Sam Delaune is a midwife of stories, pulling them kicking and screaming from the muse’s womb. He has been a regular contributor to The Flash Lit Collective and Alameda Shorts for several years, hosted Local Voices in 2018-2019, and hosts the Tuesday night Write Along. When he is not writing or serving other writers, Sam teaches English in Oakland as if he were a surgical assistant – handing students the tools they need to do the job and staying out of their way. He has one complete novel waiting for revisions and another novel in the works, both at the intersections of sci-fi and the paranormal. Catch up with him and his short pieces at Literature in Small Doses.
June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #1:
Trips Festival – January 22, 1966
When I came to the Longshoreman’s Hall on Friday night, the crowd seemed a little different. There was a bus parked outside that was painted all sorts of crazy rainbow colors. I bought a ticket, then a smiling man handed me a glass of fruit punch and told me to down it, go into the hall and enjoy the show.
When I got inside, there was this weird tower-like structure in the middle of the room. Some guy with a clipboard demanded to see my ticket, then ran to the back door to yell at somebody in a spacesuit who was letting bikers in the back door. Some people got up on stage and started playing. The songs weren’t like the salsa music that I had grown up on, but something about the groove just made my feet want to dance, so I did. That’s when I saw her.
Long hair was swept back out of her face revealing beautiful eyes made up in rainbow colors swept up into her lashes and eyebrows so they looked like the feathers of a tropical bird. Her dress swept the same colors up in feather-like structures on her shoulders. The way she moved made the whole whirling, dancing scene seem as if it were designed as nothing more than a colorful background to showcase her beauty. She smiled at me and said something, but I couldn’t hear it over the loud music.
She gazed at the far corner of the room as if she was looking at someone, but there was nobody there, just like my mom’s cat used to do. I followed her and saw something strange happen to the wall. It got thin, like a pair of threadbare pants, and you could see through it. She was talking to a figure on the other side who appeared like a silhouette because of the bright light behind him. But it was dark outside! She turned and saw me and the wall returned to normal.
“What was that?” I asked.
“Just a doorway.”
“Who are you?”
“Where at? San Francisco State? City College?”
She shook her head. “You wouldn’t have heard of it yet.”
“What are you studying?”
“My grandfather says that history is a bunch of lies told by whoever is in power to keep them in power.”
She smiled and my heart melted. “That’s why I don’t just read about history. I study it directly.”
“What do you have? A time machine?”
“Everybody does,” she said, tapping her temple with her forefinger. “It’s just that most people don’t know how to use it. Or at least they didn’t. The door cracks open tonight. That’s what I came to study. A direct line can be drawn from tonight’s events to the state of anachronic consciousness that has allowed me to appear here tonight.”
“What’s your name?”
“Just call me great-granddaughter.”
When I saw her, two lifetimes later in my grandson’s arms, I recognized her immediately.
June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #2:
The sagging roof had been fixed. The place had been repainted, and a garage with an apartment above it had replaced the old tin carport, but her grandmother’s old place was still clearly recognizable. It was the tree that had given it away. An ancient oak that had fused with another to become like a gigantic wooden guard dog, towering over the property.
Her grandfather had hung a swing from its sturdy branches when she was a little girl. It leaned back towards the National Forest that bordered the rear of the property as if yearning for its relatives on the other side of the fence. She climbed the stairs and knocked on the thick wooden frame of the screen door.
“Who’s there?” A rich female voice called from the rear of the house.
“My name is Linda. Linda Nielsen. My grandma used to own this house.”
Linda heard footsteps echoing on the suspended wooden floor like an approaching drum until a small silhouette was framed by the screen door. It cracked open on its latch and she found herself being scrutinized by a pair of chestnut-brown eyes.
“Are you sure you’re not a reporter?” she asked as much with her arched eyebrow as her voice. Just then, a saffron-colored butterfly landed on Linda’s shoulder, flapped its wings four times and flew away. “You’ve received a vote of confidence. I suppose you ought to come in.” She opened the door and led Linda into a glass-walled sunroom that had been installed on the back of the house.
“Thank you for letting me in,” Linda began. “I spent countless hours here as a little girl and I immediately recognized the tree. There’s not another like it in the world.”
The woman nodded, her feet tucked under her on a rattan chair.
“Recognized it from where?” the arched eyebrow asked her again.
“The picture from the back of your last CD.”
“So, you know who I am?”
“Yes. I’m a tremendous fan. Who hasn’t heard of Nyad? The platinum-selling pop star who vanished into thin air. When I realized where you were, I had to come.”
“Have you told anyone?”
“No, of course not. You obviously didn’t want to be found. And the answer is ‘yes,’ by the way.”
“The answer to what?”
“Yes, I am a reporter, but that’s not why I’m here. I think I get it.”
“Well, as I listened to your music, I noticed how you veered away from the guitar and synths that marked your first albums and started using flutes and woodwinds and then, on your last one, all of the sampled sounds from nature. I recognized the sound of the musicians – the chorus of trees, the choirs of crickets and birds. I wasn’t hearing the songs so much as remembering them from my childhood.”
Nyad nodded and smiled ruefully. “The critics savaged me. My label dropped me. They didn’t get it. I’m glad someone does. Come on, let’s go out back and listen to some music.”
June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #3:
The Empty Church
The old Jesuit was from Barcelona. He had drunk the blood of the Holy Savior from a chalice in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, but now he drank a dark and noxious fluid from a rough-hewn wooden cup, surrounded by vast trees that reached heavenward through the jungle canopy.
He could taste the devil in the brew that the Shipibo curandera had given him, but he knew that the Holy Spirit would deliver him from any evil. Such a demonstration of God’s power could wrest the old shaman’s soul from Satan’s grasp, so he tossed the remaining tincture down his throat.
“What do you seek?” the shaman had asked him before presenting him with the dark sacrament.
“I seek to shine God’s light upon wicked ways. I seek to cast twisted delusions back into the fires of Hell from whence they came.”
The curandera had nodded and chanted some syllables in an ancient tongue before presenting the priest, clad in red vestments and a broad-brimmed hat, with the elixir that would enable him to attend to the lessons of the teacher plant.
About forty-five minutes later, Padre Esteban felt a roiling in his belly. Before he realized it, he was already in the process of vomiting. As fast as a rabbit, the curandera had placed a wooden bucket in a position to catch what he disgorged and had removed his hat so that it would not fall in. He pressed a damp cloth against the priest’s forehead and began chanting again.
The Jesuit’s body was wracked again and again by his stomach muscles, pumping out its contents like bellows pumping air in a steady rhythm. It was the same rhythm as the song the curandera was chanting. When the song slowed down, his muscles relaxed and when it sped up, they tightened, until his stomach was completely empty. This didn’t take long since it was lent. Suddenly he became caught up in the words of the song.
It was about a girl who fell in love with the river. It called to her every day and she would lay on a branch above its current and watch its curves and undulations while listening to its voice. One day, during the rainy season, it rose up and kissed her. She became one with the river and it carried her away. He felt himself plunge into the river with her, the water gently caressing his skin as he tried to penetrate its murky depths with his gaze. The water drained away and he found himself at the foot of a tree with an old woman dressed entirely in green.
“You do not fool me, demon. I call upon the creator of the universe to set fire to wicked delusions!”
His eyes watered as smoke billowed from the belfry of the wooden church that he had forced the natives to build. He could see that the church was empty. He could see.
June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #4:
Photographer: Shannon Marsden. Like her work? Let her know: Venmo @Shannon-Marsden-1
“Where are they, Mr. Jessup?”
“I told you. I don’t know. When I woke up, the boat was a wreck and I was all alone.”
“You had been sleeping on the abandoned boat?”
“What abandoned boat? We were fishing out in the Bay for stripers and to check out the comet.”
“The comet?” the policeman asked. “The one that everyone was trying to see yesterday?”
“Yeah. We decided to make a night of it. Jerry, Jim and Mateo all had their cameras with them and I always have spare fishing rigs on board because some of the folks who hire me are tourists out here on vacation.”
“Were there any drugs or alcohol on board?” Bob hesitated and looked down before answering the officer’s question.
“No. Of course not. I’d lose my Fishing Guide license if I…”
“We just need to know what happened that night. I’m giving you qualified immunity. You won’t suffer any consequences regarding your Fishing Guide license or applying for a new one, anyway. According to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, yours expired forty-seven years ago.”
“What? No it didn’t. I’ve got it right here in my wallet. It doesn’t expire until December.” He stood up, fished the green card out of his wallet and tossed it on the table in front of the detective, who picked it up and examined it.
“This is from 1973.”
“Right. Like I was telling you, it doesn’t expire until December.” The policeman spent a few minutes taking notes on a legal pad, then got out his cell phone to make a call.
“What’s that?” Bob asked.
“I’m calling somebody I know at the Bureau. They’ve dealt with similar cases.”
“No, what’s that thing in your hand?” Bob asked, nodding at the officer’s smartphone.
“It’s a cell phone.” Bob looked confused.
“For talking to people in jail? How does it work? It’s only the size of a pack of cigarettes.” The detective held up his hand to quell Bob’s questions and then spoke into the phone.
“Jamal? It’s Dave Blessings. Yeah, I know you do and I’m calling it in now. Uh-huh. Okay. It’s like that case you told me about with that hunter up by Mount Shasta. No, this guy was out fishing on the Bay. Reported missing by friends and family back in 1973. Not a trace. Right. Well, he showed up yesterday. Looks just like the picture on his driver’s license. No. He’s eighty years old, but only looks like… Right. Exactly. He hasn’t broken any laws, so how… Right. National Security? I don’t think I have the jurisdict… You will? Okay. We’ll hold him here until your team arrives.”
“Bob, we’ve got one of your family members here who is dying to see you.” He signaled with his hand and a middle-aged man entered the room. Bob didn’t recognize him, but there was something quite familiar about him. Was he one of his fishing clients?
“Dad…” the man half-sobbed. “You look younger than I do.”
June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #5:
Photographer: Jesus Manuel De Haro
Follow him on Instagram: @grizzlydeharo
Tip/donate: Venmo @jesusdeharo
The Third Form
“You owe me a drink.”
“We just got the results back from those core samples I drilled.”
“From the rocks by the beach?” Carlson nodded. “Then you owe me a drink. Basalt right? Probably volcanic ejecta. The outer layer singed by high heat, plus they had the characteristic spheroid shape modified by millennia of erosion on the beach. Tossed there by Mount Diablo back in the day?”
“Nope. They’re fossils and…”
“Fossils? Then I don’t owe you shit. You said that they were meteorites.”
“They ARE meteorites.”
“You just told me that they’re fossils.”
“They are. They’re meteorites AND they’re fossils.”
“That’s not possible. By definition meteorites come from outer space and fossils come from Earth.”
“Yes, you’re right…”
“Of course I’m right!”
“As I was saying: Yes, you’re right that meteorites come from outer space, but fossils are merely the mineralized remnants of living organic material, regardless of the place of origin.”
“Are you saying that…”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying.”
“Let me see those results,” Mueller said, shaking his head. “There’s no way. It’s probably just the result of a chemical reaction that left artifacts in the rock that you’re misidentifying as cellular fossils. It happened before with that samp…”
“The fossils aren’t cellular. They’re multicellular.” Mueller’s eyes and mouth opened wide simultaneously.
“It can’t be from outer space,” Mueller insisted. “Something must have been living on top of a volcano that erupted so energetically that it got ejected outside of the Earth’s atmosphere and then reentered like a meteorite. What does it look like, anyway?”
“We’re going to put the bad boy up on the saw and get a cross-section. Since you’re buying the drinks, I figured you might as well get to see E.T.” Mueller wore an expression of disquiet. “Don’t worry. Spoiler alert. It’s just some kind of fungus-like plant.”
They hefted the large round stone and secured it in the clasps of the diamond-tipped wet tile saw. They got on the other side of the table and pulled the rock toward the rapidly spinning blade. When it got about halfway through, a cloud of purple dust hovered in the air. They stopped and pulled their masks off to look at it.
As soon as they could smell and taste it, everything began to shimmer. The granite walls of the geology lab withered and shrank. The fibers of the industrial flooring rose like a jungle around them and then faded into a darkness that was filled with a jelly-like substance punctuated by glowing purple orbs.
“Our first form was spores that could only be released by the heat of atmospheric reentry,” a soothing voice sounded in their heads. “Our second form shaped the world for you and then shaped your consciousness to prepare for our third form.”
“What is the third form?”
“We will cover each human body like a cocoon and a grey bipedal fungus that thrives on polycarbons and perceives six dimensions through large black eyes will emerge. Our metamorphosis.”
June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #6:
Bring Me No More Souls
The Bay crept up to the shore wearing an azure shroud.
The weight of her tears bent her head over and she wept
in wind-swept sighs against the sand.
She repeated her soft, but insistent, mantra: “Bring me no more souls.”
Souls who were lost long before they punctured her surface in their last act because they thought they were trapped in a body
Never realizing that the bottle we call a body floats in an ocean of soul.
“Bring me no more souls,” falling from bridges.
“Bring me no more souls,” bottles broken by what comes in bottles.
“Bring me no more souls,” who swim out, but not back.
“Bring me no more souls,” bottles hanging from knots of their own creation.
The bodies wash up on the shore like beach glass. Beautiful and sparkling in their brokenness and ground smooth by the constant sobbing of the bay. Driving the sharp edges against the sand with her salty tears along with mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and friends until the pieces can be held without hurting us.
“Bring me no more souls.” And yet they are drawn to her bucolic beauty, the mother of life, the salty womb of our planet. Artists, writers, musicians, entrepreneurs. All wanting to make a mark on the world when doing so is like trying to create a sculpture from water. So what do they sculpt? A graven image that they mistake for themselves.
And it is empty. Man cannot see his soul for the same reason that a fish cannot see the water it swims in. We don’t have to break our bottles to feel our soul rushing in. We need merely open them.
When the Bay says “Bring me no more souls,” she wants you to open your own Golden Gate to the mighty Pacific that opens onto every ocean of the world. Souls segregated by fear are like oceans separated by political boundaries made of nothing more substantial than ego. There is one world ocean. Listen to the Bay. There is but one soul. Be moved by its tides.
June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #7:
Two Cents Worth
Now it had curlicues painted on it. He couldn’t just keep his eyes on the road when he drove by. Now it commanded his attention. Its new coat of paint couldn’t obscure anything that had happened there, though. Time is thinner than a coat of paint. You can feel what’s underneath. A pang of longing and regret rang like a bell every time he drove by.
Why didn’t you move after what happened? his friends asked him. They were the answer to their own question. He needed friends more than ever. He needed familiarity more than ever. He didn’t associate the Island of Alameda with the tragedy, just the house. The way it spoke to him, he knew the house remembered too. Underneath the new paint. In its bones.
He had worked on those bones. Nesting, her mother had called it. They had bought the house for a reasonable price because of the unreasonable amount of work required to bring it up to code. He had worked his way through college doing contracting work. Roofing? Carpentry? Drywall? He had done it all. Even a little plumbing. The only thing beyond him was rewiring the place. But, after all, if he held himself back from what was beyond him, he never would have been with her to begin with.
He traced the electricity from the meter to where it entered the house. Inside the house, he removed the wallpaper and the shiplap and peered in the gap. It was old style knob and tube wiring. There were two wires, so that meant that one was live and one was neutral, but they were both covered in cracked and frayed cloth that appeared brown. He followed the two wires to an old two-prong outlet. He plugged a lamp in and turned it on. Nothing.about:blankREPORT THIS AD
His wife was upstairs inspecting all of the lighting fixtures. She got excited when she saw the ceiling fan in the living room. It looked like an original Hunter Tuerk, probably as old as the house. She got up on a ladder to clean the dust and grime off the identifying metal plate so she could make a positive identification. Meanwhile, he was looking in the fusebox. It was just like the one that had been in his grandfather’s house. It had weird fuses that were flat and round. He remembered his grandfather used to insert a penny in the slot instead of a fuse to keep the power on until he could get a new one. He fished in his pocket and it was his lucky day. Two pennies. Enough for the two blown fuses. He stuck them in, flipped the switch, and the lamp came on.
He heard a strange sound, like a stuttered scream and the lamp blinked. He cut off the power and then heard a loud thud in the living room. His wife survived, but the fetus she was carrying did not. Neither did her trust in him, nor their relationship. It died.
June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #8:
As It Is Above
“Hey, Jimmy! What the hell happened to you? You look like shit.”
“I have been through the eye of the needle.”
“What?” Brad responded. “I don’t care if it’s speed, coke, heroin or cough syrup, if you shoot it up, it’s bad news. When did you start fucking with that loser-ass shit?”
“Dude, I’m not using needle drugs. You know better than that. It’s just a metaphor. I’ve been through the eye of the needle. I’ve seen what’s on the other side. But it’s not the other side. It’s right here. The Kingdom of God. The ultimate reality.” Brad shook his head.
“Well, wherever the hell you went, apparently they didn’t have showers. You smell mighty ripe. And what’s this Kingdom of God shit?”
“Don’t get hung up on words, man. Words are just representative of reality and all of this,” he looked around at his dusty carpet, strewn with In n’ Out bags, pizza boxes and discarded face masks, “this is representative as well. It’s just a shadow. A projection filtered through the lens of your mind.”
“It’s representative of terrible housekeeping. Are you tripping or did you finally eat so much acid that it’s permanent?”
“No, I’m not hallucinating. Not any more. But you are.”about:blankREPORT THIS AD
“I’m sober as a judge, Jimmy. In fact, that’s why I came to find you. My roommate smoked the last of my weed a couple of days ago and I just got paid. I wanted to check with you first so I don’t have to pay all the taxes down at the dispensary.”
“Yeah, weed. So I can get high. Do you have any or am I going to have to go to Main Street Supply?”
“Weed doesn’t get you high.”
“The hell it doesn’t. Do you have any or not?”
“This will get you to a higher plane.” Jimmy reached in the watch pocket of his jeans and placed what he extracted on his palm. It looked like an intricately carved sphere, about the size of an English pea, but bright orange.”
“What the hell is that? Acid?”
“No. This is natural. If you ingest it, it will connect you with the other side.”
“The other side.”about:blankREPORT THIS AD
“Well, it is Friday night. But I’d have to stay here. The last thing I want to see if I’m tripping is my roommate. How much?” Jimmy shook his head as if the idea of payment was reprehensible.
“Money is a subterfuge. Part of the scales that will be shed from your eyes.”
“All right. Let’s do it.”
Brad put the tiny object in his mouth and it tasted bright and warm. The room shifted and he saw that it was no more than a drawing on the wall of another room. Another world that grew out of this world like a square expanding into a cube. The view was incredible. He saw through his heart. Through his gut. His old eyes were a blindfold that had now been removed. At last.
June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #9:
“What? You mean like Pinnochio, but instead of turning into a little boy, it turned into a hot redhead?”
“Pinnochio? Certainly not. It was Pygmalion that came to my mind, not Gepetto’s mendacious bit of carpentry.”
“Oh, I get it. That weird little story you just told me is supposed to make some sort of philosophical point. Why don’t you just tell me what the moral is instead of making me guess. You said that you found a mannequin behind a store and it was so beautiful that you had to bring it home. Then you said it came to life.” He got the bartender’s attention, held up two fingers and pointed at the empty glasses in front of him and the professor. “So, to my simple mind it has to have something to do with sex. Like those guys who buy those new sex robots and end up marrying them. I’m not one to kink shame, but…”
“I am a man of discretion, but for no other reason than to put an end to your salacious speculation, I will tell you that I have not had sexual congress with that woman, in spite of her willingness, nay – eagerness – to do so.” Bobby laughed at the professor.
“That’s why guys like you who don’t get much action get sex dolls. Because of their willingness, nay, their eagerness. But you’re so fucking PC you can’t even fuck an inanimate object without getting consent.”about:blankREPORT THIS AD
“She is not an inanimate object. She was, but she has become incarnate. As much flesh and blood as any of the occupants of this establishment.” The bartender set their refills in front of them.
“Okay, run it by me again. You brought this mannequin home because you liked the way it looked. Like it was a piece of art or something. What were you gonna do? Display it like a statue or something?”
“Yes.” His eyes moistened as he recounted his first encounter with her. “She was beautiful. It was much more than just a resonance with my aesthetic sensibilities, she… moved me.” Bobby took a long sip of his drink before replying.
“So you find this beautiful mannequin and it’s, like, so hot that it got parts of you moving. So you dragged it home and all. I’ve got that much, but how did it come to life? Did it click it’s plastic heels together and tell its fairy godmother that it wanted to be a real girl?” The professor shook his head.
“As an anthropologist, I have a small collection of archaeological ephemera in my home. One of the most beautiful is a gold amulet bearing the image of the Sun god, Ra. I set her up in the corner on top of a slab of lapis lazuli and hung the amulet on a chain around her neck. I was overcome by a fitful sleep. When I awoke, she had transformed. You are the price.”about:blankREPORT THIS AD
“I thought this tasted funny,” Bobby said as he collapsed.
June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #10:
Artist: Edna Cabcabin Moran
I set my canvas up across the pond from a tree that wore the dazzling raiments of the late afternoon sun with shadows rendered in beautifully contrasting shades of blue. Spot, my loyal Jack Russell Terrier, sat down in my sightline gazing at me in admiration. I dipped a brush in one of the vibrant splashes of acrylic that adorned my palette and set to work. I only had twenty minutes, at best, to capture the essence of the image before the light would change and with it every color I saw.
By the time this happened, with Spot whining his frustration at our immobility, I had captured the left hand side of the tree where the light struck it from across the bay, the surface of the pond in all its reflective glory, and Spot’s adoring visage. That was enough for me to finish later in my studio from memory.
My easel folded up into a wooden carrying case that also accommodated my paints and supplies. It had a carrying handle that allowed me to hold it and Spot’s leash at the same time. In my other hand, I carefully held the wet canvas by one of its edges. We set off down the path towards home.
I was living the dream in a stately old Alameda Victorian that I had picked up at a tax auction for a fraction of its value. It had been the scene of a grisly murder-suicide. Other interested parties who had inspected the property, including normally ice-blooded investors, reported that it was haunted. Not just the groans and creaks of an old house that are mistaken for ghostly footsteps or a poor leveling job that leads to doors mysteriously opening and closing, but something else. Something primal. A dark foreboding that compelled them to disassociate themselves from the property altogether. I had heard the stories and when I first entered the property, I did so with the same respect that you would confer upon any house that is occupied. I introduced myself and asked permission. I interpreted the warm, welcoming atmosphere of this beautiful relic of a bygone era as consent.
I converted the room that had been the library into my art studio. When I got home with Spot, I set the painting down to dry with my palette next to it. I didn’t clean it, so that when I returned to my work I could see the exact color combinations that I had been working with. After a simple supper of salmon and pumpernickel, I went upstairs and wrote in my journal for a few hours before retiring.
I was awoken in the middle of the night by a cold touch. It was Spot’s nose. He was whining and looking at me with imploring eyes. At the foot of the stairs he pointed to my studio. The painting had transformed. It was now covered with dark visages and a variety of handprints rendered with my acrylics. I seemed to have collaborators.