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The Undeath of Beth (a short story)

The Undeath of Beth (a short story)


Tommy told her to stay away from the edge seven times. But Beth didn’t listen. He couldn’t very well stop her from being a fool when she was clear on the other side of the barn, could he?

“Mom told you to be careful,” he repeated. Usually, using the “M” word was the only thing that could make her listen. Many moms can make us behave with just a faint warning from the past. Tommy and Beth’s mom was most definitely that kind of mom.

But Beth wasn’t like you or me. Beth was, and still is frankly, a misbehaver from toe to hairtip.

Tommy, too, was no sample of sweetness, and frankly still isn’t, but he fancied himself packed with sense. Or, as he liked to call it, Sensibles — because that made him sound blessed by spirits.

They were in the barn that Mom told them to stay clear of. They were doing things Mom told them not to do inside the barn (the one that she told them not to be in). All in all, it was a disaster waiting to happen.

The roof, as it was, wore more holes than Mrs. Whisker’s swiss cheese. Sunlight poured into some areas of the barn, and not at all in others. The resulting shadows could move, dance, fly or do just about anything else your imagination allowed them to do.

Old piles of damp hay emerged from the floor like warts. They stunk the place up in that dreamy, moist cloud of decay that’s somehow pleasant if you’re in the mood to enjoy it.

So, inside this nest of wretchedness, Beth fell from the second floor.

It was a short fall, as most falls are. But Beth’s brain, being a rocket, managed to pack a lifetime inside three seconds.

When she first lost her balance and her right foot didn’t feel the floor in that special way it does when we’re grounded, she thought, “I wonder if my funeral will be sunny.”

She saw her parents sobbing. Her little casket perched above a hole in the ground in such a way that it could be shoved off its pedestal and slid straight down into the Earth.

She spotted Tommy playing her Nintendo DS while the priest spoke about what happens to girls who don’t listen to their mothers. Tommy winked at her, which meant he knew she was watching her own funeral. Then he dove back in to try to beat her high score in MarioKart.

By the time she was pondering the barn from an angle she’d never considered before, namely upside down while twirling, her thoughts had turned to the barn.

It upset her, as she fell to her death, that they would likely respond to her accident by tearing the old place down. Which would hardly be a reasonable way to face such a tragedy!

After all, if one girl could die in an abandoned building at any time then couldn’t all empty buildings be killers-in-waiting? Why not tear all of them down? The barns, the warehouses, the schools…

That’s where Beth’s head settled as she saw the ground below her get significantly closer at a good clip. She wouldn’t really miss school. Not only because she’d be dead and wouldn’t be around to miss it; but also because school was her least favorite way to measure the day:

Pick up

Then, weekends:
Jump in mud
Eat whatever
Hit Tommy

That’s a thousand times better than any school day, even one with a substitute teacher.

She caught a glimpse of Tommy the moment she hit the ground. He was yelling something. Probably, “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!”

Beth felt bad for her brother. He’d probably feel guilty when she was gone. He might not even play video games for three whole days. Okay, maybe more like two days. But still, their parents would…

Oh no!

Would they blame him? Would they blame Tommy? Would it be like the time Tommy let the dog out by accident and she got caught in the fence?

They wouldn’t!

They might.

So Beth did what any other sister would do in her situation. She hit the ground hard. But as she hit the ground hard, she thought, “How strong are these floorboards anyways?” And, as if to say, “We’re not very strong at all, Beth,” the floorboards cracked under her butt, dropping her straight into a muddy soup below the barn.

Time slowed down to normal, as did Beth’s brain. Or what passed for normal, as there was almost nothing normal about what had just happened.

Tommy was still hollering above her, his fingers clenching his hair. Finally, he managed, “ARE YOU OKAY?”

“I think so,” Beth said, a little short of breath.

She didn’t really hurt anywhere at first. But later on, when the excitement had died down, she found a large splinter in the back of her leg. The scar would always be there to remind her to mind her brother.

On the long walk home they decided to keep the whole thing to themselves. Most parents will grimace at such a decision, but tough luck. The brother and sister had a secret and it welded them together in all the ways brothers and sisters should weld.

“Did your life flash before your eyes?” Tommy asked as they walked up the steps to their back porch.

“No, but the future did. And I’m having none of it.”

That, Beth thought, will be my secret for me, myself and I.

The best research sites for writers

The best research sites for writers

Research. I love it for the depth and flavor it adds to my work. I hate it for the time suck and endless re-searching it requires [See what I did there? RE-searching? Never mind.]

The folder in which I keep my research bookmarks shoots to the top of the Bookmarks drop-down window when I start a project. Then it ticks down to the bottom (below “Shopping”) as I get immersed in my concocted world.

Here’s a list of the best research sites for writers on the mondoweb, in my experience. I think one or two may come as a surprise.


What do you mean, “Which CIA?” That CIA. If you want to get spectacular data in an elegant package then give the snoops a chance. It’s not really a surprise that they have useful info, is it? Though it may be a surprise to some just how available that info is.

Best History Sites

There’s nothing like an historically accurate story. What’s better than reading a great yarn that feels real? Best History Sites (.net) is a useful resource on a number of levels if you’re researching a time period. As the name implies, they gather the best history sites together in an easy-to-read package. I just got off an hour of browsing their links while researching this research post. Sigh.


These guys are doing history right. They’ve spent years posting quality articles, slideshows and media around world history. If you check out their A-Z section you will be lost in fascinating information.


For questions about everything from the history of nail clippers to the top donors to Abraham Lincoln’s political career, turn to Quora. You need to sign up to fully participate. It can also take a lot of reading to find the value. But it’s worth your time to go there if you need a question answered.


The best resource for crunching numbers. But even more important? The best resource for excavating stories behind the numbers. Just type in your hometown’s name in the search field and you’ll see what I mean.


Blekko is a search engine that presents its quality results in a logical way. If you search for “George Lucas” you’ll see the different kinds of results (social, shopping, bio, etc) displayed immediately. Sure, you could use Google. But Blekko’s robust presentation will probably appeal to many of us.

This was a tough one to recommend. It’s an ugly site with a lot of noise that has nothing to do with research, and a LOT to do with distracting you from your research. But if you can stay focused and follow the logic of their odd navigation, will give more than it takes.


Getty is great for art history and architecture from prehistory to today.


Refdesk calls itself the “Fact Checker of the Internet.” Used correctly, they’re probably right. The site is a treasure trove of info. You get everything from law dictionaries to gas price maps to contact info for local politicians. All on one page! Very Web1999, but I like it.

Library Spot

Like Refdesk, Library Spot is a hub for information. It attempts to provide you with easy access to the many online libraries and information resources. They do a pretty good job, considering the complexity of what they set out to do.

Google Scholar

Is it possible for me to get through a post without mentioning Google? No. Google Scholar has set out to give us a search engine for scholarly literature. You can find articles, books, court opinions, abstracts, and theses from a number of different sources. You can also arrange to check out books that contain the info you need, much like the resources listed below.

Online library resources are a fantastic place to research. But you need to know what you’re getting into.  Be sure to check out the FAQs or the “How to Use” areas of the sites. It’s easy to get lost and feel like you’re getting the run-around. Some areas require membership and even university VPN connections.

Library of Congress

The largest library in the world. It was established to “support the Congress in fulfilling its constitutional duties and to further the progress of knowledge and creativity for the benefit of the American people.” 


I’ve linked directly to the UCLA research guides, which is a sufficient overview of their scope. From this page you’ll find a number of free access sources, and some membership sites.


Oxford combines over 100 libraries in one. Wow.

New York Public Library

I’m partial to the NYPL images gallery for my writing research. If you live in NYC you can do a combo of online and stack research.

So off we go into research land. Try to find something no one’s found. Try to riff off of life and give us some great stories. But don’t forget to stay focused! ;-)

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Disposable Sam (a 150 Word Story)

Disposable Sam (a 150 Word Story)

Having a claw for a hand wasn’t so bad. Its prongs could grasp any surface. In fact, Sam had enough control to pick up an egg or crush a head, which is what he was doing.

The scream strained the average eardrum. Underling scientists whined in the corner of the lab. Sam’s victim was the scumball who cut his hand off, among other things, and used him as an experiment. No permission asked.

He deserved a death that treated him like dirt.

“Why?” Sam growled. The prong that was his new middle finger prepared to burst through the guy’s cranium.

“Oh God! It was a step!” he shrieked. He saw that Sam was listening. “A big step. One more Disposable and we…EVERYONE can live forever in steel bodies!”

“One more Disposable, huh?”

Sam broke his arms and tossed him to the scientists.

“Yay. There’s your Disposable. Get to work.”




Jungle Jim (a 150 word story)

Jungle Jim (a 150 word story)

Mom always thought Jungle Jim was creepy, but I liked him. He sold ice cream and said hi to every kid in the playground. Sometimes, when a bunch of us said hello at the same time, he twirled in circles howling, “HELLOOOO!”

We laughed hard at that. The kids did. The grownups acted like they didn’t trust him.

The truth about Jim came out when Allison disappeared from the playground.

Her Dad was frantic.

He screamed, “ALLLLLLISOOOON!”, twirling around like Jim.

“Daddy?” Allison was across the street. I bet she was staring at toys in Walgreen’s window.

She crossed back without looking.

A car turned the corner, fast.

Jungle Jim jumped into the street and fell into Allison hard enough to knock her away.

Now he’s in the hospital. He’ll be okay. Allison’s dad is using his vacation to sell ice cream for Jungle Jim.

I think that’s super nice.