Halloween at the Steins

Halloween at the Steins


Things were abuzz in the Franklin Stein household on Halloween. Franklin’s wife, Mary Shelly, was hosting a party.

Shelly usually did all the work for the soiree herself, but this year she asked her friend Elvira to help. The girlfriends agreed: a sit down dinner was out; a buffet was in, so guests could mingle. No elaborate seating charts and worrying about who wanted to drink the blood or eat the brains of a fellow guest.

And while Franklin would normally be watching football or gardening by moonlight, tonight he made a rare appearance in his wife’s kitchen.

“Shel, do you want cheese on these?” Franklin said.

“Yes, Muenster,” she said.

Franklin poked around in the refrigerator but his hands were so big he couldn’t grab the tiny packet of cheese. He pulled the whole drawer out and dumped it upside down. Packages of meats, cheese, sticks of butter and a plastic sheath of vacuum sealed brains scattered on the counter-top.

Shelly watched him from the corner of her eye as she arranged a platter, determined not to say anything. This is Franklin’s way of helping, she said to herself.

He ripped open the package of cheese and an entire pound of sliced Muenster flew across the counter. He slapped his gigantic palm down to stop it from skittering to the floor. He cut the Muenster into huge chunks with a knife and plopped them on each tongue sandwich. The sandwich tops teetered at strange angles on a large silver tray.

“How’s this?” he asked.

“Cuddle bear, you’re so helpful,” she said. She pulled his arm until he leaned down. She kissed his cheek. “Would you put it on the buffet table next to the fried crickets?”

Franklin grunted his agreement. He walked into the dining room with the tray balanced precariously between his hands.

Shelly started to gather up the spilled items when the door bell rang.

“Trick or Treat Shelly,” the woman on the porch said. The skin tight fit of the woman’s black dress was accentuated by her long black hair and lovely face.

“Vi, it’s great to see you,” Shelly said and gave her friend a hug.

“Hi Vi,” Franklin said. “Love the dress. Where’s D?”

“He can’t make it; he’s working graveyard shift, as usual.”

“Franklin, do you want to watch the game? Vi and I can handle the kitchen.” Shelly said. Franklin grunted and lumbered off to the living room.

Shelly took a pitcher of blood from the refrigerator and poured a glass for her guest. Vi took a sip. “Shel, you know my favorite blood type is B+? You’re such a dear.”

“What are friends for, right?” Shelly said.

She opened the refrigerator and pulled out festive bowls and platters with a variety of treats. There was bone marrow, sliced brains, blood sausage and pearl onions on skewers, hummus and baba ghanoush with pita chips, and a pot of ghoul-ash. Shelly prepared the secret family recipe given to her by Franklin’s mother. She put the stew on the stove to warm it.

Vi took each vessel and arranged them on the buffet table. When she came back to the kitchen, Shelly was stirring the pot with a wooden spoon and crying.

“Shel, what’s the matter?”

“I don’t know…the smell of the stew reminds me of the old country, when Franklin and I first got married. We’ve been together so long, he hardly looks at me anymore Vi. I hold these parties so he can see his friends every year, but I hope he also notices how much I care about him.”

“Oh honey, don’t try to figure a monster out, it doesn’t work.”

“But we used to be so…frisky. At our house in the countryside, we used to play a game. I’d run around the bedroom with a pitchfork and a candle shouting ‘Get the monster!’ Franklin loved that; ever since we moved to the suburbs he’s always going on about football and gardening. Vi, we’re becoming regular people. It’s terrifying.”

“Listen, I’ve been with Drac for 42 years, he met me when I was thirty-eight. I was just a baby. Do you think it’s easy being the seventh wife? No. He’s Transylvanian and I’m American, so there are big cultural differences. But we’re still together.”

“It’s hard with Franklin, he doesn’t talk much. Half the time, I’m trying to decipher his grunts.”

“It’s not easy for anyone Shel, but keep at it. Tell Franklin what you want. He’s not a mind-reader.”

Shelly sniffled. “I suppose you’re right.”

“Well of course I am. Now wipe your eyes girlfriend, you’ve got a party to host.”

The guests started to arrive. Mr. and Mrs. Mummy came first. The ghost of Edgar Allan Poe slipped in the back door and haunted the kitchen for a while. Then there was David the werewolf with his British girlfriend along with David’s zombie friend Jack and Jack’s wife. Finally, the headless horseman made a grand entrance with a freshly severed head, which got a big laugh.


By midnight, the guests had consumed most of the food and everyone had found their chatting partners for the evening. The doorbell rang again. Shelly was preparing the desserts, so she asked Vi to get it.

Vi opened the door to find the Jersey Devil with a half-empty bottle of tequila dangling from his tapered red claws.

“Vi, you look amazing.” He kissed her on the cheek and lingered there. “C’mon baby,” he whispered, “admit it – you’re glad to see me.”

She opened the door wider and stepped away from him. “Come in Virgil. It’s just like you to show up after dinner when you’re invited to a dinner party.”

“Yeah, uh, sorry,” he said and shucked off a coat he draped over his wings. He threw it on a nearby chair. “I stopped in Atlantic City for a few games of roulette. When I hit the Turnpike I ran into traffic. You know me baby, I gamble big. Where’s Shelly?”

“Did you know the headless horseman is here?” Vi said, diverting his attention.

“No way, where is my best dude? I’m here, so we can get this party started!” He shimmied his shoulders and his wings shook as he made his way into the living room.

“Okay Virgil, whatever. Clearly you need no invitation.”

Vi came back into the kitchen and rolled her eyes. “Shel, it was my ex! I didn’t realize you invited him?”

“I’m sorry Vi, I should have warned you. Franklin insisted. But Virgil is so unreliable, I never thought he’d make it.”

“No, no, it’s fine. I’m over him and his wild ways. I’ll say a few ‘Serenity Now’s’ and move on. But it’s a good thing Drac’s not here.”

“I keep telling Franklin our ‘special’ friends should be invited to the house separately, but he won’t listen.” Shelly sighed. “I hope Virgil doesn’t break anything. When he and the headless horseman get together…”

“I know,” Vi said. “I can’t believe I used to live with that devil. My life was chaos. It makes me so thankful I’m with Drac.”

Shelly pulled out a silver cloche covered plate from the refrigerator. “This might cheer you up, Vi. I got a dessert especially for you.” Shelly removed the cover and revealed a plate of lady fingers.

Vi clapped. “You shouldn’t have Shel, they look fantastic.” Vi took one of the lady fingers and proceeded to crunch away. “I love how you decorated the fingernails in orange polish, it gives them that extra textural element.”

The two friends cleared away all of the dinner plates with nary a fried cricket left. In the living room Virgil and the headless horseman led opposing teams in a game of charades. Edgar Allan Poe’s ghost was miming the 1958 movie title I Married a Monster from Outer Space but no one could understand him. Mrs. Mummy kept shouting Monster! Monster! but Poe was already on the word space.

Vi pulled Franklin aside and chatted with him. Shelly watched them talking. Franklin did his usual grunting and nodding. When they were done, Vi gave Franklin a hug, and he grinned like a little kid.

Shelly set out the desserts. But before anyone could dig in, Franklin stood up to his full seven and a half feet and said, “I want to say something.” The room quieted.

“Honey, thank you for a wonderful evening, you’ve outdone yourself this year. Let’s raise our glasses to my incredible wife Shelly,” he said.

“To Shelly,” the guests said in unison, raising their goblets of wine or blood.


As Franklin saw the guests off for the evening, Shelly and Vi washed the dishes together in the kitchen.

“Vi, you didn’t have to coach Franklin to make that speech tonight.”

“Shel, I knew you would think I put him up to it, but I didn’t, I swear. I told him you two were lucky to be so in love after all these years. He said those things on his own.”

“Come on, really?”

“Yes, really Shel. He loves you,” Vi said.

“You know, Franklin still surprises me sometimes. He may be a big oaf, but he’s my big oaf and I love him too Vi.”

“I know you do hon. It’s getting early, I’m going to try and catch D before he climbs into his coffin. Call me tomorrow.”

Shelly wrapped the left over lady fingers for Vi to take home. The two friends hugged and Vi left. Shelly began to dry the dishes when Franklin came into the kitchen and leaned down to nuzzle her ear.

“Did Vi tell you what she and I talked about tonight?” Franklin said.

“That she was impressed we were still in love after all these years, I know,” Shelly said.

“Shel, of course I love you, but that’s not it. First she said you’re the best friend she’s ever had. Then she said it was time for you and me to rekindle our flame.”

“That was sweet of her, I’m glad you had a good chat,” Shelly said.

“It wasn’t just a good chat, it was great advice. It reminded me of something we used to do.” He went to the drawer and pulled out a candle and matches. His mouth spread into the boyish grin Shelly knew well.

“Let’s make our own fun for Halloween this year,” he said. “I think the pitchfork is in the closet…”

Shelly laughed. “Oh Franklin, you say the most romantic things.”


A Review of Etgar Keret’s The Nimrod Flipout

I’m always on the hunt for great short story collections, and in the last few months I’ve purchased several. As I finish them, I’ll review them here in case you are also looking for examples of finely crafted stories.

Etgar Keret is an Israeli writer who has had several short story collections published, and translated from the original Hebrew into many languages. Thank goodness for that.

I procured 3 of Keret’s compliations including The Nimrod Flipout, The Girl on the Fridge, and Suddenly A Knock on the Door.

I relate strongly to Keret’s work. His stories are written succintly, and with great humor and a sense of the surreal in the everyday.

The first story in The Nimrod Flipout is called Fatso, about a man who meets the most beautiful woman and dates her. Eventually he finds out she has a secret … that when she falls asleep, she becomes a large, fat hairy guy at night. Fatso likes to watch soccer on TV and go out drinking. In Keret’s world, there are no boundaries for “what can happen” and in this story, the boyfriend continues to love the beautiful woman during the day, and befriends Fatso at night, coming to enjoy his company and root for his favorite soccer team.

In another story, Bottle, a man comes into a bar and meets a college student and a musician there, and the man puts the musician inside a bottle, as a trick. This story is only three paragraphs long, and was originally published online at KGB Bar and Lit Journal, so if you want to read Bottle and 2 other Keret stories, you can click here:


And while most of Keret’s work is funny, some of it digs at the difficulties Israeli’s face in their culture. In the title story, The Nimrod Flipout, several friends are “flipping out” and dealing with bouts of mental illness as they remember their friend who committed suicide. You get the idea that these men are dealing with the aftermath of having served in the Israeli military together. Each of guys deals with the situation in his own way, but they all go a little crazy, one at a time.

I would strongly recommend The Nimrod Flipout and Keret’s work. Although I haven’t read the other two collections yet, I will. Nimrod was written in 2006, but the stories are self-contained and I think they will stay fresh and unique in their perspective because of it.

New fiction up on Failbetter!

Given the generous support of editor Thom Didato and editorial staff at Failbetter, my very short micro-fiction work “Holocaust” is now live and available for your reading pleasure!

Please give the story some readerly love, by clicking the link:


It’s a funny thing about this work… I wrote it several years ago, and the piece was accepted over a year ago by Failbetter and is now getting some public sunlight.

It’s ironic to me because the entire story is about 200 words. But writers need to cultivate patience to get their works published, and I’m extremely pleased this piece is seeing the light of day.

A permanent link appears on my Published Stories page.


Three Short Story Collections I Recommend

A few weeks ago while wandering the isles of The Strand in New York City, I picked up Elissa Schappell’s Blueprints for Building Better Girls her collection of short stories.

I brought the Schappell collection with me for my travels recently to Bozeman, Montana for work. While in Bozeman, I had an opportunity to walk the Main Street where they have two independent bookstores. (As an aside, Bozeman is a pretty cool town considering it is in a rural part of the plains, and a short drive to the northern edge of Yellowstone National Park, but apparently the nearby ski resorts bring a lot of tourists and outside influence to the place. You can get organic salads from the local food co-op near the bookshops, for example.)

The Country Bookshelf was inviting, and the three women working there were all helpful when I asked about short story collections they’d recommend. I explained I was reading Blueprints, and that I’d be open to recommendations of local Montana talent as long as all the stories did not involve cows and horses. They did not disappoint, and handed over Aryn Kyle’s collection Boys and Girls Like You and Me, along with Maile Meloy’s Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It.

Both Kyle and Meloy originate from Montana, but Kyle moved east to New York City, and Meloy moved west to Los Angeles. It seems Montana could hold neither of them.

What’s so interesting about the three collections, which I read in succession, is how similar they are in their subject matter and selection of main characters. I was actually surprised by this because I was expecting each to have distinctive writing characteristics, but for me these tomes blended together…with some exceptions.

In the case of Schappell, her writing is more finely polished than the other two… although don’t get me wrong, all three of these women are very talented story tellers.

Schappell’s women scared me a little, some of them wanted to be sexually used or humiliated, others were dealing with the aftermath of rape, or they were anorexic and just generally fucked up. Most of them drank heavily or did drugs. I do not assume these women were stand-ins for the author, but there was a level of… depravity… in the Schappell collection I wouldn’t have necessarily expected. I’m no prude, but it made me wonder why the stories had to be dealing with topics so extreme.

Meloy’s collection was very tuned into the emotional aspects of loss and despair, and many of her characters were cheating on their partners, or having family problems of one kind or another. I think the strongest story in the collection is Spy vs. Spy, a story about two brothers who don’t get along, but the older and more responsible one (a doctor) has a daughter that the younger brother (ski instructor) is always trying to impress as a way to one-up his brother by being good to his niece. The ending of the story (which I won’t give away) was a perfect balance to the relationship between the two brothers and the people that surround them. Some of the other endings were similarly adept. Overall the writing was very strong.

Kyle’s characters were mostly adolescent boys and girls dealing with issues of growing up, sexual awakenings, and similar fare. I found the endings to some of Kyle’s stories to be problematic (for me) in that she would be telling the story and going along in the present, and then within the last page she would zoom out and have the character looking back from a great distance of time. I suppose that technique could work for some stories, but it was a conceit I felt she used too often and it jarred me out of the reading and intimacy with her characters. I don’t like it when the writer is showing me she can pirouette in the story. I don’t want to be able to “see” how she’s writing the story while I’m reading it, that doesn’t work for me.

To be fair, some of these stories – from all three collections – had excellent emotional resonance and I could feel what the characters were feeling (or I imagined I could, I should say.) It’s more important to feel something about a story than to have it written and executed perfectly, so I can be forgiving about certain endings, etc.

Perhaps of interest to the writers among us (most of you reading this?) is that all of these women were published by big names for their collections. (Is there hope for short stories after all?) Meloy was pubbed by Riverhead Books, a Penguin imprint; Kyle was pubbed by Scribner, a Simon and Schuster imprint; and Schappell was pubbed directly by Simon and Schuster. Not too shabby. Yeah, and both Schappell and Meloy were reviewed in the New York Times Book Review too.

So if you’re looking for interesting women characters written by contemporary women writers, go out and acquire these three collections. And no, I’m not getting a kick-back from these ladies, I just like their work. I think you will too.

New Story: Ozone, accepted by Camroc Press Review!

I’m extremely pleased to announce that my short fiction work, Ozone, has been accepted by Barry Basden, the editor of the Camroc Press. This is the very first appearance of any of my work in Camroc, although I’ve been trying for quite some time.

Camroc Press is especially known for intense emotional work, and for me Ozone was an attempt at a level of emotional honesty made public that I find uncomfortable. It was not an easy piece to write, and bit by bit I’m coming to terms with how to “reveal” this part of myself to readers.

Barry has told me the publishing que is backed up about six months, so the publication date on this piece is tbd; it’ll be much later this year. When the piece comes out, I’ll put up a post with the link so you can see what I attempted. In the meantime, a placeholder will go on my Published Stories page as a reminder it’s on the way.


P.S. As a follow up to my previous post, I’m nearly over my second terrible cold in two months, although I admit my appetite hasn’t returned yet… I fly west today and have already packed all my vitamins!

When is a short story also a novel?

I’m just getting around to reading Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao (I’m halfway through the book) which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2007. It’s interesting to me that the sideways approach to the characters and their stories is similar to Olive Kittredge, another Pulitzer Prize winning book.

Both books have their main characters in the title, and yet neither book spends its time telling a linear narrative about the main character. Olive Kittredge is referred to in some of the short stories forming the “novel,” she appears as a main character in some places and passes through stories in other cases. In the Diaz book, Oscar Wao appears in the beginning of the book, but then the book shifts perspective to Oscar’s sister, and right now I’m spending a sizeable chunk of reading about Oscar’s mother.

I wouldn’t call the Diaz book a collection of short stories but I suppose some could argue that the way he focuses on one character’s perspective at a time does resemble the feel of a short story inside a larger narrative. And Diaz is a short story teller (whose work regularly appears in the New Yorker…) so this makes sense.

In similar fashion, some people say Jennifer Egan’s novel A Visit From The Goon Squad (a book I somehow can’t get through…) is also a collection of short stories in novel form. I don’t have an opinion on that yet. But yeah, it also won the Pulitzer.

This type of storytelling feels very contemporary to me. If readers have shorter attention spans from all the internet surfing they do, why not let them assemble the full picture of a novel in their heads while absorbing pieces of a narrative in short story sized chunks? Or maybe the authors purposefully leave sections of a linerar narrative out, which encourages the reader to fill in the gaps on their own.

Regardless, the message (at least from the Pulitzer committee) is that short stories can be assembled to make a damn fine novel. Heck, short stories can be published as a collection and win the Pultizer too (once again I refer to the magnificent Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, but for a really old school reference we can also go with Tales of the South Pacific by Michner.)

If you’re wondering, yes, this is what I’ve been thinking about lately. On planes, in airports, in the back of taxi cabs, and in hotel rooms, like the one I’m sitting in right now…

A friend of mine read The Ties That Bind recently (my latest story to be published, which appears in The Washington Pastime) and he remarked, you have a way of writing that is very visual. I get that comment a lot, I told him. You need to find a way to pull people in deeper into your stories, he said. And then added, somewhat offhandedly, maybe you should write a novel.

Yeah, yeah… a novel. Write a novel. Everyone says I should… Sure. I should. But in my wildest dreams I cannot imagine sitting down and Writing A Novel.

But writing a short story? Well, I can do that. I know I can do it because I’ve already done it a few times. People even seem to like reading them from time to time… 😉

So maybe it’s time to write a collection of short stories pretending to be a novel. Maybe it’s time to structure a set of intersecting narratives and characters that could dance and cavort together, that will somehow form a novel.

I imagine when you read this collection of stories (you know, the ones I haven’t written yet) they will appear like a flock of birds, flying in a random formation but somehow moving together in a way that, when they zig and zag across the sky, draws your eye to follow them… to see where they go.

The Ties That Bind – New Story up at The Washington Pastime!

Hi everyone,

The Washington Pastime has just published my story The Ties That Bind on their site today.

Please direct all love traffic here: http://www.washingtonpastime.com/drupal/node/117

As always, a permanent link to the story will be posted on the Published Stories page.

And thanks for reading!


New Story Up at Word Riot!

Hi everyone,

Cloud Girl is now available for your reading pleasure in the July 2012 issue of Word Riot! I’m so pleased this piece found a home with the help of Kevin O’Cuinn, Word Riot’s Fiction Editor.

And to give credit where it’s due, Kevin suggested the title change for this piece – and I love the final title, it was a fantastic suggestion. It shows what trust and great relationships with editors can create…

All love traffic is most welcome at this link:



New Story Up at Prick of the Spindle!

Prick of the Spindle Volume 6.2, with my short story The Lottery Winners, is now available for your reading pleasure.

A hearty thanks to Cynthia Reeser, Editor in Chief and Cynthia Hawkins, Fiction Editor for giving this story in multiple parts a place in their journal.

As in some of my other works, The Lottery Winners follows multiple characters each in their own world. Also, I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of what happens to people when they win the lottery because everyone assumes money buys happiness – a theme I twist in my stories (like in The Price of Luxury, for example.)

Love traffic for this story would be most welcome.

Please click here: http://www.prickofthespindle.com/fiction/6.2/deminski/deminski.htm

If you’d like to leave comments on this blog post with any reactions, questions, thoughts or meanderings, I’d welcome it all.

A permanent link to this story is also available on my (growing!) Published Stories page.


New Story Up at The Northville Review!

Hi everyone,

My story There Was An Old Woman is now up and available at The Northville Review! Thanks of course to Erin Fitzgerald and the fine staff for giving this piece a home.

All love traffic will be most welcome… the link is:


As always a permanent link to this story will also be available on my Published Stories page.

Enjoy – Comments welcome!

Story Up at Word Riot!

I’m extremely proud to have my work in the May 2012 issue of Word Riot.

I’ve thanked Fiction Editor Kevin O’Cuinn on this blog before, but I can’t say it enough. His editorial support was tremendous and the final piece, Flame, has the marks of his deft guidance.

For me personally, some pieces are watermarks in my brief career as a short story writer. PANK was one, and now this.

All love traffic is appreciated.

CLICK HERE for Flame, at Word Riot: http://www.wordriot.org/archives/4051

Story Up at Bartleby Snopes – The Paperboy has arrived!

After three years of searching for a home, The Paperboy has found one thanks to Nathaniel Tower and the editorial staff at Bartleby Snopes.

This is my second story placed with them, the first was The Return of the Lone Ranger.

Please give some love traffic to my story here: http://www.bartlebysnopes.com/thepaperboy.htm

Also, should you feel inclined to participate in the voting (Bartleby Snopes conducts voting each month for favorite story) the “polls” open on May 23rd.

Don’t forget… my Word Riot story Flame is coming soon! Stay tuned for the link.