulder to shoulder!”

“That way Weatherby can’t get around us!” Gwen informed.

“Let me finish,” Damian demanded.

“Who died and made you king?” Gwen shot back.

“Let’s stay on point, guys,” Sterling counseled. “Now here’s the plan. We’ll all walk up together. I’ll start in on him with how we have to work too many hours. When I’m done, Damian,” he said to Damian, “you address how we’re all underpaid. And Gwen, finish him off! By expressing how ugly and uninspired the workplace is.”

“What about me?” Andrew wondered.

Sterling grabbed him by the shoulders. “You’re the point man.”


“Of course,” Gwen answered. “You’re shorter than us.”

“You’ll go in for the first attack,” Sterling continued.

“I can’t do that,” Andrew argued. “I don’t want any involvement in this!” He pulled away from Sterling’s grip.

“You’re already involved,” Damian reminded.

“In deep!” Gwen added.

“But this is all your idea!” Andrew protested. “You dragged me in here against my will then told me all about your plan without me asking to know about it!”

“Ha!” Sterling laughed as he placed his hand on Andrew’s shoulder in a fatherly way. “Well you know all about it now.”

“And if I say no?” Andrew queried.

“Then you’ll be going airborne ,” Damian warned menacingly as he nodded his head toward a window.

“We’re on the ground floor,” Andrew reminded.

“It’ll still hurt!” Damian shot back.

*                     *                     *                      *                     *                     *                     *

They all stood forebodingly in the cramped elevator as it rose up through the building. Everyone looked straight ahead without saying anything. Andrew watched the floor number display count upward as his apprehension grew.

“Everybody remember what they’re going to say?” Sterling pierced the silence.

“I make the demand for increased pay,” Damian said importantly.

“I point out what a junk heap this once proud company has become,” Gwen declared.

“Great! And I’ll address his autocratic ways,” Sterling asserted.

“What am I supposed to say?” Andrew asked.

“You provide the backup,” Sterling answered.

“Why me?”

“We need a regular person,” Damian elucidated.

Andrew was puzzled. “Aren’t we all equal as employees?”

They all chuckled.

“If it’s just us exceptional people,” Sterling said as he pointed to himself, Damian, and Gwen, “Weatherby will never buy it”

“That’s right,” Gwen agreed. “The three of us are known to be above the fray and able to see the big picture, and that scares Weatherby. But if we bring just a plain, regular employee, he’ll know we have a broad base of support.”

“And I’m just a typical worker?” Andrew pondered.

“So typical that you blend in anywhere,” Damian said.

“That is so true,” Gwen added. “Just a typical, nondescript, boring, bland employee, a person who isn’t remarkable in any way.”

“That’s right,” Sterling concurred. “People may say you’re dull as dishwater, but in this instance your dullness is an advantage.”

“Oh,” Andrew said with realization. “Well, glad I can help.”

The elevator dinged when it reached its floor, and the doors slid open.

“Let’s go,” Sterling ordered and they exited the elevator. Sterling, Damian, and Gwen walked purposefully through a corridor toward Weatherby’s outer office as Andrew kept up. Weatherby’s office grew larger and more daunting as they approached. An ominous looking secretary appeared on the right. She sat her desk like a sentry.

“Is Mr. Weatherby expecting you?” the secretary demanded as they came closer. She glared at them unpenetrably.

“No time to explain!” Sterling replied. “It’s too important for you!”

“Nobody gets past me without an appointment!” The secretary picked up a heavy glass ashtray and threw it at them like a Frisbee. Sterling, Damian, and Gwen dodged out of the way of the spinning object and it struck Andrew on the forehead. He staggered back as pain shot through his head.

“We’ve been hit!” Damian shouted.

“Aw, shit!” the secretary shrieked. “Is that No Cake Andy?”

“Damn right!” Sterling said gleefully, “and his uncle is a high powered lawyer!”

“And we are witnesses!” Gwen chimed in.

Andrew held his head in pain but remained upright. “I think I’ll be okay.”

“We can’t take any chances!” Sterling declared. “You better get a first aid kit stat if you want to save this company from a lawsuit, or worse!”

“You’ll be going to the big house for assault and battery!” Gwen warned.

“You’ll be living Orange Is the New Black!” Damian added.

“Fine, I’ll look for the first aid kit.” The secretary ran off.

They waited until the secretary was out of sight. “Let’s go,” Sterling uttered. They walked up to the door leading to Weatherby’s office. Andrew was still shaking off the pain as he stood behind them.

“Wait,” Damian cautioned, “our point man.”

“That’s right,” Sterling agreed. He grabbed Andrew and placed him in front. “How’s your head?”

“Still hurting, but getting better,” Andrew answered.

“Here, have a Vicodin,” Damian offered. “I always carry these.”

“I don’t think I need a…”

“Take it,” Gwen ordered as she took the pill from Damian and stuck it into Andrew’s mouth. Andrew resisted then ended up swallowing the pill.

A second Vicodin appeared in Damian’s hand. “How about another just in case?”

“Better safe than sorry,” Gwen said as she took second pill and stuck into Andrew’s mouth. It slid down his throat and he started to feel numb.

“Now everybody remember what we’re going to say?” Sterling asked.

“Money,” Damian said.

“Work environment,” Gwen said.

“And I address the dictatorial nature of this workplace,” Sterling said.

“What am I doing here?” Andrew asked as he started to feel woozy.

“Backup and moral support,” Damian reminded.

“You’re everyman, remember?” Gwen reminded further.

“But…how do I?” Andrew’s mind started to become foggy.

“No time to answer that,” Sterling said as he pushed the door open. The spacious office was wood paneled and foreboding. The half open vertical Levolor blinds let in just enough light to show Weatherby’s face in half light and half darkness, like a heavy in a film noir. Andrew felt a shove push him forward into the lair.

“What the hell do you want?” Weatherby glowered.

“Uh, well sir.” Andrew looked behind him, and Sterling told him to say something. His impaired mind struggled to remember something to say. “I am here,” he finally began, “because I was enlisted to express grievances that some employees may have.”

“Are you the ringleader?” Weatherby accused.

“No, sir, I’m a…” Andrew struggled, and looked behind him again for an answer.

“I bet you are!” Weatherby reiterated.

“A concerned worker!” Sterling suddenly blurted and stepped in front of Andrew. “You see, Andrew here typifies the average worker who feel, how shall I say, oppressed.”

“Oppressed?” Weatherby said with shock. “This isn’t a banana republic!”

“Of course not, sir,” Sterling relented. “We live in a democratic state.”

“This isn’t a democracy!” Weatherby continued. “The only people who get a vote are the board

of directors! The rest of you are plebes who are damn lucky to have a job!”

“Of course, sir,” Damian agreed as he stepped in front of Andrew and next to Sterling. “It’s just

that lots of people are struggling, and a modest increase in pay would be very helpful. Andrew here

would like to visit his aunt in the old country, but he can’t afford to because he just makes enough to pay for his rent and bare sustenance.” Andrew tried to remember if he had an aunt somewhere in another country. “He still eats Top Ramen, it’s sad.”

“Well there’s nothing I’d like more than to give all you bums a raise,” Weatherby began as he stood up and emerged from behind his large oak desk, “But there are factors that have to do with the world economy, and are totally out of my hands! Did you ever consider that?”

“Yes, sir, that’s a good point,” Gwen agreed.

“Of course it is, I came up with it!” Weatherby proclaimed. “And what’s your beef?”

“Oh, I was just thinking about improving the overall work environment,” Gwen replied. “You know, a new coat of paint, maybe some artwork, things that would inspire the employees.”

“Artwork?” Weatherby blasted. “This isn’t a gallery!”

“No, sir, it isn’t,” Gwen concurred.

“And if you want inspiration think about your next paycheck!” Weatherby took note of Andrew’s intoxicated appearance. “What’s your problem?”

“He had a splitting headache so he took some pain pills,” Sterling jumped in.

“An agitator and a hophead,” Weatherby said accusingly. “I should’ve known!”

“He only does it out of medical necessity, sir,” Damian reassured. “We didn’t know he had taken too many.”

Andrew swayed as he tried to remain upright.

“I’ll make it simple,” Weatherby condescended, “No raises, no interior decorating, and no

democratic reforms. Now you four idiots get back to work before I fire your asses!”

*                     *                     *                    *                     *                     *                    *

Sterling, Damian, and Gwen silently exited the elevator at the ground floor as Andrew staggered along behind them. They stopped at their maze of cubicles and hesitated before entering.

“We tried,” Sterling finally said.

“Maybe we needed a better plan,” Damian suggested.

“We should’ve got more people involved,” Gwen said.

“Well, these things take time,” Andrew struggled to get out from his still narcosis fogged mind. “The fight for workplace equality is a long one, in which people had to overcome a lot of defeats to achieve their victories. And the struggle continues to this day.” Andrew was impressed that he was able to say all that despite his temporary impairment.

“If you don’t mind, Andy, we’d like to discuss this without you,” Sterling requested.

“But don’t you need more people?” Andrew asked feeling suddenly puzzled.

“Yes, but we just can’t trust you anymore,” Sterling answered.

“I have to agree with Sterling,” Damian said.

“Yeah,” Gwen agreed, “it was a mistake to take you in.”

“How come?”

“Because,” Sterling began, “you’re an agitator.”

“And a druggie,” Damian reminded.

©2017 Robert Kirkendall

Fault Lines

(This is the third short story of my history of Santa Clara Valley series)


“You really want to move out there?” Gina asked.

“I think it’s a good idea,” Craig asserted. “It’s a great idea when you think about it.”

Gina felt unconvinced. “But it’s so far away.”

“Aren’t you tired of renting?” Craig asked rhetorically. “We’re throwing money away.”

Gina looked away from the dining area table and out the front window of their apartment. “The commute is going to be at least two hours each way. I can’t do that.”

“And you won’t have to,” Craig reassured. “With the affordable prices of houses out there, we’ll only need one paycheck. And if you want to keep on working, I’m sure there are offices out there as well.”

Gina continued to look out the window at the central courtyard of the complex. She was noticing its familiarity for the first time, with the apprehension of possibly leaving it. “But there aren’t any jobs out there for what you do.”

“The programming jobs are over here, but I’m willing to make that sacrifice.”

Gina looked back at Craig. “But will I do all day in that boring valley?”

“At least you’ll have nothing to do in our own house. Won’t that be an improvement?”

“Yeah, but Modesto?”

“With all the people who are going to move out there, it might end up being a boomtown,” Craig added positively.

Gina felt uneasy. “Can’t we find somewhere closer?”

“I’ve looked. Gilroy, Santa Cruz, East Bay, real estate prices are rising everywhere that’s nearby.”

“I don’t know. It feels like we’re going to be refugees.”

“I know this is asking a lot, but we don’t have a future here except as renters. I don’t want that. It’s so affordable out there we could be homeowners out there right now,” Craig emphasized.

The sudden pressure got to Gina. She stood up and paced around the dining and kitchen area. “Maybe housing prices will come back down eventually.”

“I seriously doubt it, things just don’t work that way. Land value just keeps going up, at least around here.”

“And everything that goes up must come down,” Gina pointed out.

“Not in our lifetime. Technology always expands, and this valley is one of its centers, maybe the most important one.”

Gina thought some more, and a seeming unfairness dawned upon her. “You would think that such an important economic powerhouse would be affordable to those whose work makes it happen.”

“It’s affordable for the top executives and engineers.”

“But not everybody else,” Gina said a bit angrily as she paced around some more. “Our parents had no trouble making it here, and they weren’t executives or engineers. Is buying a house becoming a privilege?”

Craig looked as if he heard something unexpected. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s survival of the fittest now,” he shrugged.

Gina slowly went to the front window toward the courtyard at the center of their complex. “We’ll have to leave everyone we know.”

“It’s not like we’re moving cross country,” Craig resumed his argument. “And we’ll come back and visit everyone, or they can come and see us.”

Gina continued to look out the window to all the other units. A couple of the neighbors were talking and laughing. “It won’t be the same. We won’t be a regular part of each other’s lives.”

“But if we stay we’ll never be able to afford a house, not even with both of us working.”

“This is not an easy decision for me to make.”

“Everyone will be a phone call away,” Craig said cheerfully, “and a hundred miles away really isn’t that far.”

“It isn’t that near either.” Gina sauntered away from the window and back into the dining area. “No more dropping by at the spur of the moment, no more regular get togethers.” She sat back down at the table. “We’ll have to plan when we see each other, like visiting far away relatives.”

“A big event to look forward to!” Craig added happily. “And wouldn’t you rather people visit us in a house? Of our own? We’ll be able to have more people over, even for an entire weekend.”

“What, like a slumber party?”

“Sure, why not?”

Gina laughed a little.

“I thought you liked slumber parties.”

“Sure,” Gina said, “when I was in middle school.”

“But you see I’m trying to say.”

“Which is?”

“That we can finally entertain people properly,” Craig highlighted.

“But what do we do with ourselves the rest of the time?”

“Enjoy the open space. A lot of agriculture in the central valley, small town life, slower pace, like this valley used to be.”

“I don’t know. I really don’t think it’ll be the same.”

“Why not?”

“Because things happen in the Bay Area. This is where the excitement is.”

“We can create our own excitement,” Craig smiled suggestively.

Gina laughed a little. “You just want to do it in more rooms.”

“Is that so wrong?”

“Well, it’s not going to be all fun and games,” Gina reminded. “I mean, think about your commute. It’s going to be at least two hours each way, that’s four, maybe five hours a day behind the wheel.”

“At that hour I’ll be able to floor it. That’ll shave off some time.”

“Well I don’t want you getting in a wreck,” Gina said with concern.

“C’mon, you know I’m a safe driver.”

“But what if you dozed off for a few seconds? Or what if someone else did?”

“You worry too much. There won’t be that much traffic that early, no way it’s going to be like 101 during the morning commute. No other cars to get in the way.”

“I can’t help but worry.” Gina looked downward. “I just don’t know about this.”

Craig leaned forward across table. “Look, hon, I know this is a big step, and I understand why it bothers you, but I’ve thought this through. We’ll be building up equity and I’ll be getting raises as I keep working, and at some point we’ll be able to afford to move back here.” Gina looked up at him as he relaxed back into his chair. “Or maybe we’ll both end up liking it out there and want to stay.”

“But if real estate prices do keep rising over here like you’re saying, we’ll be stuck over there whether we like it or not.”

“Like I said, the way things are going at work I’ll soon be earning some more raises,” Craig restated. “At least I’m working in the right place for that.”

“Yes, that’s true,” Gina said, then new thoughts entered her mind. “But another thing to consider is how quick technology can change. Remember the 8-track? Every advancement eventually becomes obsolete, which usually leads to layoffs.”

“Another thing not to worry about,” Craig said with a little exasperation. “Every new advancement leads to new opportunities at a rate that far outpaces the lost, no longer needed jobs. The fact that people keep flooding into Silicon Valley proves that there are opportunities here. And they more than replace the people that leave.”

“Just like lemmings,” Gina said resignedly. “I suppose it would take a massive earthquake to get people to move away from here.”

“You mean like the California coast falling into the Pacific? That could turn Modesto into ocean front property!” Craig said excitedly.

“That’s a happy thought.”

“Serious. The farther we are from the San Andreas, the safer we’ll be when the big one finally hits.”

“But what if Modesto ends up under water?” Gina posed.

“Then we’ll move to Nevada and their new beach front casinos!” Craig said still excited. “Just think about what a golden opportunity this is. The northern San Joaquin Valley is going to be the next boom area, because that’s where the population is going to expand into. And,” his eyes brightened, “we’ll be in on the ground floor.”

Gina considered all the promises to her perception of the realities. “Gotta admit, I’m having a hard time seeing that happening.”

“Why not?”

Gina felt her tact lessening. “There’s nothing to do out there.”

“There’s a lot to do out there! Open space everywhere, no traffic jams, slower pace of life. We’ll be out in the country.”

“But where can you see a concert?”

“They’ve got things out here that we don’t have here, like rodeos, and gun shows.”

“A gun show?” Gina said with alarm.

“Yeah, I always wanted to check out one of those,” Craig said wistfully.

“Didn’t know we were moving out to the wild west.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t turn our house into an armory.”

Gina had new ominous feelings. “I still have to think about it.”

“Okay, but I don’t think there’s much to think about.”

“This move will upend our lives,” Gina said seriously.

“It will improve our lives,” Craig responded equally serious. “Imagine having our place.”

“Location is everything.”

“Which is what real estate agents say when they want to sell you some overpriced mini-mansion. Modesto is a fine place. George Lucas is from there.”

“He doesn’t live there now.”

“It’s a true, old fashion American city, like Mayberry.”

Gina felt she was hitting a wall. “Sure seems like you have your mind made up.”

Craig’s excitement finally calmed down. “Maybe this all seems sudden,” he admitted, “but I did consider everything about this. And I really believe that the positives outweigh the negatives.”

Gina had of a new idea. “How about we stay for a while and try to save up some more money? We’re still young enough, and I’m certainly willing to work some overtime. I’d even be willing to buy a townhouse,” she said trying to be persuasive, “that’s good enough for me.”

“Sure, we could do that, but the house in Modesto is something we can do now. And why settle for half a house with no yard?”

Gina gazed over to the living room. She noticed all the pictures arranged around the television and stereo. The still images of loved ones and life’s important events stirred memories inside of her. “What you say makes sense, but I never counted on leaving my hometown, or the Bay Area at least.”

“This move will pay off in the end.”

“This is a lot more than just an economic decision.”

“Understood,” Craig relented.

“So can we at least sleep on it tonight?”

           *                     *                     *                     *                     *                     *                     *

Gina laid upright in bed under the covers while reading a magazine.

“Now one last thing and I swear I’ll stop bugging you about this,” Craig said from the bathroom sink. “With our own house, you’d have your own room to do whatever you want with. Think about it.” He went back to brushing his teeth.

Gina looked up from her magazine. “Like what?”

Craig stopped brushing. “Like some of the things you like to do, or talk about doing, sewing, art projects, things like that. Maybe you can turn it into a library.” He started brushing again.

Gina thought about having an extra room. She found the idea of a room she could design in her own image appealing. My own little corner of the world, she contemplated. The possibility of more space brought about a new yearning. Sure wouldn’t miss this closet of an apartment, she thought, three fifty a month for a one bedroom, and another rent increase probably on the way. She also anticipated how much better open space would be if they had children.

Gina speculated further into the future. The possibilities unfurled in her mind, and her dreams grew bright. Then the brightness began to dim, the open space became engulfing, the move an exile, the room a cell.

Craig finished brushing, rinsed, and came to bed. He got under the covers and sidled up to Gina. “What are you reading?”

“Oh, nothing.” Gina closed the magazine and set it on the nightstand. “You know, I was thinking about what’s happening in the world lately, about how things are thawing out between us and Russia. That’s going to change things here in the valley.”

“How so?”

“Well, it was defense that drove technology and created most of the jobs here. If things change, and it looks like they are, that’s going to have to change the job market around here. Booms don’t last forever.”

“And you think it’s going to affect my job?”

“It might.”

“I thought you didn’t want to talk about this anymore tonight,” Craig kidded.

“It just occurred to me right now, must have been something I read.”

“Well let me put your mind at ease. There are many uses for technology other than defense. I mean, technology is everywhere these days. Ten years ago there were no ATM’s or VCR’s, now they’re everywhere. The future is very bright for the computer.”

“What if it’s not a smooth transition?”

“It’ll transition.”

Gina tried to consider all possibilities. “You know, these changes could mean more pay.”

“I sure hope so.”

“So why not wait to make a decision until after what happens happens?”

Craig seemed intrigued. “But what if this opportunity passes by and real estate prices rise over in Modesto?”

“What if we go there and die of boredom?”

“Boredom is a state of mind,” Craig reminded. “And we are not boring people.” He relaxed under the covers. “Right?”

“Of course, it’s the surroundings I worry about. And that long drive five days a week, won’t that make you crazy?”

“All I need are my tapes, or I can listen to the sports chat on KNBR. And other Silicon Valley people are moving out there, maybe we can start a carpool.”

Gina pondered. “Guess I always look at the glass as half empty.”

“Nah, you just need to sleep on it.”

*                      *                      *                     *                     *                     *                     *

As Gina drifted toward sleep, she remembered something from her childhood, when she was ten or eleven. Her family was going to go to downtown San Jose for the annual Cinco de Mayo parade. When they got into the car to leave, her father wasn’t with them. She and her siblings had asked their mother why their father wasn’t going. Mother said that father had some things to take care of. They kept asking their mother what their father was doing as they drove to downtown. She said their father was working on a project around the house he had been meaning to get to and didn’t want to put it off any longer. They finally arrived at downtown and walked to the parade. Gina remembered it was a clear, sunny day, the parade was colorful, musical, and festive, and they all had a fun time.

When they returned home after the parade, father was in the backyard laying down bricks and mortar for a new walkway. He was very intent on his work, and appeared unusually tense. Gina and her siblings tried to talk to him, but he was too focused on his task. Mother stayed in the house, and when father came in the house they didn’t say much to each other. A new tension was filling the house.

Within a day or two the tension eased back into calmness. Everything was seemingly normal again, but her parents interests began to go in different directions, and the light of unity in which she always saw them was changed forever. She had never known what first caused the rift, but she thought back to that past as if she were seeing it for the first time.

©2016 Robert Kirkendall

Subsequently published in The Wagon Magazine, Volume 2 – Issue 4, July 2017

Closed Circuit


The employees were all gathered in a conference room. Seth was sitting intently at the middle of a long table. Gavin sat across from him. About a dozen or more were sitting around the table or milling about. A single window on the back wall looked out onto a parking lot.

“So what’s this meeting going to be about?” Seth asked.

“Not sure, but I think it’ll be something good,” Gavin said.

“How do you figure?”

“A lot of changes in the industry, and a lot more players. It’s not just Fairchild and Texas Instruments anymore,” Gavin said knowingly. “My guess is that this meeting is going to be about how we’re going to adapt and compete as the semiconductor field continues to grow.”

“We’re not at that level,” Shirley reminded from down the table. “We’re relative newcomers. Takes time to build up your cache.”

“Most of the companies in this field are newcomers,” Gavin replied. “It’s a new frontier and we’re growing along with it, and we can only go up. They’re probably going to retrain us for something new,” he added positively.

“Could be,” Dale agreed. “Integrated circuits are improving all the time.” He paced thoughtfully. “Back east the factories that were making cars, steel, and everything else fifty years ago are the same factories making those things now. But over here we’re ahead of the curve. Everything modern, and becoming more modern with every advancement. Out with the old and in with the new.”

“And just as I was getting used to my workplace,” Seth said wistfully.

“Like Dale said, it’s the nature of this business,” Walt reminded from one end of the table. He leaned back in his chair. “Less than decade ago this was an apricot orchard, now we’re on the cutting edge of technology and defense. And what we do is good for America.”

“So long as we put it to good use,” Dale added.

“It’ll be helpful for humanity if nothing else,” Gavin said.

“We’ve got to help ourselves first,” Walt insisted. “I don’t mind saying that, and I don’t care if it’s out of fashion.” He looked across the table unapologetically.

No one said anything for a couple of moments. A tension began to float over the room.

“So I went to an A’s game the other night,” Gavin said finally. “They got this kid named Vida Blue, jeez he can throw. He must of struck out at least ten or twelve batters!”

“A’s are doing well? That’s a change,” Seth joked as the unease dissipated.

“At least they don’t have to play at the ‘Stick,” Dale joked.

“My god, that place is windy,” Shirley said. “My husband took me to a game there once, I thought I was going to blow away like a leaf.”

“A’s got a solid team,” Gavin continued. “One of these seasons they’ll go all the way.”

“They won’t get past the Orioles,” Walt countered.

“They’re an older team,” Gavin said. “A’s are young, they got a lot more years ahead of them. They can be a dynasty well into the eighties.”

“Not to gripe, but how long do we have to wait?” Olivia interjected as she moved closer to the conversation. “I need to finish my pile of work.”

“Same here,” Shirley said. “I don’t want to have to work overtime, I have to get to the store.”

“This may be worth waiting for,” Gavin advised. “Could be a new advancement in the field. We’re now at the point where operating systems now have hundreds of kilobytes, some even a thousand. That increases the possibilities of what can be achieved.”

“Well we got to keep up with all those advances,” Seth said, “don’t want to fall behind there.” “I feel that we are at the front of a revolution,” Gavin proclaimed.

“I think we’ve had enough revolution,” Shirley said. “Stability would be nice.” Some nodded in agreement.

“This will be a new revolution,” Gavin promised, “based on technology. It’ll be more like a renaissance,” he said brightly as he looked around the table, “a point of positive change that makes life better for everyone so we can leave all our old troubles behind.”

“You sound like an adman,” Walt kidded. “That’s the department you should be working in.”

“Anything I can do to help the company,” Gavin said humbly.

“Now let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Dale warned. “We don’t know yet what’s going to happen, we don’t know what they discuss behind closed doors. Let’s just wait and see.” The room became silent and contemplative. A couple of people shifted about. Someone sat down at the table.

“Well we do know this,” Gavin anticipated, “we’re at the root of an industry is only going to grow.”

“Yeah, the industry is going to grow as everything inside of the computer shrinks,” Lee said. He was leaning against the wall.

“And as that happens, computers are going to be everywhere,” Gavin pointed out, “not just in big government and big business. In ten years that every mom and pop store will have a computer.”

“Sure, if they can afford it,” Olivia remarked.

“So is that what this meeting is going to be about? Getting our product everywhere?” Seth asked.

“That’ll probably increase our workload,” Shirley said.

“But don’t you see the bigger picture?” Gavin emphasized. “I’ll bet in a decade or so every small business will be using a computer for accounting, payroll, record keeping, they’ll be indispensable. And every home will have one as well. That’s job security for years to come.”

“So maybe that means we’re all getting raises,” Shirley said hopefully.

“I’m just happy to be working in a growing field, because I don’t want to move away from here,” Seth resolved. “Too much snow back from where I’m from. The weather here, on the other hand, is perfect.”

“Yeah, we’re spoiled,” Lee said obliquely.

“A job is a job as far as I’m concerned,” Walt stated. “No different than the packing sheds I used to work in when I was in high school. That business also used to have a future around here.”

“I can see computers in the workplace, but home computers as well?” Olivia asked. “What can they do that a calculator or typewriter can’t do?”

“Maybe by that time they’ll be used for communication,” Dale predicted.

“We already have the telephone for that,” Shirley said.

“I don’t know about you guys but I’m excited to be working here,” Gavin declared. “I used to read and watch science fiction when I was growing up, and now I’m living it.”

“And getting paid for it,” Walt reminded.

“Best of both worlds,” Dale added. Everyone looked around in agreement.

“Now I’m starting to look forward to this meeting,” Seth said.

“Maybe they want our input for the company party,” Olivia said humorously.

“They’re going to take us all to the Wagon Wheel for drinks,” Lee joked further.

“You know, I heard about this new advancement in the integrated circuit field,” Gavin imparted, “some kind of super circuit.”

“I heard the same rumor,” Walt said offhandedly.

“Serious, some chip with thousands of tiny little transistors and capacitors. Imagine the possibilities,” Gavin mused.

“Doesn’t necessarily translate into more jobs,” Dale reminded. “The more on a chip the less assembly that’ll need to be done. Advancements can make certain jobs obsolete.”

“Ah, you’re a killjoy,” Seth said.

An employee near the door looked out into the corridor “I think I hear them coming.” Everyone still standing went to the nearest chair and sat around the table.

One of the managers, a middle aged man in a short sleeves and a necktie, walked in briskly followed by a secretary carrying some files. They stood at the head of the table. “Good afternoon,” the manager began cheerily. “How are you all doing?” Everyone said they were fine or nodded. “Good, good,” he responded. His mood then appeared to become more serious. “So,” he began didactically, “as we all know this is an industry based upon advancements. Time was industrial advances were seen over the course of years, decades. Now changes happen from year to year. The newest of these changes is a very important advancement in the semiconductor field. One of our newer competitors has created the first completely integrated circuit that contains all microprocessing functions on one single silicon chip.” Everyone looked to each other interestedly. “Though it isn’t available to the public just yet, the board attended a demonstration and saw what this new central processing unit can do, and they were quite impressed. So we had a discussion and concluded that this will cause a refocusing in the industry for even smaller computers and mainframes, and we’re going to have to change along with it.” Everyone looked to each other curiously.

“We do anticipate an immediate drop off for us, so we’re going to have to restructure our workplace to keep up with these new advancements. Part of this means paring down all our departments and combining some of them to make ourselves leaner and more nimble within our field.

“Now let me say we appreciate all the work you have done for us. Without your effort, we wouldn’t be where we are today. So it was with a heavy heart that we made the decision that we did.” The manager nodded to his secretary, and she started handing out envelopes to everyone. “We regret to tell you that we’re going to have to lay you all off. But we have included a severance with your last paycheck.” The crestfallen former employees accepted the envelopes automatically. “You see, in the beginning of any new industry, there are a lot of booms and busts before things even out. Technology is a volatile thing. It never sits still, and this industry has seen its share of fierce competition, mavericks leaving established companies to stake their own claim, new companies branching away from old companies, lawsuits and countersuits over who invented what. But I know as things start to stabilize you will all be working again soon. And we’ll give all of you good references.” He smiled at everyone again. The secretary handed out the last of the paychecks and returned to the manager’s side. “Well, good luck,” he said positively and left followed by the secretary. The newly former employees looked to each other stunned and silent. “Well, shit,” Walt bemoaned. “I just bought a new boat.”

                    *                     *                    *                    *                    *                     *                     *

Everyone quietly left the building, some carrying personal possessions.

“So now what?” Seth asked.

“Well I’m going straight to the unemployment office to file my claim,” Dale decided. “Don’t know when I’ll be working again.”

“I heard the recession is over,” Gavin added hopefully. “Maybe it won’t take so long to find work.”

“It’s still a drag,” Seth said morosely. “I kinda feel like a sap.”  Everyone began to fan out across the parking lot.  All around laid a checkerboard of old farmland and new office building, strip malls, and tract houses.


“Anybody know who’s hiring?” Olivia asked.

“Well I’m going to try to get a job with whoever made that super circuit,” Lee said.

©2015 Robert Kirkendall

From The Archives – Diridon Station

(I first wrote this story three years ago while taking a class at Cabrillo College and posted it on my old blog.  This is rewrite of that previous version.  It’s a tale of love lost, then found again…sort of.)

Andrew and his briefcase were pulled along by a mass of evening commuters moving through the atrium of Diridon Station. As they all headed to the front entrance, Andrew exited the stream and stopped at the schedule chart and system map up upon the wall.


He turned around and saw an bouncy, youngish woman looking right at him. “Excuse me?”

“Yes! It is you! Two Drink Andy!”

The woman’s colorful attire was quite striking to Andrew and reminded him of a bowl of fruit punch. “Um, do we know each other?”

“It’s me, Wendy,” she declared hand upon her chest. “Wendy Bartlett! Don’t you remember me?”

“Oh, Wendy,” Andrew drew a blank as he turned away from the wall schedule to get a better look at her. “Uh, where do we know each other from?”

Wendy was taken aback. “You really don’t remember, do you?”

Andy tried to think. “Sorry, not ringing a bell, Wendy…what’s your last name again?”

“Wendy Bartlett!” she reemphasized a little louder. “I was just over there coming out of the tunnel, and then I look over this way and I’m all, ‘Oh my god, it’s him! Wonder if he remembers me?’”

Andrew was disoriented by the seeming stranger who apparently knew him. “So where and when did we meet?”

“Ha! We did more than just meet.” Wendy smiled slyly.

Andrew was taken aback. “Really? What did we do?”

“Oh my god!” Wendy laughed. “What didn’t we do?”

“But…how did we first meet?”

“At Shady Brady’s! Don’t you remember?”

A dizzying confusion came over Andrew. “Um, where is this Shady Brady’s?”

“Oh stop it, you know where perfectly well where it’s at. Shrouded in the fog of Seabright,” Wendy said with a dramatic sweep of her hand, “attracting unsavory sorts from the waterfront. And on one fateful night you and your friends showed up.”

“Oh, yes, of course, I remember,” Andrew said having no idea where it was, but assumed it was somewhere over the hill in the Santa Cruz area, a favorite spot of his friends for mischief making and evidence hiding.

“Yes! All you guys were doing shots while I was across the bar being hit on by some loser who worked at a vitamin company. And then your friends dared you to talk to me and ask me to dance.”

“Why can’t I remember that?” Andrew said partly to himself.

“Your friends said you couldn’t handle too much alcohol. They said that’s why your nickname is Two Drink Andy.”

Andrew was flabbergasted by the new information. “Oh. I see.”

Wendy leaned forward. “Also, I think they slipped something into your drink,” she said confidentially. “I think it was STP.”

The shock continued for Andrew. “Isn’t that a hallucinogen?”

“You know, it may have been the fuel additive. But don’t quote me.”

Andrew recalled the tomfoolery of the old gang and was slightly relieved by the explanation. “Yeah, that sounds like them,” Andrew said knowingly, but a question gnawed at him. “So, what happened that night?”

“Well, after the flaming brandy shots, you lost all your inhibitions and we sashayed out onto the dance floor for some dirty dancing,” Wendy said provocatively.

“Really? That doesn’t sound like me.”

“That’s because whatever you were on loosened you up, and you sure did have some moves!” Wendy said as she sexily demonstrated how they had danced.

Wendy’s boldly expressive manner intimidated Andrew. “Well that sounds like it was a fun night,” he managed to say. “Glad we were able to have a dance with each other.” He looked toward the opened brass framed, glass pane doors of the front entrance and tried to move toward them.

“That wasn’t the end of our night.”

Andrew stopped before he could get away. “Uh, what else did we do?”

“We went to my place for a game of Monopoly.”

“Oh. That sounds harmless enough.”

“Strip Monopoly.”

Andrew was startled. “H-how is that played?”

“Well, every time one of us passed Go, we had to take off a piece of clothing. And if one of us ended up in jail, we had to get strip searched.”

“That…doesn’t sound…the rules,” Andrew said as he tried to search his memory.

“It was your idea.”


“Oh yeah. And if one of us landed on the other’s property and couldn’t pay the rent, other arrangements had to be made,” Wendy said luridly. “That was my idea,” she added proudly.

“Well, at least we both contributed,” Andrew said lamely.

“Yes, we sure did. You even let me win,” Wendy said as she playfully grabbed Andrew’s side. He recoiled slightly from her ticklish touch. “My, that was some night,” she reminisced.

“Did we even finish the game?”

“Yeah, we were finished all right,” Wendy said with a laugh.

“Sounds like it was quite a night,” Andrew said, more puzzled than ever.

Wendy gripped Andrew’s forearm. “I felt things I’ve never felt before.” She looked into his eyes with an unsettling sincerity.

Andrew was alarmed by the whole experience. He felt overwhelmed, then slowly realized the possibilities. “So,” he began cautiously, “are you doing anything this weekend?”

“What?” Wendy suddenly pulled her hand away. “Are you hitting on me?”

“Oh, uh…”

“The nerve of you! Whatever gave you the idea that I wanted anything to do with you?!”

“But, those things we did.”

“I’m married now!” Wendy shouted as she held up her wedding ring. “I’m going home right now to make dinner for my family! I was only trolling places like Shady Brady’s because I was going through a dark period in my life! What do you take me for?!”

Andrew held up hands defensively. “I’m sorry, really, I didn’t know.”

“Get away from me, you sicko!” Wendy stormed out the front entrance. Andrew looked around the train station confusedly. He noticed a young, menacing security guard looking directly at him through the conflux of commuters. Others seated on the pew-like benches were completely indifferent to his plight.

The security guard began to advance toward Andrew while reaching for something on his belt. Andrew panicked and quickly left the station in a state of confusion. He went around the half circle driveway and scurried across Cahill Street to the parking lot. The sun was setting and twilight was nearing as he approached his vehicle. He thought more about that night. Did the guys really slip me a Mickey? he wondered. Aw, they were always doing stuff like that, he remembered somewhat nostalgically, said I needed to loosen up. He unlocked his car with his remote, got in and placed his briefcase on the passenger seat. He started the ignition and the multi speaker stereo surrounded him with easy listening music in the sound proof interior. He slowly drove out of the parking lot and proceeded with the surrounding traffic. He then merged onto a main highway and headed toward his suburban neighborhood.

Andrew tried to recall more of that night as he was driving. I remember going to a bar that night with the guys, he thought, and I remember hanging out there, but then everything becomes a blur until the next afternoon. He then recalled how when the shots were served, one of the shot glasses was pushed upon him as the guys grabbed all the other ones and drank them which forced him to drink his. He also seemed to remember that his shot glass may have been fizzing. Maybe I should’ve said something, he thought, but I didn’t want to kill the moment. He remembered awakening back in San Jose, and surmised that his friends must have picked him up from Wendy’s. He then had the unsettling thought that his friends were also at Wendy’s, perhaps as spectators, or even as participants!

As the entire, murky experience played out in Andrew’s mind, he began to reexamine his own life. Once again I can’t meet the right woman, he thought, something always seems to goes wrong. I thought I’d be married by now, he lamented, I never wanted to rush into wedlock, but am I being too cautious? He ruminated over his life, how he was moderately successful at a reputable employer, and how he thought that was all it took to find a woman.

I should be more like Rory, he thought. He remembered how Rory had lived boldly, without abandon, and was by far the craziest out of all his friends. And even though the motorcycle and fireworks mishap had resulted in Rory not being able to have an open casket funeral, Andrew knew he should learn from his example on how to live life.

Andrew passed his exit and drove further down the highway and onto the next exit. He navigated through a maze of suburban streets and arrived at his parent’s house. He knocked on the front door and his mother answered.

“Why hello, Andrew! Come on in,” his mother greeted. “We’re just sitting down to dinner.” Andrew ate with his parents while talking about his women problems.

“There is no reason why a man like you shouldn’t be married,” his father asserted. “You need to get out of your rut, change up your routine, visit new places.”

“Oh, I agree,” his mother said. “A change of scenery would do wonders for you. Have you ever tried a place called Shady Brady’s?”


©2015 Robert Kirkendall



John stood outside in the back yard of his family farmhouse. He struck a match, lit a cigarette, and looked out across the maintained rows of green leaved plum and apricot trees under the midday sun as he tossed the burnt match to the ground. In the distance he saw a construction crew on a recently cleared lot paving new streets and laying foundations for future tract houses, and felt encroached upon. His mother came out the back door of the house. He sensed her looking at him with concern as he looked away toward the western mountains.

“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” he asked sullenly.

“We couldn’t get a hold of you,” his mother replied. “You’ve been away for close to three years now. And with all your moving around after your discharge, we didn’t know where to find you.”

“I would’ve returned sooner if I knew this was going to happen.”

“I’m sorry you had to find out like this. We were hoping to keep the orchard, but your father isn’t as young as he used to be. His doctors are telling him to take it easy.”

“And Richard is okay with this?”

“Richard just got promoted to foreman at Owens Corning. He’s doing well. He could probably get you a job there.”

John looked back at his mother. “I would’ve taken over the farm.”

Mother looked at him sympathetically. “There’s just no more money to be made from fruit trees,” she said, “at least not around here. All the new housing and shopping centers are driving up the price of land, and our property taxes are going up with it. A lot of farmers are selling out.”

John took a drag off his cigarette. “This is all wrong.”

“I don’t like it either, but we don’t have much of a choice.” Mother moved a little closer toward John. “And the trees are getting older, some of them are at least fifty years old or more.”

John looked back at their rows of fruit trees, and was pained that they would soon be gone. “I thought this would always be here. Growers made this valley.”

“Yes, yes we did.” Mother came up to John and stood next to him. “Farms and orchards used to cover the entire valley, as far as the eye could see,” she said nostalgically. “When the trees were in bloom, people from all over would come here and visit just to see them. I always thought it’d be that way too,” she added forlornly.

Jason shook his head. “Our way of life is coming to an end.”

“The valley is a big place,” mother reminded. “I’m sure some of the orchards will remain. People will always have to eat. And the south valley is still unbuilt upon at least.”

John took another drag off his cigarette as he wandered away further from the house still feeling crestfallen. “So what am I going to do now?”

“We didn’t think you’d be back anytime soon. We just figured you’d settle some place else. You always were restless,” mother recalled maternally.

“Yeah, I did some adventuring around, but I’m back now.” John looked back at mother. “And the whole time I was away, I thought there would always be a home to come back to, and that a future here was possible. And I was wrong.” He paced around some more. “So what are you and Dad going to do? And Scott and Erin?”

“Well, we don’t have to move out just yet. We’ll get one more harvest. And with the money we’re getting we can buy a new home somewhere.”

“It won’t be like this,” John said disappointingly. “Just a little house with a little yard. Where are you all going to move to anyway?”

“Willow Glen might be nice. We have time to look around, and we don’t need a big house anymore. I’m kind of looking forward to it to tell you the truth. Just a little garden to take care of.”

John shook his head. “I still can’t get used to this.”

“Oh, it’ll be all right. You know, there are a lot of new jobs here” mother said while trying to sound positive. “Your friend Jim is working at Westinghouse. And remember FMC? They used to make cans for all the canneries? Now they’re making tanks for the army. With your service experience you’d be a shoe in.”

“I didn’t come back here to work in a factory,” John declined. “I always liked the openness here, and I am not liking this,” he said as he nodded toward the construction site.

“Are you going to leave us again?” mother asked mournfully.

John took another drag and exhaled. “Don’t know what I’m going to do yet.”

Mother put her hands on her hips. “And when did you take up smoking?”

“In the service. Guys who smoke get a cigarette break.”

“The doctors say it was cigarettes that caused your father’s health problems.”

John dropped the cigarette butt and crushed it into the dirt with his boot. “I don’t smoke that much.”

“I don’t want the same thing to happen to you.”

“When did cigarettes become bad for you all of a sudden?”

“Everything is changing,” mother pointed out. “I can remember when they built the hangar at Moffett Field. It was so big you could see it from miles away, but the land is filling up. Now you can’t see across the valley the way you used to.”

John watched the activity at the construction site resentfully and thought of the formerly open land that was about to be closed off, built upon, and occupied by strangers. “Can’t believe this is all going to be gone.”

“Sorry you feel that way, son. We didn’t think you’d take it this so hard.”

“Because I didn’t see this coming,” John said with some anger. “Would you have done the same thing if I was here?”

“I don’t know, but you would’ve been part of the conversation. What would you have done? Or said?”

“I would’ve tried to hold onto the farm. This is ours.”

“But how would you have kept it going? You never ran things. You don’t know what that’s like. It’s a lot of responsibility, all the harvesting, and bringing to market.”

“I took part in all of that,” John reminded. “I picked a lot of fruit and loaded a lot of crates over the years.”

“But it’s different when you’re in charge. There are bills, expenses, employees to pay, equipment to maintain, loans to pay off, taxes, rising costs.”

“I would’ve at least tried,” John insisted.

“But for how long? Especially with every other farm and orchard selling to developers and builders. It just feels inevitable.”

John looked back at the construction site. “I suppose you’re right,” he relented cynically. “I think it all started when they built those high end department store on Stevens Creek.”

“I don’t think they’re so bad,” mother replied. “Just the other day I bought a new dress from The Emporium. Your father said it makes look like a million dollars,” she smiled.

“You too, eh?”

“Well, sometimes you want nice things.”

“Hart’s has nice things.”

“Yeah, but the new stores are bigger, and have parking.”

“The valley is all about growing food for the people,” John asserted, “especially for the city people who don’t know how to farm. They depend on us. We don’t need to be like San Francisco.”

“Well I don’t think we’ll ever get that big, but we do have more businesses and industry here now, and all those new workers need places to live and shop.”

“But do you like what’s going on here?” John asked as he glared at the construction site.

Mother sighed. “I’m too old to fight it.”

“So it’s just me?”

“Like I said, you always were a restless child. As soon as you could walk you were off and running. You must have roamed over every square inch of this valley.”

“And someday there’ll be nowhere to run around or fish or hunt,” John said dejectedly.

Mother came up right next to John. “You know, we were never sure if you were going to come back home or not. It’s just your wandering ways.” She put her arm around him. “So what are you going to do next?”

John took a long look around at their property as he put his arm around his mother. “Think I’ll go over to Phil’s and see what he’s doing.” He looked at her pleadingly. “Can I take the Dodge?”

“Keys are in the usual place.”

John cruised along the two lane blacktop in a 1953 Dodge Coronet. Phil sat on the passenger side of the front seat. Rows of fruiting trees, plums, cherries, apricots, and almonds, bordered either side of the street, interspersed with plowed fields, at the end of which were old Victorian era farmhouses. A line of wire strung telephone poles were on one side of the street.

“Nice to have you back,” Phil began. “You must have missed home.”

“I’m going to be missing it more.”

“Are you leaving again?”

“My parents are selling the farm.”

“Oh no. All of it?”

“All twenty five acres.”

“I didn’t know they were looking to sell.”

“I just found out myself.” They approached an intersection and came to a stop. A produce stand was at one corner. John looked down either direction, then turned left onto the cross street. More orchards and farms lined the street.

“Getting one last look before it’s all gone?” Phil asked.

“I suppose,” John said dismally.

“Say, why don’t we grab some beers and head down to Almaden? We’ll go for a hike, maybe even do some fishing. You’ll feel better.”

“A hike sounds good. Maybe it’ll clear my head.” They drove along further.

“I don’t know what to say,” Phil finally said.

“I’m still in shock myself,” John admitted. “This changes everything.” He pondered his future and wondered where his next path was.

“My parents are talking about selling.”


“It’s the taxes,” Phil explained. “They don’t think they’ll be able to hold on much longer.”

“What are you all going to do?”

“My parents are thinking about buying land out near Gilroy or Hollister, maybe even all the way out to the San Joaquin Valley.”

“They want to move away?”

“They’re growers, only life they know.”

“How about you?”

“Well, this is the only home I know. If we sell I’ll have to find a job. I’ll see how it goes. How about you?”

“Haven’t decided.” They came to another intersection. A flashing red light was strung over its center. John tuned right and parked in front of a liquor store, a wide nineteenth century era white wooden building. They walked in and got a six pack of Falstaff beer from a refrigerated case. They went to the front counter.


“My friend here just got back into town,” Phil said to the middle aged woman behind the counter.

Oh, glad to be back?” the woman asked John. “My home has been sold to developers,” John answered.

The woman’s expression saddened. “Well that’s too bad,” she consoled. “That’s been happening all over.

“At least this old place is still here,” Phil added cheerfully.

“Don’t know for how much longer though,” the woman said. “The planning department want to turn Almaden Road out there into an expressway!”

“That could bring in more business,” Phil pointed out.

“It’ll put us out of business because the expressway will go over all of this,” the woman said with arms held out.

“Why do they have to put it right here?” Phil questioned. “Can’t they pave around you?”

“No can do,” the woman answered. “If they expand the road the other way it’ll fall into the river. Their mind is made up.”

“Can’t you fight it?” John asked.

“They’ll use eminent domain. The best we can hope for is a good price on the land. I also heard they’re going to build a new shopping center down at Almaden and Kooser.”

“Well there goes the south valley,” John said exasperatedly.

“Everyone is fleeing downtown for the suburbs,” the woman said.

“Suburbs that haven’t been built yet,” John added.

“They’re building them as fast as they can,” the woman informed. “And I’ll be glad to be gone when they do.”

“I can’t imagine the valley without places like this,” Phil said. “This is a landmark.”

“It sure was,” the woman said wistfully. “Back when this was a saloon, this was the only stop between San Jose and Almaden where you could come in and wet your whistle. Now San Jose is swallowing the whole place up. Can’t wait to get out.”

“That’s got to hurt,” Phil sympathized.

“Breaks my heart,” the woman said sorrowfully. “All the old families that grew and farmed in this valley are selling out and leaving. In ten years I’m not going to recognize my hometown.”

“Where are you going to go?” John asked.

The woman leaned forward onto the counter. “My husband and I have a beach cottage down in Capitola. That’s where we’ll be.”

“Sure won’t be the same here without Robertsville Liquors,” Phil said.

“No it won’t,” the woman shook her head. “Never thought I’d see the day.”

John and Phil paid for the beer and a couple of sandwiches, then got back into the Dodge and drove south on Almaden Road. They passed more orchards, some cornfields, an occasional market, and an old, Spanish designed elementary school.

“So they’re really going to widen this street,” Phil wondered. “Can’t imagine what that’s going to look like.”

“Guess we’re going to find out,” John replied.

“Who decides these things? Nobody asked us.”

“Somebody higher up on the totem pole.”

“Yeah, much higher,” Phil said. “I thought we were safe from all that. People need to eat, and we supply that.”

“California is a big state with a lot of agriculture. They’ll find a place.”

“Just wish they asked us.”

They passed a roadhouse tavern as they drove further into the south valley. The fruit trees began to give way to ranches and open fields. The straight road started to wind around knolls and climbed into the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The farms and ranches became sparse and gave way to forest and black oaks, bay laurels, madrones, and various firs. John lit up a cigarette as the road weaved higher into the mountains and gradually curved to the right. A creek appeared below the left side of the road.

They came to a turnout and John parked the Dodge. They got out of the car and crossed the road as John dropped his cigarette butt and stepped on it. They took in the surroundings as they entered the trail head and crossed into the woods.

“When was the last time you were down here?” Phil asked.

“Before I left home,” John answered. “At least this looks the same.” His mood improved as they hiked further into the thicket of trees. His worries dispersed into the natural surroundings as he fell into a more primordial conscious. The trees blocked out some of the sun and he felt a little cooler. They got through the trees and came to a reservoir. The late afternoon sun reflected brightly off the surface of the water.

“Well this looks as good a place as any to drink some beers,” Phil said. He set the six pack on a large rock along with a small paper sack. He pulled a church key from his pocket, opened two bottles, and handed one to John. “Glad to have you back, my friend,” Phil said as he raised his bottle in a toast.

John clinked his bottle against Phil’s. “About time, eh?” They both took a drink.

“Some of us were wondering if you were ever going to come back. We figured you were on some kind of adventure. You know how it is growing up here, every direction you look there’s mountains. Kind of makes the world seem small.” Phil reached into the paper sack and pulled out a cellophane wrapped sandwich. “You want your sandwich?”

“Later.” John wandered around the edge of the water as he considered what Phil had said. He remembered thinking the same thing when he was growing up but had never expressed it. He wondered if all he ever wanted was to see what was on the other side of the mountains, and then asked himself if he wanted to remain on the other side now that home as he knew it was about to end. As he pondered he spotted a hawk in the far sky, and followed its hovering flight path.

“No way they build up here,” Phil broke the silence. “Too far away from everything.” He took the last bite of his sandwich. “At least some things don’t change.”

John watched the hawk as it circled in the distance. “Things won’t be the same, whether I stay or leave.”

“Well I’m going to stick it out for the time being. The valley is still a good place to live. Even if we sell the farm I can find a job here, and there’s a lot more than there used to be.”

Neither spoke for a moment.

“But I do know some people that are leaving,” Phil continued. “They just can’t compete. And now my sister want to go to college up in Berkeley. If she does I can’t imagine her coming back here to live the farm life, assuming we still have it by then.” Phil took another drink as he moved closer to the water next to John. “At least you don’t have to worry about being drafted now that you’ve done your time. Weren’t you stationed in South Vietnam?”

“South Korea.”

“Oh, Vietnam is what I keep hearing on the news. Maybe the Army will come after me if that builds up.”

“We’re only there to support their government against the Communists,” John informed. “At least that’s what they told us.”

“You were in that part of the world. What do you think?”

“It’s been over since I was there. A lot has changed.”

They looked down toward the water line. “You mean since the president was shot?”

A memory of shared trauma was triggered. “Everything is on edge now,” John dreaded. “Hard to tell what’s going to happen next.”

“Well, whatever the future holds, we sure had some good times,” Phil said affectionately.

John thought back to their growing years. He felt a yearning for that time, a sorrow over its passing, and frustration that he wasn’t more appreciative for what he had. He then saw his varied past in its entirety. “I may not know what the future holds, I don’t even know if I’m going to stay here or not, and maybe everything I remember from home as I knew it is going to disappear. But I do know where I came from, where we came from, and no one can take that away from us,” he stated proudly.

“Amen, brother.”

John held up his beer. “To our little Eden.” Phil toasted along with him as they looked out across the water.


©2015 Robert Kirkendall


Vanishing Act

“Are you sure you can do this?” Linda asked.

“It’s going to be fine,” Roy assured. He opened up the camera case in his lap as he sat behind the steering wheel and pulled out an old Canon AE1. Its shoulder strap unfolded and hung downward.

Linda looked out the passenger side car window and across a dirt parking lot to where people were gathering at a southwestern Native American reservation. “I don’t know. They may not like having their ceremonies being photographed.”

“I’m sure that’s only private ceremonies,” Roy said unworriedly.

“You sure have taken a lot of pictures on this vacation. We’re supposed to be relaxing, not driving all over the place,” Linda complained mildly. “We really should get on the road. We’ve both got to be at work on Monday.”

“Just a few more, promise,” Roy reassured as he pulled out a roll of film from the case. He set the case aside on the console, opened the back of the camera, and placed the roll of film into its left side compartment. “Besides, how often do you get to see this part of America?” He pulled out the feeder strip of film and wound it onto the spool to the right. He closed the back and adjusted the dial on the camera’s top right.

“That’s one old looking camera,” Linda observed.

“It’s not that old,” Roy said. “It was made in the late seventies.”

“It’s older than me.”

“This was state of the art in its day. It’s one of the first SLR’s.”

“A what?”

Roy held up the camera with one hand and pointed to it with the other. “It means there are these little mirrors inside the camera that reflect the image from the lens to the view finder, so you’re seeing the exact image you’ll be photographing,” he explained spiritedly. “A big improvement over older cameras in which the two were not lined up.”

“Is that what they teach you in photography class?” Linda kidded. “Obsolete technology?”

“Technology is only obsolete if it’s replaced by a better technology,” Roy stated. “And digital, for all its convenience, is not a replacement for the purity of analog photography.”

“These days everybody is taking pictures with their phones, so even digital cameras are old.”

“But nothing has the look of film,” Roy said passionately. “It has its own special qualities.”

Linda turned toward Roy. “Yeah, but you can’t see your pictures as soon as you take them. You can’t delete a bad picture. You can’t download them and share them with your friends.”

“Why does everything have to be in such a hurry?” Roy argued. “What’s wrong with taking your time and making something beautiful? And I’ll tell you why else I’m using film. My instructor told us something that a movie director once said. Film captures the soul in a way that video can’t, because film is a single image frozen in time just as it is. Digital, on the other hand, is a lot of tiny dots that each represent a color. It’s a translation of an image, not the image itself.” He felt a bit of a rush from his explaining. “And could you imagine Ansel Adams taking a picture of Yosemite with a phone?”

“Maybe, but doesn’t film also require more light than digital?” Linda asked.

“Yes, but that’s the essence of it, light.” Roy pointed again to the camera. “It travels through this lens, hits the film and triggers a chemical reaction and preserves the image in an instant, one of mankind’s best inventions. And so what if it isn’t as easy to use as digital? Does everything have to cater to our laziness?”

“Well, people are busy, have things to do. Most people don’t have time to go through all this trouble for a slightly better picture.”

“But sometimes you got to put in that extra effort to make something of quality, something that’ll last. Something beautiful.” Roy looked at his camera admiringly.

“That photography class you took has really brought out your artistic side,” Linda said after a pause.

Roy sensed he was finally convincing Linda. “I sure have taken to it. It’s like I tapped into something inside me I didn’t know was there, and now that I’ve found it, I feel…complete.” Roy opened another case, pulled out a zoom lens, and attached it to the front of the camera.

“I know I’ve been teasing you about this, hon, but I’m really glad for you. Photography has awakened something within you, and that’s a good thing.”

“Thanks.” Roy basked in the glow of Linda’s approval as he looked over the camera one last time, then hung its strap around his neck. “Well, camera is all ready. Let’s go.”

They got out of the car and Linda put on a straw sun hat. “Still not wearing a hat? This desert sun is brutal.”

“No worries, I put some lotion on earlier.” Roy pulled out sunglasses from his shirt pocket and put them on. “And I got these.” They walked across the sandy surface of an unpaved parking area and passed other cars. The hot summer sun glared down on the unchanging desert terrain. Dusty, arid earth extended all around with brown and dark red rock formations, dry brush, and thorned, green cacti sticking up from the barren plane. They approached the gathering spot as other people were coming together to an open area in the center of the upcoming event.

“Well you’re sure in the right place if it’s light you need,” Linda pointed out as she looked toward the bright, blue sky.

“Now you know why Hollywood was started in a desert.”

Linda looked around the gathering. “I’m not seeing anybody else with a camera, at least not one like yours.”

“This is open to the public,” Roy reminded. “I don’t think they’ll mind a few pictures.” Roy also looked around. “I’m sure there are others. They might have them in their pockets, so small these days.”

“Maybe you ought to ask someone if it’s all right to take pictures.”

“Okay,” Roy agreed. He walked through the spread of tourists and other onlookers toward the open area where the tribe was gathered. He came up to a tribesman at the edge of the gathering. “Excuse me, is it all right to take pictures?” Roy asked.

The tribesman looked at Roy, then at his camera. “Is that a film camera?”

“Sure is.”

“Don’t ever see those anymore.”

“Yeah, I like the look of film. Nothing like it.”

“Can I see it?”

“Sure.” Roy lifted the strap from around his neck and handed the camera over.

The tribesman held the camera and looked it over. “Funny how big these look now.”

“They were very popular in their day, the latest in line.”

“I think my aunt had one of these, always taking pictures. My mother got on her for spending so much on a camera. She said it was a waste of money.” He looked through the view finder as he aimed the lens. “But this does seem like a fun hobby.”

“It is. Last fall I took a photography class at a community college, and it opened up a whole new world. I really wanted to learn all I could about photography and do it right. So I went to some pawnshops looking for an old camera, and I came across this. The zoom lens I found online, came in a set of four,” Roy said as he pointed to the accessory. “Progress may be inevitable, but you don’t want to forget the old ways.” He felt he had said something profound. “Yeah, I did pretty good in that class. The instructor even said I had a good eye,” he added boastfully.

“You don’t say,” the tribesman replied somewhat indifferently.

“Yep. And if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that photography is a real art form. And it’s not just about capturing the image, it’s about how you frame it, and the importance of the subject matter,” Roy said solemnly.

The tribesman lowered the camera and looked down at it. “So what brings you out here?”

“My girlfriend and I are on vacation from California. We have friends that moved out to Chandler a couple of years ago, and we were finally lucky enough to finally get some time off at the same time, so here we are. Then we heard about your ceremony, and I thought I would really like to capture it. If it’s okay, that is.”

The tribesman handed the camera back to Roy. “On a day like this and with a camera like that, I think you should be able to capture some memorable looking images.”

“Thanks. I thought it’d be okay, but my girlfriend thought I should ask. She says certain ceremonies aren’t supposed to be photographed.”

“Those ceremonies aren’t exactly open to the public,” the tribesman said as he began to move away from Roy.

“That’s what I figured. All these people wouldn’t be here otherwise,” Roy said as he pointed to the gathering crowd. “And I promise I’ll take some fine pictures that’ll do your ceremony justice,” he added.

“No doubt you will.” The tribesman left for the ceremony space and Roy headed back through the growing crowd toward Linda.

“He says it’s cool,” Roy said to Linda.

“Looks like they’re about to start,” Linda said. Everyone was gathering around a central area where the tribe, a few in colorful ceremonial dress, most in jeans and denim button up shirts or T-shirts, were congregated. Four upright streamers on poles were placed around a circle of open ground, and two drums with several drummers around each one were situated on either side. A couple of women was holding burning sage. A member of the tribe walked to the front of the circle and looked toward the crowd.

“Greetings!” he began. “Thank you all for coming here, and welcome to our annual summer powwow. This is the time of year when daytime is at its longest, and night at its shortest, so we come you here to celebrate the sun at its apex and its life giving powers. It is also the time to prepare for the coming darkness. One does not exist without the other in that great and endless cycle.”

Roy scanned around for photo subjects and became less aware of the speech.

“People often forget these connections in these modern times. Everyone always has somewhere more important to go, or they’re too busy looking at their iPhones or other electronic gadgets, so we gather here and places like here so we may reestablish that connection.”

Roy slowly moved through the attentive crowd until he got to the edge. He held up his camera and aimed through the viewfinder, but his sunglasses were obscuring his vision. He raised them up to the top of his head, and crouched a little until he found an angle he liked. He focused on the speaker, centered him in the shot, waited a couple of seconds until the right moment, then snapped the picture.

“I see new faces, and some old ones, but we’re all here for the same reason, even though we have come here by different paths. If there’s one thing that there’s too much of in society it’s compartmentalization. Everything is divided up to be more efficient, whether it’s the workplace, school, or the government.  But when people are compartmentalized it separates us from the whole, and isolates us.  And we come here so that we may feel whole again.”

Roy pondered his next shooting location as he meandered through the front of the increasingly attentive and unified crowd until he reached the other side.  He got down on one knee and pointed his camera at a slight upward angle toward the gathered tribe under the glaring sun.  He focused until he had as many of them as he could get into the viewfinder and took another picture.

“You may have heard of sun dances in which there is much praying and fasting, and hooks are driven in the skin and tug at the flesh. Some of you may be wondering if this one of those ceremonies. It isn’t, but that makes it no less reverent, though maybe not as intense.”

Roy looked around for a new shot location. He noticed the crowd and how absorbed in the speech they were. He aimed his camera and snapped a picture of the gathered people, then moved back toward the front, got low, and took another picture.

“Time was that many old traditions were lost, disease and treachery, our ancestors relocated, ceremonies and languages prohibited, and the scourge of alcohol. This is a reclaiming of old ways that represent our people and maintain our culture. It is our past, present, and future.”

Roy moved around the crowd toward the back where people were less packed. He tried to get a view of the center, then moved in a little closer. He shifted around the people in front of him, held up his camera, lined up a shot of the entire gathering, and took another picture.

“We ask that you respect our rules and to not interrupt the ceremony,” the speaker continued, “but if you’re feeling the drumbeat inside of you, and the spirit trying to release itself, feel free to move amongst yourselves. By being here,” he reminded, “you are a part of this ceremony as well. Now to begin.” The speaker stepped away and joined the line in a semi circle. All was silent. Then the drums on either end began to beat slowly and simultaneously. The beat moved to a steady pace. Others holding noisemakers moved them to the beat, and those in ceremonial dress stepped in time with the drums and into the center. One called out a chant into the air, and the others repeated.

Roy burrowed to the front of the crowd as people got out of his way. He dropped down onto one knee, pointed the zoom lens at the chanting tribe and snapped another picture. The chanting moved at a steady rhythm in tandem with the beating drums. The cadence and volume slowly increased as the ceremony began to take a life of its own. They moved in step with the rhythm as the spectators were rapt with attention. The energy of the ceremony increased and blossomed as Roy looked around for a new shooting angle. He went to the other corner, focused on set of drummers, and snapped a picture.

The dancing became more intricate as the people in ceremonial dress gravitated to the center as the chanting increased in volume and vocabulary. The focus went onto the blazing sun overhead as Roy scurried to the other side of the ceremony and took a picture of the other drummers. He then turned his attention back to the ceremony and went to the center of the spectators. He focused his lens on the leaders of the ceremony, centered them in the frame of his viewfinder, and clicked the picture taking button. The ritual continued under the hot sun as Roy went around taking more pictures of the tribe and a couple more of the spectators from various angles.

The ceremony approached its end as everyone lined up for one last chant and the drummers decreased their tempo. The vocals and the drums then rose to one last peak and ended. There was a sudden silence, followed by applause from the spectators. Roy stepped away a bit and snapped a picture of the entire congregation then everyone began to disperse. Linda came up to Roy. “So you get some good pictures?” she asked.

“Yeah, I think so,” Roy said positively. “I got some clear shots of the ceremony from a number of different angles. Even got some crowd shots.”

“It was a real good ceremony,” Linda said. “And we didn’t have to sit on a hard, wooden pew.”

Roy looked around at the surrounding desert. “Maybe a couple more shots of the landscape.” He focused onto the open desert and focused the lens to a wide angle to take in as much as the vista as possible then took the picture. He looked around and focused on some rock formations. He centered them in the surrounding desert in the frame and took one last picture. “That should do it.” They left with the exiting crowd for the parking area. “Can’t wait to get these back home,” Roy said as they got to their car and got inside.

“Are you going to develop them yourself?” Linda asked.

“Sure am.” Roy round up the roll of film with the dial on the top left of the camera. He then open the back of the camera and removed the film. He found a plastic film roll canister and popped off its lid. “The younger generation doesn’t even know what these things are,” he said as showed the canister to Linda.

“They probably think they’re for stashing pot.”

Roy dropped the roll of film into the canister and snapped on the lid. “Yeah, they are good for that.” He carefully placed the camera, lens, and canister into the camera box, and placed the box into the console.

“So what did you think of all that?” Linda asked.

“It was good,” Roy answered.

“What that man was saying at the beginning sounded profound.”

“You know, I was so focused on getting pictures that I barely noticed,” Roy admitted. “So you want to stop and get something to eat or just get on the road?”

“Let’s get going,” Linda said. “If we pick up some speed with the windows down we might get a nice breeze.”

“The road it is!” Roy started up the car and they drove off.

* * * * * * *

Roy entered into the red light of his darkroom, a converted laundry room with great anticipation. A length of twine was strung across the narrow room with a drying roll of film hanging from it. Some bottles of developing fluid were on the shelf above the washer and dryer. He carefully removed the film from the string expectantly as he contemplated all the pictures he took at the summer ceremony back in the Arizona desert.

Roy held the film up to the light. The first cell appeared to be a white splotch. He looked at the next cell, and it also appeared washed out. His anticipation turned to dread as he looked at the next cell, and the next. He was suddenly crestfallen as he looked at the entire roll of overexposed film. “Oh no!” he cried out.

“What happened?” Linda called out from the kitchen.

“I forgot to put the sun visor on the zoom lens!” Roy said dejectedly. “The entire roll of film was overexposed to sunlight. I ruined the film.”

“Oh no! That’s too bad.”

“And I got some really good pictures at that powwow!”

“Yes, Roy, you sure did,” Linda said supportively from the other side of the door.

“I thought I really captured it, but for all my effort I end up with nothing,” Roy lamented.

“I’m really sorry about that, honey, and after all that work,” Linda said. “Wish I could do something to help.”

“It’s all right.” Roy brooded in the small, red lit laundry room and stared at the exposed roll of film morosely.

“Oh, honey. If you’re done in there, can you take out the garbage?”

©2015 Robert Kirkendall

The Dealers

In observance of today’s unofficial holiday (4/20), I’m posting a short story from my archives that shares its theme.  I first wrote The Dealers back in 2000, gave it a complete rewrite 10 years later, then published it on a previous blog in 2012.  Though the subject of today’s holiday is a major theme in this story, what really makes it tick is the relationship between the two main characters.



Shane was walking along upper Haight Street in the middle of a sunny day then felt someone from behind throw his arm around him. He quickly turned around and saw it was Tommy. “What the fuck, I thought you were a cop!”

“Relax, Shane, I’ve been trying to find you.”

“And I was looking for you, where you been?”

“I came up with a new plan,” Tommy said.

“Better be good,” Shane replied, “we’re running out of funds quick.”

“Trust me, you’ll like it. Let’s go get a coffee.” Tommy pulled Shane into a sparse, nondescript coffee house. They got their coffees and sat at a corner table in the back. “Check this out,” Tommy said as he reached into the front pocket of his hoodie and pulled out a small paper sack.

Shane moved in closer. “What is it?” Tommy carefully opened the paper sack and and showed it to Shane. He peeked inside the sack and saw a clear plastic square container of green sprouts. “Alfalfa?”


“We’re going to sell alfalfa?”

“No, watch this.” Tommy reached into the sack, popped open the container, and ripped off a chunk. He pulled out his hand and squashed the alfalfa in his fist. He opened his hand in front of Shane and revealed a compressed green substance. “What does it look like now?”

Shane picked the green nugget from Tommy’s hand, looked at it closely, then smelled it. “It looks like bud, but it doesn’t have the aroma, won’t fool an expert.”

“We’re not going to sell to experts,” Tommy said, “we’re going to sell to tourists, and you know how easy they are to spot.”

“And then they’ll come after us.”

“C’mon, it’ll work. You were the one saying we got to get some funds quick so we can get out of here.”

“Yeah,” Shane replied, “but I want to get out in one piece. How did you come up with this idea anyways?”

“One of my cousins pulled the same scam. All we have to do is sell a few bags of this for 30 each and we’ll have some much needed cash.”

“I don’t know,” Shane said, “whole idea seems whack.”

“Well you got any better ideas?”

“I’m an honest scammer, and this is the kind of thing that can get us in trouble, just like that shit you pulled on Red, we’re in trouble if he finds us.”

“Fuck him,” Tommy said, “he’s not a problem. The only reason we need to leave is because this city in unbelievably expensive, how does anybody live here?”

“They got the big bucks,” Shane said.

“We should have been born rich.”

“Life ain’t fair, now let’s think this over before we do something stupid.”

“I’m telling you, Shane, this plan is our ticket,” Tommy said, “it’s got to be easier somewhere else. How much longer do we have to sleep in Kyle’s van, and after all we’ve moved for him, we’ve got to shake things up.”

“A van ain’t much, but it’s better than the park,” Shane said.

“But I’m sick of it,” Tommy said. “You know, I thought by now that we’d find some cool person who would let us crash at their place for a while, but nobody wants to help you out here, they won’t even let you sleep in their attic or basement. Hell, I’d be happy in a tent in someone’s backyard.”

“Enough dreaming, everything is all rented out at top dollar,” Shane assessed, “I’d say we’re stuck.”

“I was at least hoping to find an abandoned building we could claim,” Tommy said, “you could sure find those back home.”

“Yeah, but where was the excitement?” Shane pointed out. “Can’t say it’s been boring out here, a lot more fun than the Central Valley.” A familiar, imposing, and burly figure walked into the coffee house and went to the front counter. “Uh oh, look who’s here.”

“Aw shit, it’s Red! Let’s get outta here!”

“No, he’ll see us,” Shane cautioned, “let’s just wait.”

Red ordered a coffee to go and paid for it. As he waited he looked around the coffee house. Shane and Tommy stayed in the far back corner and hid behind other customers as they watched him. Red got his coffee, looked around one last time, and left.

“What do you say now?” Tommy said to Shane.

Shane thought for a moment. “So where are we going to put these together?”

“I haven’t told Kyle so we shouldn’t do it in the van,” Tommy said. “I was thinking of Buena Vista Park, at the top of the hill. It’s pretty hidden up there, and we only need to make a few.”

“Okay, I’m in.” They finished their coffees and Tommy put the paper sack back into the front pocket of his hoodie as they left. They looked down both directions for Red, then they walked quickly east down Waller Street toward Buena Vista Park.

“You know,” Tommy said, “I was thinking that we should go into business for ourselves.”

“Isn’t that what we’re doing now?”

“I mean for real,” Tommy said, “we know Kyle’s guy, we can talk to him.”

“We know where he lives,” Shane replied, “but he barely knows us, and he’d probably tell Kyle that we’re trying to cut him out.”

“It’s just business, what does he care who he makes a sale to, and he’s the source.”

“How do you know?”

“He lives up north, in the woods, he has to be a grower,” Tommy said, “and I had a talk with him. He said he always needs help during harvest time.”

“Is he harvesting right now?” Shane asked.

“He says in about a month.”

“So we’re going to show up early?”

“He’s cool,” Tommy said. They walked quickly past the close together three story, yardless Victorians and storefronts until they came to end of Waller Street at the green hill. They walked up the white concrete steps to a pathway that went up the the grassy park. “If nothing else maybe we can sneak in one night and lift some of his stash. I bet he’s got plenty, he wouldn’t miss a plant or two.”

“He’s also got guard dogs, probably some trip wires, and you know he’s armed,” Shane said. “Most people in the country have guns, especially if they have a crop to protect.”

“Well, we got to do something,” Tommy said. “Why can’t it just be legal?”

“If it was everyone would grow their own, and then what we do?” As they came to the top of the hill they entered a grove of trees that filtered the sunlight. They found a small clearing, looked around to make sure there was no one around, and then Tommy set the paper sack on an overturned log. Shane kept a lookout while Tommy pulled out the alfalfa container and some cellophane bags onto the log. He quickly pulled off small clumps of alfalfa, rolled them in his hands, shaped them with his fingers, dropped the green chunks into the bags until they filled the bottom of the cellophane. Tommy’s hands moved rapidly while Shane looked around the clearing and down the hill. Shane saw a couple of women slowly coming up the path while chatting. One of them was walking a dog and two children were nearby running around on the grass.

Tommy noticed Shane looking down the hill. “Is someone coming?”

“Just a couple of moms,” Shane said as he looked down toward them. They stopped and one of the women let her dog off the leash and the dog ran around. “They just stopped.”

“Almost done,” Tommy said as he filled the fourth bag and then rolled the excess plastic around the counterfeit cannabis. He put the four rolled up sacks in his pocket and then picked up the paper sack and the container of remaining alfalfa and tossed them behind a bush. “We’re ready.”

“Let me look at them,” Shane said. Tommy pulled out rolled cellophane bags and showed them. Shane picked up one and looked it over. “A little dark, but looks enough like the real thing.” He gave it back to Tommy.

“Sure does,” Tommy said as he put them in his pocket. “All we have to do is find a few naive chumps and fleece them, and what could they do anyways, go to the cops?” They chuckled to themselves then walked out of the clearing and onto the path that curved down the hill. The two women were still chatting and watching the two playing children while the dog ran around them. As Shane and Tommy walked near the women they stopped chatting for a moment, looked cautiously over at them, and then went back to talking after they had passed.

As Shane and Tommy descended the hill wisps of clouds raced over them and the cool wind whipped around them. They went down the concrete steps to Waller Street, then up a block, crossed Haight Street and headed west. Pedestrians moved in both directions and decreased and replenished as people walked in and out of the colorful storefronts. Panhandlers and street musicians were stationed along either edge of the sidewalk as Shane and Tommy looked around to get a feel for the scene. A police car cruised along slowly in the single line of vehicles and passed by Shane and Tommy. They tried to appear calm as they kept their eyes on the car. It moved along farther down the street then drove out of sight and they both let out a breath of relief.

Once they felt sufficiently immersed into the human traffic they looked around for a sale opportunity. They spotted a couple that was walking toward them and the man appeared to be looking around cautiously. Shane and Tommy kept their focus on the man and waited for the approaching couple. “Buds,” Shane whispered quietly as they passed each other. The couple kept walking and when Shane glanced around he noticed that the couple did not look back. Shane and Tommy kept moving forward and they spotted a pack of college students who were wearing sweaters from a southern California university and swaggering toward them. “Buds,” Shane said quietly as they passed each other.

A couple of the students looked back at them. “Already got it covered,” one of them replied. Shane and Tommy then came across a group of shoppers. Shane quietly solicited them and they kept walking forward.

“That happens every time I come here,” one of them said irritably to the other. Shane and Tommy continued to look for potential buyers and solicited a couple more people with no success. They then were approaching a man who appeared to be in his late 20’s, of conservative appearance, and was looking around the neighborhood searchingly.

“Buds,” Shane whispered as they passed each other. The man looked over at Shane and Tommy, turned around, came up along side them and they walked together.

“How much?” the man asked.

“Cheap,” Tommy said, “only 30 an eighth.”

“Is it Mex?” the man asked.

“No, just low grade green,” Shane said, “but it’s stony.”

“I’ll give you 50 for two,” the man said.

“Okay,” Shane said. They kept walking until they found a narrow space between two buildings, looked around quickly for police, and ducked inside. Tommy pulled two cellophane bags from his pocket while the man pulled out his cash and counted out some bills. Tommy handed the bags to the man with one hand while he received the bills with the other. Tommy and Shane quickly counted the money, two twenties and a ten, while the man stuffed the bags into his pocket.

“Thanks,” the man said. He exited quickly and headed east on the sidewalk. Tommy shoved the bills into his pocket and they warily left the enclosed walkway. They glanced to their left, saw the man disappearing into the crowd, turned the other way and headed west. They felt a rush from making their crooked sale and their pace quickened as their excitement grew. They darted across the street at an angle, hooked a left at Cole Street and ran for two to three blocks before they slowed down while still feeling exuberant. “So what do you think?” Tommy asked between breaths.

“Easier than I thought,” Shane said as he tried to catch his breath, “we just have to make sure we don’t run into that guy again.”

“For sure,” Tommy said. “Let’s get something to eat.” They looked around and found a corner market. The florescent lit store had three narrow aisles that went to the refrigerator glass doors that made the back wall. The cashier was on the right next to the entrance and next to the front counter was a small produce section up against the wall. Shane and Tommy went to the produce area and looked around amongst the premade sandwiches in saran wrap. “These are only a buck fifty,” Shane said as he looked at some burritos.

“Those are big,” Tommy said as he reached for them.

“I’ll get us a couple of sodas,” Shane said as he tapped Tommy on the arm and then headed to the back of the store.

“Excuse me, sir, do you have a microwave?” Tommy asked the cashier.

“Right next to you,” the middle aged cashier said.

Tommy noticed a gray steel box next the clutter around the front counter. “There it is.” He lifted the side handle and the door popped open. He tore open the plastic wrapping around the two burritos, placed them inside, and closed the door. He pretended to press some of the flat buttons on the microwave. “This microwave doesn’t seem to be working.”

The cashier came out from behind the counter and went to the microwave. “Let’s see, so you have two burritos in here?”

“Yes,” Tommy answered.

The cashier pressed one of the buttons then pressed the start button forcefully until the microwave turned on and began humming. “It’s an old machine so you have to press it extra hard.”

“Thanks,” Tommy said and the cashier went back behind the counter. Shane returned with a couple of sodas and they waited by the microwave until it dinged. They pulled out the hot burritos and went to the front counter.

The cashier rang them up. “That’ll be five-sixty-nine.” Tommy pulled a ten dollar bill from his pocket and gave it to the cashier. The cashier hit a button on the register and the cash tray rolled out. Shane and Tommy looked at the stacks of bills as the cashier placed the ten on top of the other tens. He pulled out four ones and some coins and handed them to Tommy before he shut the register. He then put their burritos and sodas into a paper sack.

“Thanks,” Tommy said as he grabbed the sack. They left the store and moved quickly out of sight. “So what’d you get?” he asked Shane.

“Two Budweiser tall boys.”

“Where?” Shane lifted his sweater and revealed a can in both of the front pockets. “Nice!” Giddy with excitement they broke into a sprint. They ran across Stanyan Street to the corner of Golden Gate Park, found a pathway into the park and kept running along the curving paths through trees and over grassy fields until they were in the middle of the park then slowed to a walk when they felt adequately far enough. “What a score!” Tommy said excitedly.

“I hope I didn’t shake these around too much,” Shane said as steadied the cans underneath his sweater.

“Let’s crack them open.”

“Not here in front of everybody,” Shane reminded.

“You’re right, I’m starved anyhow.” Tommy took out the two burritos from the paper sack he had clutched in his hand and he gave one of them to Shane. They peeled back the plastic wrappers and ate the hot burritos while trying not to burn the inside of their mouths. They opened their sodas and drank them as they strolled through the park eating and drinking while passing along by dog walkers, Frisbee throwers, hackysackers, picnickers, musicians, homeless, and clusters of other transient youths scattered around the park. They came to a more secluded spot, went over a grassy knoll and found a hidden place past a ticket of trees. There was a little bit of debris and evidence of a former encampment, but was unoccupied. They sat on a log at the edge of the clearing and continued eating.

“You know,” Tommy began, “we should head over to Berkeley, maybe we can pull the same scam.”

“Are you joking?” Shane responded. “They’re connoisseurs over there, no way we can fool them.”

“We should at least try to sell the other two. I think there’s a rally in downtown today, there’ll be a lot of people there.”

“Bad idea. If there is a rally it’s going to be teeming with cops, let’s just try another neighborhood. Before I forget, can you give me one of the twenties?”

“Sure.” Tommy reached into his pocket with his free hand, pulled out a crumple of bills and held it up to Shane. Shane picked out a twenty dollar bill from the pile, rolled it up, and stuffed it into sock. “Now can we open up those beers?”

“Of course.” Shane and pulled the two 16 ounce cans of Budweiser and gave one to Tommy. They opened up the cans and small sprays of foam hissed out. “Guess I shook them a little.”

“Success,” Tommy said as he held up his can. Shane then tapped his beer against Tommy’s and they drank up. “Ah, that’s good.”

“Been a few days since I had one of these,” Shane said. “Hey, you got any real bud?”

“Yeah, I think so.” Tommy searched his pockets then pulled out a pipe with a screw on lid and a lighter. “Right here.” He lit the pipe through a small hole on top of the cap, inhaled, then handed the pipe and lighter to Shane.

“Thanks,” Shane said. “You know what else I was thinking, we should go farther up north, past Humboldt and into Oregon, maybe all the way up to Seattle.” Shane took a hit from the pipe and held in the smoke for as long as he could before he exhaled.

“I don’t know about Seattle,” Tommy said, “too much rain.”

Shane handed the pipe and lighter to Tommy. “Yeah, but it has to be easier to get by. This place may have the nice weather but you got to pay for it through the nose. I hear things are cheaper up north, we might even be able to get jobs.”

“Doing what? The only job I ever had was at a Burger King, and they fired me after two weeks.” Tommy tried to inhale but only got a partial hit. “I think this is dust.” He unscrewed the lid to the bowl.

“I used to work at a car wash, I could get a job doing that, hook you up with a job, it’s easy, even you could do it.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“But seriously, you know cost of living cheaper anywhere but here,” Shane said, “between the two of us we could scrape up enough money to get a roof over our head.”

“It would be nice to live indoors again.” Tommy rolled up some green cannabis flakes into a little ball and stuffed it into the bowl. “Little bit more,” he said as he took another hit then handed the pipe and lighter to Shane. “We sure swindled that poor bastard, didn’t we?”

“Wonder if he’s found out yet,” Shane said.

“He’s going to be pissed when he does,” Tommy said laughing.

“Maybe he’ll smoke it and not even notice!” Shane joined in the laughter.

“Yeah, what an idiot,” Tommy said and they laughed louder. Their laughter continued helped along by the alcohol and the cannabis until it subsided and left them happy. They finished the bowl and drank their beers while becoming lightheaded, relaxed, and unaware of the busy, crowded city surrounding the park.

“I’ve got an idea,” Tommy began, “let’s try the beach, that’s where the surfers are, and you know most of them are stoners, maybe all of them.”

“I don’t know, beaches are wide open, we’d be exposed. Let’s stick to the park, lots of people out today, and we only have a couple more bags to sell anyway.”

“All right.” They downed the rest of their beers, stashed the empty cans, soda bottles and burrito wrappers into the paper sack, tossed it underneath a tree, and stumbled their way from the small grove and onto a secluded foot path.

After a few steps they were suddenly grabbed from behind and pushed to the ground. Startled, they tried to get away but were quickly piled on by two bigger guys and panic shot through them. “Hey, what the fuck’s going on here!” they yelled out as they struggled.

“Let’s have it, all of it!” one of the guys barked.

“What? We ain’t got nothing, we’re broke!” Tommy yelled out.

“Bullshit!” a third voice sounded behind the other two guys and moved in closer, “we heard you talking about some bags to sell, now let’s have them and the cash.”

“We only got two left!” Shane yelled.

“Don’t jerk us around!” one of the tackling guys said as they leaned heavier onto Shane and Billy. “Now give them up!”

“Okay, just get the fuck off of me so I can get them,” Tommy said. The two guys released their hold cautiously as Shane and Tommy turned around and saw the three severe bigger guys loom over them threateningly. Tommy reached into his pocket and pulled out the two cellophane bags and gave them to one of the guys who pocketed them.

“And the cash,” one of the guys said.

“C’mon, man, you got our weed.”

One of the guys violently grabbed Tommy by the collar. “Let’s go!”

“Okay, okay,” Tommy relented as pulled out his wad of bills and handed them over.

One of the guys looked over the bills. “That’s it?” He looked at Shane. “You, hand it over.”

“I ain’t got shit!” Shane said angrily.

The guy got into Shane’s face. “Bullshit, now let’s have it!”

Shane pulled his empty pockets outward. “See? Broke!” He brusquely started to pat down Shane. “Hey! What are you, queer?” The guy picked up Shane by his shirt and yanked him up. Shane grabbed his arm and tried to break free. “Get your fucking hands off of me!”

“Let’s get out of here,” the third guy said. The guy who was holding Shane dropped him back to the ground and the three of them ran down the path and disappeared around a bend.

Shane and Tommy were left sitting on the ground. They stared at each other in shock. Tommy’s heart was racing and Shane felt a rush of adrenaline. They sat for a while more until they calmed down, then silently got up and walked away. They meandered through the park without speaking and made their way toward the beach. Tommy felt something wet on his forehead. He touched it, and saw a smear of blood on his fingertips.

“Look what those fuckers did to me,” Tommy said to Shane and showed him the scrape at the top of his forehead, “must have happened when they knocked me down.” They found an old public restroom and went inside. At one of the sinks and Tommy splashed water on his forehead and wiped off the blood while Shane also tried to clean himself up. They looked into the dirty mirror and their gaunt, unshaven faces stared back at them.

When they were done they left the restroom and continued through the park until they crossed the highway and were at Ocean Beach. They sat down on the sand, looked out across the ocean while the sun stood above the horizon and silently watched the crashing waves.

“I suppose if I call my mom and beg her enough, she’ll buy a bus ticket for me back home,” Tommy said, “I’ll just tell her I was robbed, I’ll leave out the other details.” He got up to leave. “The road sure is a hard place,” he said. “If you want to come back, you can stay with me for a while.”

“You know, Tommy, I think I have an idea,” Shane said. “Now I don’t blame you for wanting to go back home, but how about one more shot in a different locale?”

“I don’t know, where would we go?”

“I was thinking,” Shane began, “we can hitch a ride down the coast to Santa Cruz.” Tommy looked at Shane quizzically and appeared unconvinced. “Seriously, it has everything we need, tourists, surfers, college students, drunks, hicks, and you know that between the Occupiers and the gangs the cops have their hands full so they probably wouldn’t bother with a couple guys like us. What do you say?” Shane looked up at Tommy expectantly. “That one horse town won’t know what hit them.”

“But we’re busted, those motherfuckers took everything.”

“Not everything.” Shane reached into his sock and pulls out the rolled up twenty-dollar bill. Tommy looked at the bill, then looked out onto the horizon over the Pacific Ocean as he wondered what to do. He dropped down on the beach next to Shane. “So how do we get there?”

©2015 Robert Kirkendall