Brain Cookies

Piggy Piggy

by me, L. A. Guettler

“Goddammit,” Chuck swore, shoving his finger in his mouth. He tasted cheese grease, pepperoni grease, and blood. He sucked angrily at the wound and inspected his pizza. These were the last four slices. He’d been saving them all day for his after dinner, before movie snack. If any of them had blood on them…well, he’d eat them anyway, but it would be gross.

No visible bodily fluids on the pizza, thank god. Clots of tomato sauce on the pizza cutter, so it was impossible to tell if he’d bled on it. Oh well, protein anyway.

Chuck sucked the grease off his other fingers for good measure, then turned and opened the fridge.

“Hey, piggy piggy,” the fridge sang. “Oink, oink, oink!”

Chuck ignored it. Phil from work gave him that stupid gadget for Christmas two years ago, a white elephant thing. Ha ha, he’d said, thought you’d get a kick out of it, bro. Chuck had forced the grin and chuckle expected of the jolly fat guy. Lord knows why he’d bothered installing it. Maybe he thought he would actually get a kick out of it. Or, maybe, deep in his cholesterol-choked heart, he hoped he’d finally found the one thing that would shame him into thinness.

Chuck grabbed a can of Coke, hesitated, and grabbed a handful of Hershey’s kisses. As he pulled his hand back, he noticed a small dot of blood on the shelf, next to the line of Cokes. He glanced at his injured finger. It glistened wetly at him, like a lewd smile.

“Okay, okay,” he muttered. “I’ll get you a band-aid already.”

He nudged the fridge door closed with his fleshy hip and put his Coke and kisses on the counter, next to the plate of rapidly cooling pizza. As he trundled into the bathroom, the fridge kicked on with an odd chudding noise. That’s all he’d need, for the fridge to conk out on him when he’d just bought all that ice cream. Half off Ben & Jerry’s is a once-a-year screaming deal, make no mistake.

Chuck ran cold water over the cut. It stung, but not too badly. He dried his finger carefully with a clean towel, dabbed it with some disinfectant cream, then wrapped it in the largest band-aid he could find. Then he wiped the countertop with the towel and folded it neatly.

“All better?” he asked his finger. “Can I eat now?”

The finger didn’t answer, which Chuck took as a yes.

Back in the kitchen, he looked longingly at the congealed pizza.

“Ah, sorry about that, lovey,” he said. “But as long as you’re already cold, I might as well clean up the mess in the fridge. Just give me a minute.”

He wet a sponge and opened the fridge again. He bent over a little, peering at the shelf of Cokes.  


He shuffled the Coke cans around a little.

“Huh. I could have sworn…”

He shuffled them back into line. The fridge’s chudding slowed to a groan, then stopped.

“Eh.” Chuck kicked the door shut again and tossed the damp sponge back into the sink. “Now, lovey,” he crooned, turning to the pizza. “Let’s see about getting you hot again.”


Chuck woke the next morning in his recliner, the TV remote clutched loosely in one hand, a pile of Hershey’s kiss wrappers glittering in his lap. He yawned and stretched, careful not to let any wrappers fall to the floor. He gathered them up into a ball, which he dropped into an empty Coke can on the table next to him. He gathered his feet under him and, after only a couple of attempts, managed to haul himself out of the chair.

“Hey, piggy piggy. Oink, oink, oink!”

“Oh, be quiet.” Chuck cracked open a Coke and drank half of it in one long slug. Caffeine, mornings, same old drill. He peeled off the band-aid and squinted at the cut. It seemed better, hardly hurt at all.

His stomach rumbled.

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Cheesy eggs with sausage? Excellent.”

He busied himself with breakfast.

Afterwards, a pleasant burp on his lips, he gathered his dishes and deposited them in the soapy water. He took his pill organizer from the shelf above the sink and shook the day’s rations into his hand. Blood pressure, cholesterol, gout, thyroid, multivitamin. He picked up a glass and headed to the fridge for some ice water so they could start working their magic on his body.

Chuck set the glass under the ice dispenser and pressed the button. The machine rumbled, but no ice clinked out.

“Come on, now, baby,” Chuck said. “Just relax.” He jabbed the button again, but again, no ice.

First the fridge with that chudding sound, now the ice dispenser. He mentally calculated the cost of a new refrigerator and wrinkled his nose. People lived just fine for centuries without automatic ice dispensers, Chuck supposed he could live without it for a while himself.

He put the glass and pills on the counter, careful to keep the pills from rolling to the floor. Then he pulled the freezer open and reached his hand into the reservoir of the ice maker. It had frozen into a solid mass. He shook the tray, trying to loosen just one or two little cubes, but no luck. Chuck growled. He was the human being here, he was in charge. No way he’d let a machine get the better of him. There might be some cubes that hadn’t been dumped out yet. He scrabbled at the metal mechanism in increasing frustration. He strained to reach up past the indicator bar into the tray. His fingertips brushed the tops of the ice.

The fridge motor picked that moment to kick on. Something in the ice maker shifted and caught Chuck’s hand. He yanked it, but some unseen gear or sprocket pinned it painfully in place. Maybe his band-aid had gotten caught on something? Chuck twisted his hand, not yet numb enough to hide the sensation of tearing flesh. The chudding seemed to get louder.

Chuck panicked. He threw his considerable weight backwards in a desperate attempt to free himself. For a single wild moment, he thought it wasn’t going to give, and he was going to die in his kitchen, like his mother always said he would. Only she probably never imagined it would be with his hand stuck in an ice maker.

Then it did give, with a pain that lit up his arm all the way to the shoulder. He stumbled backwards, his arms pinwheeling for balance, blood droplets spraying in an arc. He hit the floor ass-first, hard, momentum pulling him onto his back. His head cracked on the linoleum and, thankfully, he passed out.



Chuck opened his eyes, against strongly worded advice from his throbbing brain. The light was all wrong, like it was coming from too many places, casting an odd assortment of shadows. A wave of nausea washed over him, so he closed them again.

“Ermf,” he said to the ceiling.

He did a mental inventory of his various pains. Head, yeah, could be concussion but at least he was conscious. There was a vague ache in his lower back, nothing serious—he’d had worse after a night on a bad mattress. Reluctantly he turned his attention to his hand. It seemed to be frozen and dipped in lava at the same time. He gritted his teeth and rolled his head the side, bending his elbow and cracking one eye to survey the damage.

At first Chuck thought he’d dipped his right arm in paint, it was so uniformly red. Closer inspection with both eyes revealed a huge purple clot running down the back of his hand. No way to tell exactly what he was dealing with until he’d cleaned that up a bit.  

“Brrm.” He lowered his hand back to the floor with a grimace. How does this even happen? The scene replayed itself in his head: reaching for the ice, the motor kicking on, the ice maker clamping down on his hand, almost like it—

“Bit me.” The words hung in the air.

“Hey, piggy piggy. Oink oink oink!”

Chuck peered over his nose toward the fridge. Both doors stood open, though Chuck couldn’t remember opening the fridge. Maybe he’d pulled it open on his way down the Ass-Plant Express.

The glow from the fridge bulb flared slightly in time with the chudding motor. Chuck found himself staring at the pulsing light through half-closed eyes, hypnotized by the gentle rhythm. It made everything in the fridge look pretty, the way it shone through the jello cups and jars of pickles, all those colors. Even the noise of the motor was soothing. Chuck thought how nice it would be to just slip off to sleep for a while. He could deal with all this nonsense later. He let his mind drift off . . .

“Get your fat ass off the floor, piggy piggy. Oink mother fucking oink.”

“What the heck?” Chuck’s eyes flew open. Definitely concussion. Had to get up, clean up, maybe get to the hospital. He struggled to roll over enough to use his good hand to help himself sit up. His head swam but he held on to consciousness long enough to get himself on his feet.

“Low blood sugar, that’s what it is,” he muttered. He reached out a hand toward the fridge for a snack, just a little pick me up to hold him over until lunch. The light swelled up and held, like the fridge was holding its breath. Without knowing why, Chuck hesitated. No reason he couldn’t have some Doritos. He swung the door shut instead, followed by the freezer door. The fridge motor abruptly cut off in mid chud.

“Don’t you pout at me, Mister,” Chuck said, not quite looking at it. He picked a bag of chips from the pantry and took the long way out of kitchen, around the island, as far from the fridge as possible.


One bag of chips and half a package of Twinkies later, Chuck had cleaned up his hand enough to see the real damage: a four-inch-long strip of skin had been removed, the world’s worst hangnail. It hurt like hell to get that clot off, but the wound itself didn’t seem too deep. Chuck dabbed it with antibiotic cream and wrapped it in ancient gauze from the battered first aid kit he’d found buried under his mother’s old towels in the bathroom closet. He washed down a few Advil with the warm, flat dregs of last night’s Coke.

His head felt better too. Tender to the touch, but the swimminess was gone. It was the chips that did the trick. He’d always been susceptible to low blood sugar, even as a kid, so he’d learned to cope with it. He almost felt good enough to attempt the chore of cleaning up the kitchen.


He changed his clothes, wincing as he pushed his bandaged hand through a fresh sleeve. He brushed his teeth, combed his hair, recombed his hair a different way, put on his slippers, and took off his slippers, then puttered around the living room for a bit, rearranging pillows and straightening the curtains. Finally ran out of things to delay the inevitable and turned to the kitchen.

He poked his head through the doorway. The room was quiet, the fridge hulking silently in the corner. Chuck stood in the doorway for a long time, waiting, but nothing happened. Well, what did he think was going to happen?

Bit me.

No, it didn’t bite him. It was a refrigerator, for crying out loud, not a monster from a storybook. He’d gotten his hand stuck in a machine, that’s all, nothing to see here, move along.

Bit me.

Chuck let out his breath in a whoosh. No more fooling around. The blood was already mostly dry. Good thing he’d never replaced the original linoleum with hardwood, like his mother had wanted him to do. He sighed and got the bucket and mop.

It was slow going, what with the aching hand in a stiff bandage and all. After the floor, he’d wiped down the walls and pantry door, both of which had suffered a light sprinkling. Thank goodness none had made it as far as the ceiling.

All that was left was the freezer itself.

Chuck, breathing heavily from mopping exertion, couldn’t shake his profound reluctance to open that freezer again. Part of it was not wanting to pick his own skin out of the ice maker, but that wasn’t all of it. Not even close.

The fridge’s continued silence was like a solid thing in the room. The doors had both been open who knows how long, while he was unconscious. Shouldn’t the motor be working overtime to bring the temperature back down? To refreeze all his screaming-deal Cherry Garcia?

The thought of his ice cream in the same freezer as his strip of skin got Chuck moving. He slipped his good left hand into an oven mitt, like a gauntlet. In his right, he clutched a pair of barbeque tongs. The plan was: open the door with the mitted hand, pull out the skin with the tongs, close the door, and drop the skin into the waiting garbage can. He didn’t want to touch anything he didn’t absolutely have to.

Chuck stood there a moment, staring at the freezer door, acutely aware that his poor heart was racing dangerously close to arrythmia territory. He gulped.

“I’m not afraid of you,” he said, and he almost believed it.

He yanked open the door and stared inside, jaw hanging open.

Nothing there. Well, nothing that shouldn’t be there. Ice cream, frozen pizzas, Hot Pockets? All there. Skin? Not there. Not even a drop of blood.

Chuck poked experimentally at the ice maker with the tongs. When nothing happened, he leaned in closer to get a better look.


He screamed and slammed the door.


Chuck didn’t dare go back to the kitchen. The chudding stopped hours ago, but no matter how loud his stomach grumbled, he refused to leave his recliner. He sat for hours, staring at Golden Girls reruns blaring on the TV, his mind miles away in the kitchen. Night fell, shadows grew and deepened, yet still Chuck sat. His bandaged fist clutched the forgotten barbeque tongs.

The TV switched from Golden Girls to Night Court at ten, then to I Love Lucy at midnight, then off completely at two. Without the laugh track, Chuck slipped into a doze.

“Hey, piggy piggy. Oink oink oink!”

Chuck jerked awake, his heart skipping about a dozen beats before trying to climb out his throat. His eyes bugged out in the dark…but it wasn’t quite dark. No, there was a definite glow coming from the kitchen.

“No,” he moaned. “No, I won’t.”

“Hey, piggy piggy,” the fridge beckoned.

Chuck wept. His hunger was huge inside him, low blood sugar making him weak. The tongs fell to the floor and stood up against his own will. He shuffled toward the kitchen, drawn by thoughts of a huge ham and swiss sandwich swimming in mayonnaise, cupcakes with mile-high frosting, and a gallon of whole chocolate milk. He could almost taste it.

Chuck walked through the kitchen doorway as if in a trance. He moaned. The fridge stood open like a welcome embrace, its light warm and inviting.

“Hey, piggy piggy,” it cooed.

“Oink oink oink,” Chuck whispered. He dropped to his knees on the linoleum, bathing in the soft glow flowing out of the chilly depths. Drool slid down his chin and he didn’t even care.

Then he saw what he wanted, what he needed, all the way at the back: a triple-decker bacon cheeseburger. He inched forward on his knees, reached back, past the rows of Coke cans, his gut pressed against the edge of the shelf, engulfing it.

The burger disappeared the instant his bandaged hand closed on it. Chuck felt only dull surprise when the door slammed shut on his back with unbelievable force. Something crunched in a profoundly final way.

“Bit me,” he said, as the chudding began.


Sandi emerged from the laundry room, tapping her clipboard with the back of her pen. “Ah!” she exclaimed. “Kitchen!”

Thank god this listing was easy. She had two more to get to this afternoon. If she got this one done fast enough, she’d have enough time to stop by the juice bar for a wheat grass turmeric smoothie before heading to that foreclosure over on 7th.

Her sensible heels clicked across the linoleum. She turned the kitchen sink on and off, then checked a box on her clipboard. She opened the dishwasher, peered inside, and closed it again: another check. She cranked the knobs on the stove and recorded that all four burners did, indeed, light up.

She turned to the fridge. Old, like the rest of the place, but looked serviceable enough. Sandi pulled open both doors.

“Hey, piggy piggy. Oink oink oink!”

She jumped, then tutted at the pig-shaped device sitting on the second shelf. She’d seen a lot in her few short years as a real estate agent, but this was a first. Well, it clearly had to go. No one would buy a house with one of those things in the fridge.

When she reached a hand in to grab it, the motor sprang to life. She flinched, dropping the pig and hitting her hand on the bracket holding up the top shelf. It opened a small cut on the ball of her thumb, just enough to draw blood.

The fridge shuddered.


Screenshot 2018-11-07 12.55.17That’s right, loyal Brain Cookieteers, I wrote a book. A whole one. All by myself! And you can buy it!

Red Darkling is a character I created for “Code Red,” my contribution to the Circuits & Slippers anthology. She wouldn’t let me go with telling just one of her adventures, though. Soon I had a loose series of five stories about her and a growing number of supporting cast members: the irresistibly sleazy Woodman, Bonk the glitchy cat, a bartender named Chuck.

I finally realized Red wasn’t going to shut up until I shared everything she wanted me to share. So, I stitched the original stories together, figured out a plot, added a bunch more adventures, repealed and replaced half the plot, edited the crap out of it, and got the manuscript done.

All I needed then was to beg a phenomenal artist to do the cover, figure out Amazon’s publishing platform, smash the manuscript into the right format, agonize over arcane details like tag words, and click “publish.”

I think you’ll like the result.

RED DARKLING is only $2.99 in the Kindle store. Don’t worry if you don’t have a Kindle–you can download a free reader app for your smartphone or tablet. Or, you can wait a month or so for the paperback version to come out.

I can’t wait to hear what you think, so leave me a review! Put it on Amazon if you really want to get on my good side, and not end up skinned alive by rabid fazzers in my next book.

Only kidding.


Oh, you can also drop by my author page on Facebook, or hit me up on Twitter @la_guettler.

Happy reading!




If you’re like me, you’re a bit on the warped side. Strange. Unusual. Out of the ordinary. Weird.

It’s all right. Own it. Nothing to be ashamed of. Still with me? Shall we continue? Okay.

Without further ado, I present to you, my fellow Weirdos, the short story anthology you didn’t know you were missing:

Weirder Tales: An Omnibus of Odd Ditties


Gorgeous cover art by Jason Kemp of Tenkara Studios. 


Weirder Tales contains a fresh set of bizarre tales from the WPaD collective, including two of my own:

  • The Hole: A young girl discovers a hole in her closet. But…a hole to where?
  • Good Times: A man cleaning out his father’s garage finds a new project he just can’t put down.

Plus these from the other writers, poets, and deviants:

  • People who eat Tide Pods turn into detergent-craving zombies
  • A gift of a fishing bobber turns deadly
  • A woman lost in the desert makes friends with an ancient creature
  • A grieving father consults a psychic to solve his daughter’s murder
  • Two friends embark on a fantastic adventure during a game of Dungeons and Dragons
  • A call for help from an abandoned house leads a man to his doom
  • Strange explosions cause terror and speculation about the end of the world
  • A meteor falls from the sky, leading a woman on a surreal journey
  • A young married couple experience a serious glitch in their relationship

All this and more! Live, on Kindle! Just $2.99! Screaming deal! Exclamation point!

Other WPaD anthologies include:

Best of all, the proceeds go to Multiple Sclerosis charities.

If you like any of these, leave a review! Even a few words help indie authors make the most of the algorithms.

Happy Reading, Weirdos!

Poultry PopPsy

Chickens aren’t stupid. They live in constantly quizzical state and notice everything. But here’s the thing: their brain is only about the size of a thumbnail. This limits their thinkiness, to say the least. A relief, really. I’m not sure I’d be comfortable living in such close proximity to tiny dinosaurs that employ logic and complex problem-solving skills. I don’t even know Chris Pratt, which is disappointing on several levels.

But I digress.

Chickens seem to rely on instinct and habit to make what few decisions life presents them. Take, for example, where they choose to lay an egg. I have seven chickens, six of which lay (the seventh, sweet Dave, has gone dry and plump). Those six chickens have five laying boxes from which to choose.

They all lay in the same box.

As you might imagine, this can cause a traffic back-up. Imagine a line of chickens, legs crossed, hopping from foot to foot, waiting for the current occupant to finish brewing up her daily egg. This is not a wholly inaccurate description.

Now, another animal—say, one with a brain even slightly larger than a thumbnail—might recognize this situation as unnecessarily problematic and respond by picking any of the other available boxes. Not chickens.

Chicken experts claim you can influence chickens’ laying geography by using decoy eggs. Usually this is done to discourage a chicken who’s developed a penchant for a more “au naturel” laying experience: under the deck, maybe, or in the food trough. A decoy egg, such as a terracotta replica or even a simple golf ball, can show a wayward layer the proper place to conduct her business.

Why does this work? Perhaps it stimulates the brooding instinct. “Oh look,” the chicken says to herself, “an orphan! I must snuggle it with my butt fluff,” and so the needful is accomplished. But this is mere speculation on my part. If anyone can fathom the psychology of this phenomenon, it’s the chicken herself. I must not have the right kind of close, trusting relationship with my chickens because they have not shared the secret with me. I am mildly hurt by this, until I remember that they are chickens and incapable of human speech.

I resigned myself to a nonDoolittlean fate and bought two terracotta eggs to test the phenomenon for myself. The eggs cost $5: a reasonable investment to satisfy my curiosity. I slipped one egg into each of two ignored laying boxes and retreated to the house, whistling innocently so the chickens would not suspect my subterfuge.

The next day, I discovered real eggs alongside the decoys in both baited boxes. Surprisingly, there were no eggs in the previously popular box. I collected the real eggs and moved the decoys to different boxes. Same result the next day: real eggs laid alongside the decoys and nowhere else.

Aha! The trick works: decoy eggs influence laying patterns. But the original problem—the traffic jam—isn’t really solved. They’re still waiting in line to lay. The only thing that’s changed is how they pick which box to wait for. To untangle the traffic jam, I’d have to try a decoy in each box.

But really, $5 was my limit.


I love dialogue.

There, I’ve said it. I’d say it again if I had to.

Dialogue is my favorite thing to read, and it is my favorite thing to write. But it has to be good dialogue.

Good dialogue pushes the story forward. It elevates characters off the page and into the 3D world. Good dialogue

The collage artist Lou Beach doesn’t write good dialogue. He writes amazing dialogue. He pares away all the nonsense–including those tiresome he saids and she saids. It’s startling in its immediacy. I think that’s because, in real life conversations, no one uses them.

(Can you imagine? Try it at home. Report the results in the comments.)

Anyway, Lou’s dialogue inspired me to write this short piece. It first appeared on Wicked Women in Words.

Oh, and seriously, check out Lou Beach Art on Facebook.


Deus 10

“Did you get the case of water that was under the cart?”


“Cool, thanks. I always forget the stuff under the cart.”

“I know. That’s why I got it.”

“Heh, yeah. Jeez, will you look at this guy? Blocking the whole lane. Just park in the lot, you idiot!”

“You were out late last night.”

“Was I?”

“I mean, 11:30 is pretty late for a couple drinks with the guys from the office. Don’t you think?”

“I dunno. Maybe, I guess? I wasn’t watching the clock.”

“Mmmhmm. What were you watching?”


“You weren’t watching the clock, so what were you watching?”

“Do we need to pick up some dog food, or is there enough to last until I can get to PetSmart?”

“Don’t change the subject.”

“I’m not! I’m just asking so I know if I need to turn on Taylor or go straight home.”

“So what were you watching, Randy?”

“I’m just going home.”

“Randy, answer the question.”

“What question?”

“What. Were. You. Watching.”

“Uh, the game was on.”

“What game? Who was playing? Who won?”

“Look, we weren’t really watching it, it was just on, you know? It’s a bar.”

“What’s the name of the bar?”

“Um . . .”

“You don’t know the name of the bar?”

“Do you want anything from Starbucks?”

“There was no bar, was there?”

“You’re crazy. I’m getting a mocha.”

“You were with Sarah again.”


“We have to talk about this.”

“There’s nothing to talk about. Look, do you want Starbucks or no?”

“Are you still fucking my sister?”

“So that’s no Starbucks for you?”

“Shut the fuck up about fucking Starbucks! You can’t keep changing the subject and pretending nothing’s wrong. We’re going to have to deal with this . . . this situation. God, it’s like you think if you put it off long enough, something will happen to make me forget the last six months. Well guess what, Randy? You can’t avoid this. You can’t—”


Motor Vehicle Accident: Preliminary Report

Date/Time:                        2/18/18    11:32 am

Officer:                               Stanley Tarker, HHPD #390TS

Location:                            SE corner Clark St & 145th Ave

Description:                      Two vehicles:

(1)   1999 Honda Civic (white), lic HG8 874E

(2)   2012 Chevy Silverado (black), lic DEUS 10

Two fatalities on scene, one injured taken by bus to Mercy Gen

Cause unknown pending further investigation

Thornton Wilder’s Wet Dream

My small town doesn’t have a lot of things. It doesn’t have a mall. There’s no movie theater. We have one restaurant and no bars of any kind. We don’t even have a Walmart.

Here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter. Here, people find their own entertainment. Here, people find their own small pleasures. The mild isolation of a small town tends to select out the outliers, homogenize the flavors, distill the culture. You won’t find a Thai restaurant or a yoga studio. But you will find the following:

• High school basketball. It’s on the radio. It’s the topic of conversation everywhere you go. When there’s a home game, you can tell when it’s over by the steady stream of cars driving through our otherwise sleepy town. Often, you can tell who won by how much the cars are honking.

• Pick-up trucks. Almost all the basketball fan honkers drive these. I think there was a memo, because they’re all big tan Chevys.

• The Chicago Cubs. Not many Sox fans around here. Suits me just fine.

• Tractors. The older the better. You are not legally allowed to have a community event that does not involve a dozen 94-year-old farmers on their lovingly restored International Harvesters, Allis Chalmers, New Hollands, and Massey Fergusons. (Oddly, John Deere is a rarity.) In the 4th of July parade, they are a source of Tootsie Rolls and Jolly Ranchers. At the Winter Festival, they glitter with lights.

• Golf carts, ATVs, and other small motor vehicles. Small town cruise vehicles of choice. Excellent way to tootle around town so everyone can see you.

• Fundraising dinners. Head on over to the American Legion Hall on a random Saturday night, and you’re likely to come across someone selling food for some cause. It can be anything from pork chop sandwiches to kumla* dinners. Auction optional but recommended.

• Donald Trump. No comment.

• FFA. This is a farm town. The Future Farmers of America organization is far more active than I ever dreamed it could be. My daughter’s middle school classmates had livestock entered in the county fair, for goodness sakes. I just ordered a flat of strawberries that I have no idea how I’ll use before they go bad.

• Dogs. Everyone has a dog or two. Doesn’t really matter what kind: yappy mopheads are as acceptable as terrifying hellbeasts. And you must walk it as often as possible.

• Cheap beer. I’m talking Budweiser, Coors, Miller. Women drink Lite varieties of these.

• Chatting over a fence. Often, but not always, a literal fence. Pro tip: don’t start a conversation with your neighbor unless you have at least a half an hour free and your house has been vacuumed in the last fortnight. Because you will talk that long, and you will invite them in to see the new bathroom/cat/wallpaper.

This is based on my own limited experience over the last seven months. Some of these are probably common to many small towns; some, like the kumla, are almost certainly more rare. I imagine that visiting another small town would feel both comfortably familiar and excitingly different.

“Oh look, honey, there’s a crawfish breakfast fundraiser at the Moose Lodge!”


* Kumla is a traditional Norwegian potato dumpling cooked in ham juice and served with the ham, applesauce, and, for some reason, butter. I’d never heard of it before moving here, but that’s probably because I’m not Norwegian. Lots of folks around here are, though—there’s even a town called Norway just southwest of here.

Originally published at The Preterit Review

Interview with Thaddeus “Taddy” Skruggs and Mabel Torgeson, last living survivors of the Bowling Green Massacre. Recorded on the event’s 100th Anniversary by The Stuffington Post’s lead historian, Imelda T. Petrovavich.


TSP: Do you remember where you were on November 31, 1916?

Skruggs: Do I remember? Shoot, acourse I remember. Don’t think I’ll ever forget that day. It were cloudy, lookin like mebbe some snow comin in—

Torgeson: Naw, Taddy, it weren’t cloudy a’tall. The sun was out, I remember on account of my cousin Nellie’s hootin an hollerin bout her complexion for the Andersons’ Christmas shindig. As if she were really all that and a bag of hammers to begin with. [laughter]

Skruggs: Eh, Mabel, yer crazy. Twere goin to snow n you know it.

TSP: Mr. Skruggs, you remember it cloudy. Why was that significant?

Skruggs: Oh, my ol hound dog, Wilbur, was actin up like he always did when weather was acomin. I lost him that day, Wilbur.

TSP: In the massacre?

Skruggs: Naw, he run off like the dickens after Trudy Simmons’ cat that mornin. Never did see him agin. Trudy never got her cat back neither. Good ol Wilbur.

TSP: I see. Ms. Torgeson—

Torgeson: You can call me Mabel, honey.

TSP: Okay, Mabel then. Where were you when you first realized something unusual was happening?

Torgeson: Well I’ll tell you. I was down in the root cellar, gettin a jar of watermelon rind pickles for mama. She was expectin my brother Jessop then, and couldn’t get enougha them pickles. Anyway, I heard this noise, like the mules had got outta the barn agin and were tearin up the sileage.

TSP: Did you ever discover the source of that noise?

Torgeson: It was those blasted mules, all right. They starved that winter on account of eating all that sileage. Durn fools, mules are.

TSP: Ah. Mr. Skruggs, I understand you were near the epicenter of the massacre. Can you tell us what that was like?

Skruggs: I don’t think no one can tell what that were like. [rustling sounds]

TSP:  Mr. Skruggs, I can’t let you smoke that in here.

Skruggs: Shoot, guess I’ll haveta do this sober then.

Torgeson: [laughter] There’s a firs time for everythin, Taddy!

TSP: Thank you, Mr. Skruggs, I appreciate your cooperation.

Skruggs: What was the question agin?

TSP: Can you describe the scene at the heart of the massacre?

Skruggs: Twas cloudy, as I said, an me an my buddy Dale was lookin at the new roller skates in the winda a Adcock’s General Store. Real sad what happeneda Dale. Arm ripped off like the wing of a fly.

TSP: That must have been hard to see.

Skruggs: Naw, I wasn’t there for that. He was workin the thresher for his ol man bout six years later. Dangerous work, farmin.

TSP: Ms. Torg—Mabel, did you lose any loved ones in the massacre?

Torgeson: Nah, I didn’t know nobody was lost. Wilma Schneider, she married that fancy fella with the jalopy and moved to Omaha, but that’s not really lost, is it? [laughter]

TSP: Given the current political climate, what lessons would you like our audience to take away from your experiences 100 years ago?

Torgeson: Mules are durn fools and need lockin up iffn you don’t want to be dinin on mule steaks in January.

Skruggs: You know, Miss Petrawhatsit, you are right purty. You could be one a’dem underwear models in the Sears Roebuck catalog. You ever thought about doin that insteada this interviewin?

TSP: Thank you both so much for an enlightening conversation.

Special report from The Preterit Review’s sister publication, The Stuffington Post


Consider the egg. Specifically, the chicken egg. A humble item: staple of bakeries, cornerstone of brunches, favorite projectile of delinquents.

I never really thought much about eggs before becoming a chicken owner. Now, more often than not, my days revolve around eggs.

If you’ve been following these dispatches, you know that I have four chickens: Jimmy, Delta, Bob, and Dave. Three of them lay an average of one egg a day, for about a dozen eggs every four days. (Dave’s productivity has been below expectations, i.e. nonexistent.)

Eggs are common. But here’s the thing: eggs are amazing.

Imagine the resources that go into making an egg. A chicken generates a yolk, a white, and a shell that could become a chick if not or its lack of a sperm cell. This virtually complete reproductive package is a substantial portion of the hen’s body size and weight. She essentially grows and births a baby.




I can barely deal with the fallout of generating a single egg cell once a month.

And the eggs are DRY. Well, I did read that there is some fluid that eases the egg’s passing through the cloaca, but it dries almost instantly.

I try not to think about this too much.

The entire process of laying an egg is adorable. When a chicken is ready to lay, she’ll find a dark, private place and huddle there quietly. Even Bob, who never shuts up, is quiet when she’s laying. You might hear some shuffling around, and maybe even hear the egg hit the floor, but that’s it. Of course, once the egg is out, they raise holy ruckus. Pride? Pain? It would take someone fluent in chickenese to say for sure.

Another surprising thing is that laying isn’t the same for every chicken. My three layers all have their own routines. Jimmy goes in, lays, and is done. Delta takes a long time to work up to it. She’ll go in, sit, go out, go back in, go back out, like a woman pacing during labor. Bob doesn’t mess around. She is in and out in record time—I assume because she’s got lots of talking to get back to.

And their eggs are all different. I can tell which chicken laid which egg. Jimmy’s are medium brown and relatively large, nicely shaped, smooth. Delta makes enormous eggs with gorgeous deep golden brown shells that fill my palm. Bob’s haste shows. Her eggs are long and skinny, with shells that unfailingly have an odd, wrinkled blemish on the pointy end.

There’s also a surprising amount of delight in finding an egg. Every day is Easter. The delight is not dampened by the expectation of the egg, or the limited places to look. Delight is more intense when the egg is found still warm.

I find myself seeking that egg thrill. I frequently peek outside to track the chickens’ movements in the coop. If I only see three outside, I know there’s one “in the box.”* I make excuses to go out to the coop half a dozen times a day, just to see if there’s an egg to collect. I feel guilty disturbing a laying hen in even the slightest ways, like opening the garage door or speaking too loudly when outside.

If one of the chickens skips a day, I worry. Is it too cold? Is she sick? Did I interrupt her too many times? Is she getting enough light, water, food? Is she angling for dental?

One thing is certain: Dave’s unsatisfactory performance will be brought up in her quarterly review, and continued low productivity will be reflected in her compensation package.

*The phrase “in the box” makes me inordinately happy. I can’t help paraphrasing Carr in Cool Hand Luke: “Any chicken caught without an egg spends a night in the box.”

Originally published at The Preterit Review


Back in Tract Housingville, Suburbia, the overlords in the homeowners association wouldn’t allow residents to keep chickens on their property. Due in large part to my contrary nature, the inability to have chickens made me want them all the more. Chicken ownership became something of a touchstone for me, a symbol of overthrowing the oppressive micromanagement of a bloated and self-important bureaucracy.

When I moved to Smallsville, I was suddenly freed from the draconian regulations. I can have a shed. I can have a clothesline.

I can have chickens.

My husband built me an amazing coop, with nesting boxes inside the heated garage that connect to the screened-in pen outside. I got myself a used copy of “Backyard Chickens for Dummies.” I compared prices on scratch grains. I bought straw.

Then all I needed was some chickens. Like everything else in my life, this transaction was arranged on Facebook. A local farm family agreed to sell me four chickens for $5 each. The woman took us out to her chicken shed, grabbed four at random from among her 30 or so birds, and tossed them unceremoniously into a large cardboard box we’d brought for transport.

My new flock was quiet on the drive back home—until we took a turn a little on the fast side. From the box in the back seat, we heard a low, grumbling “buk buk buk.” One of the chickens was complaining about the driving.

This was my first true taste of chicken ownership. Because here’s the thing: chickens are hilarious. I had no idea how funny they are. They don’t even have to do anything special to be hilarious.

When I go out in the morning to top off their feed and refill the water trough, they come running over to see what I’m doing, talking the whole time. They’re curious about everything. They chase each other around the yard for table scraps. You can tell they still think of themselves as their ancestors the velociraptors, despite being stuck in a poofy four-pound body.

Best of all, they have widely different personalities. Delta is the queen mum, fat and serene. Bob never shuts up. Dave is big and dumb and does whatever Bob does. Jimmy is like Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting—a scrappy tough guy with an attitude.


I think Jimmy may be connected to the mob. I’m afraid to ask.

Sometimes I’ll let the chickens out into the yard for a few hours. They stay put fairly well, but do enjoy a nice explore when they’re feeling frisky. Once, when I looked out the kitchen window, I counted three birds—Dave was missing. I went out to see where she’d got to. (Yes, Dave is a she—all my chickens are hens, despite their names.) Bob, as usual, started clucking nonstop. I swear she was tattling on Dave like a three year old: “Dave went into the neighbor’s yard even though you said not to go over there and I told her not to go but she did anyway and now she’s over there but I’m still over here because I’m a good chicken and Dave is a bad chicken because she went over there when you said not to.”

Another time, we had to put the chickens back inside while it was still daylight (chickens will naturally go back into their safe place when it gets dark). I thought I’d be smart. I got out the food scoop and made a big production of pretending to fill their trough. Delta cooperated nicely, as I expected she would. Jimmy knew I was bluffing, but she couldn’t take the chance of missing out on extra food if I wasn’t. Dave, being dumb, didn’t understand my pantomime, but also being dumb, wasn’t hard to catch.

That left Bob.

Bob is the smallest chicken, and fast. In that moment, when her freedom was threatened, she was smarter and faster than the two allegedly intelligent bipeds working together. If we went left, she faked us right then scrambled left around our grasping arms. If we cornered her by the fence, she darted between us. Ten solid minutes of chicken hockey later, Bob succumbed to the classic “trap her against the door with your leg” ploy.

Egg laying is a subject for another dispatch.

Originally published at The Preterit Review


Six months ago, I moved from a large Chicago suburb, about 38 miles from the city, to a small rural town about 24 miles further out. You wouldn’t think that a mere 24 miles would make much of a difference in lifestyle. After all, the United States is nearly 2,700 miles coast to coast. People speak with no accent to my ear. I can use the same money I always have. I didn’t even leave the state.

My town has 1,017 people (as of 2013). There are no stoplights. There is a fire station but no police department, a library but no grocery store, a diner but no pizza place. Some people have mail boxes, others don’t. People don’t lock their doors. Golf carts are a popular means of local transportation. I don’t have one, but it really doesn’t matter because you can walk the entire town in 15 minutes or less.

I also moved from a 20-year-old tract house to a 106-year-old Victorian. It has one tiny bathroom, no dishwasher, no central air conditioning, an unfinished basement, and a detached garage. The front door has a draft, the floors creak, and the paint is chipping.

These things could be considered annoyances. But here’s the thing: they’ve made me realize the immense satisfaction that comes from living purposefully.

This is easiest to explain, perhaps, through example.


I don’t get mail delivered to my house. Instead, I have a box at the post office. Unless the weather is extremely brutal, I walk the three blocks to pick up my bills, junk mail, and the occasional greeting card. I take the same route each time, a circular path that doesn’t retrace any steps. Doing this lets me enjoy the fresh air and get a little exercise—something that can be hard to come by for a work-from-home couch potato. But beyond that, the ritual of walking to the post office is soothing. It forces me to put Important Life Things on hold for just a few minutes. It connects me to my neighborhood, my surroundings, the place I inhabit for this slice of time. I notice when my neighbors put up holiday decorations. I know which houses have dogs and when someone gets a new dog. I follow the seasons in the flowers and trees that I see every day. I find myself looking forward the trip to the post office, a novel feeling.

Another example is shopping. Aside from a gas station and a dollar store, it’s at least a 15 minute drive to buy anything. Stores are far enough away that I must consider my purchases carefully. If I forget to buy capers for tonight’s chicken vesuvio, we don’t have capers in our chicken vesuvio. I schedule multiple stops on one trip—first Walgreens, then Aldi, then PetSmart—and thus avoid spending half my life in the car. Added bonus: I spend less money this way, because shopping has moved from entertainment to chore.

Because there’s no central air, I must plan my daily summer activities to take advantage of cool mornings and afternoon siestas. Because there’s only one bathroom, I must plan the family’s routines so everyone has a turn at the sink. Because our public library is very small, I must plan which books I want to read and request them through the interlibrary loan system. These mundane tasks take on new meaning when they receive such attention and forethought.

I’ve noticed this purposefulness leaking into other areas of my life. I check the nesting boxes several times a day for eggs and get a thrill when I find one. I made both bread AND butter the other day. From scratch. A friend asked if I was Amish now. I laughed, but honestly, I can see the appeal of that kind of life. Not that I’m ready to give up my internet and flushing toilet.

Could I have made my previous life purposeful? Probably. But like many people, I’m lazy and tend towards convenience. If I have an easy way out, I will most likely take it. Being purposeful is hard work. At the end of the day, I’m often more tired than seems reasonable. I think back over my day and both wonder how I filled it all and marvel at how much I’ve done. So many rituals. Walking to the post office. Making a menu and grocer list. Feeding the chickens. Washing the dishes. Dusting the woodwork. It all becomes an exercise in zen, when approached from the right perspective.

If I could only figure out how to make mowing the lawn into a meditation, I’d be zenner than a Buddhist monk.

Originally published at The Preterit Review

Yesterday’s Cookies

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