Spot 016: Candles Burning


by Bill Lapham

“See anything?”
“Not a fucking thing.”
“What’s that?”
“Tired, you know, low on energy, drowsy, exhausted, tired.”
“I was tired two days ago, man. This is beyond tired.”
“Your eyes are bloodshot.”
“My ears are bloodshot. I think my brain is bleeding.”
“When you think we might see something?”
“You gotta be fucking kidding me.”
“Right. How could we know that?”
“Now you’re cooking with gas.”
“I can’t keep my eyes open.”
“You’ll keep ’em open if I stick my fingers in ’em, you fuck.”
“Why you gotta be like that, man?”
“Keeps you awake.”
“I want to go to sleep.”
“Sleep when you die. And if you go to sleep on me, man, I’ll kill you. Problem solved.”
“You wouldn’t kill me, man.”
“Fucking try me.”
“I’m your friend, your buddy, your pal.”
“All three them fuckers be dead if you go to sleep, man.”
“Really? You ain’t tired?”
“I told you. I’m dog ass tired.”
“Dog ass tired?”
“It’s an expression a speech.”
“You mean a figure of speech.”
“Fuck you. Figure my ass.”
“You are cranky when you get tired, dude.”
“You sound like my ol’ lady.”
“I am your ol’ lady, what’re you talking about?”
“Shut up, man.”
“But I like talkin’ to you.”
“You ain’t my ol’ lady.”
“Say it, or you’re a dead man.”
“I ain’t your ol’ lady.”
“You see that?”
“That’s him.”
“Range: 1-400 meters. Wind: Left: 3.”
“I got him.”
“Range is hot, sergeant.”
“Target is down.”

See Authors page for Bill’s bio.



by Kristine E. Shmenco

It was way past midnight and Nanci couldn’t sleep. She poured a whisky with a beer chaser, slumped at the kitchen window and watched Mr. Ruiz struggle with his Pontiac. Eighty-ninth Street was a helluva place to swap out a thermostat she thought and admired his tenacity. It felt good to be done grading papers for her professor, but the outline for her thesis was trash and she had to be up in three hours to open the store. She ran her tongue around the outside of the bottle, then blew across the top and smiled at the foghorn it made. She thought about quitting the store again but slammed the door on it. That was her sanity money—no way would she miss her pilgrimage to Rio. It was all worth it, she sighed, mostly believing it.
Lori heard the foghorn and shuffled into the dark kitchen.
“Hey cuz, sorry I woke ya.”
“Yeah. Can’t sleep, you know?”
“Why don’t you call in sick?” she yawned.
“Because, Miss ‘Up All Night Blogging And Ignoring The Laundry,’ there’s no way I’m calling in.”
“Nothing good comes of burning it at both ends. IMHO,” she said and shuffled back to her bedroom.
‘Tell that to Mr. Ruiz,’ Nanci thought and drank a toast in his honor.

See Authors page for Kristine’s bio.



by Joe Gensle

After an intentionally brutal workout, Jim bent to tie his wing-tips, already feeling stiffening soreness. He had to tell her tonight. Guilt was carving his insides like a blade separating cantaloupe from its rind.

Weeks before, lovemaking ended with the mutual disinterest of apathy. They lay on their sides, spooning in sleepwear in the master of their fashionable condo. Silence awaited his puncture, despite the gentleness of phrasing he’d rehearsed in the shower at the gym.

He sighed and slowly inhaled.

“Don’t.” Celeste whispered, “I know about you two…everything.”

He groped for the nightstand lamp. Celeste’s confident whisper was infused with clairvoyance-informed surety possessed by women with a cheating spouse.

“The first time Stephanie invited me up,” Celeste smiled, “she seduced me, too. We got crazy wild. We’re still lovers.”

With every muscle’s pained report, Jim untwined to right himself out of the bed.

“We watched videotapes I shot of you two from the closet,” she said, and mocked, “‘Oh puss-y-cat,’ you pathetically whined in one episode. We replayed that one over and over, howling with laughter, Jim!”

In shadows of a lamp-lit stare-down, Celeste rolled onto his pillow to deliver the quietus.

“Steffie leased the penthouse. She took a job in L.A. and I’m going with her…. You may want to start packing, because we leave, Sunday. And you can’t afford this place on your own.”

Jim gulped painfully, embarrassed she heard it.

“The couch is that way,” she pointed, retracting her arm to twist the lamp switch.

See Authors page for Joe’s bio.



by Sandra Davies

‘But ‘oh fuck it ‘ is what all these honeymoon couples are thinking right now isn’t it? You can sense it, all the bloody time, and I don’t know about you and Susy …?’
Paul shook his head
‘No, well, nor Alice and I, either.’ David grimaced, discontented.
Paul grinned. ‘No sleeping with lower ranks eh?’
‘No. Well, not entirely, sometimes it’s OK but not in this case, because she’s only just got promoted, is right at the beginning of her career and I don’t think it’d be a good idea, for all sorts of reasons. But surely that doesn’t apply to you and Susy?’
‘No. We just know that we don’t fancy each other. Never have.’
‘And that’s what’s stopping you?
Paul didn’t reply. David watched him for a moment then said ‘Which of you said they didn’t fancy the other?’
‘…I did.’
‘So as to stop her saying it first?’
‘Pretty much, yeah.’
‘So do you?’
‘Do I what?’
‘You’re protesting too much.’
‘Well, she’s far from repugnant …’
David snorted, ‘If that’s your idea of a compliment, I can see why you’ve never married.’
‘Did you? Marry?’
‘No. Doesn’t go that well with the job But you’ve changed the subject.’
‘From you and Susy.’
‘And you want to talk about Susy?’
‘Not talk about … more ask about …’
‘Ask what?’
‘You know fine well what.’
‘Then it’s her you need to be talking to, not me’

See Authors page for Sandra’s bio.



by Paul de Denus

Von Oslin cannot put the pen down. He will not stop. The villagers who know him say at this pace, it will kill him. He hardly eats, never sleeps. He just writes. And writes. And writes. From his window, day and night, you see the candles burn. Some say he acquired a sickness, others say he is cursed. I know something different. He said he found what always eluded him. “The talent,” he whispered, his sunken eyes, black holes against the flame. “The talent… is mine.”

Von Oslin is the writer, scribing the town’s modest news and events. He is well respected but privately he wished for more. About a year ago, he left the village and traveled through the mysterious low country, near the dark mountains. I warned him to stay away. When he returned, he said he’d met a man who granted him a wish.

“I will give you the talent but you must write one million words before the rise of the winter’s moon.”
“What price is there to be paid?” Von Oslin asked.
“Your words are reward enough but you mustn’t stop. In exchange I will take away our old life and dispose of it.”

The words are the easy part. They flow and intoxicate like valley wine. It is what he is doing now, filling volumes of paper, gibberish strewn about his room. He is racing the moon. He understands that the moon will always rise and if he stops writing, he will die.

See Authors page for Paul’s bio.



by Gita M. Smith

“Honey, are you asleep?”
“Because, I want to tell you this idea I’ve been kicking around for a start-up. I think we have the capital to make this happen. Dear? You listening?”
“For once, I won’t have to ask Daddy for money. I made enough in the last quarter – after taxes of course, I won’t make THAT mistake again – so I feel sure we could swing this. I’ll call Ginny in the morning and see if she has the projected earnings. Guess what she said last night.”
“Dear? Larry? You listening?”
“wha? Whut time zit?”
“It’s… no, that can’t be right. Did you set the clock ahead instead of back? Let me get my cell phone.”
“Anyway, time isn’t the issue. I’m talking real possibilities, here. The economy is perfect for getting in on the ground floor. I bet we’ll get an IPO upwards of $20 per share! In fact, I’m going to call Ginny right now. I bet she’s still up.”
RING. RING. “You have reached the phone of Ginny McElmore. Please leave your message at the beep… BEEP.”
“Ginny? Hi, it’s Carley. I know it’s late but I’ve been doing some thinking and it’s looking better for an IPO than I thought yesterday, so can you work up the proposal asap and we’ll call the bank stat. Okay, call me when you get this.”
“Larry, honey, turn on your side. You’re doing the apnea thing. Larry? LARRY! You’re keeping me awake.”

See Authors page for Gita’s bio.



by Michael D. Brown

She tried to make the most of their hour every day. Their first thought was to cancel, not feeling the imperative the way she did. When she proposed moving the class one hour ahead, the way she said it sounded like a machine gun spitting out a threat they found funny enough to produce nervous laughter, but they knew they weren’t getting off easily. Half would show; half would claim prior commitments.
Her best student, the one who put in the most time and effort, she felt free to joke with and about in front of the others. Her own extensive overtime kept her from seeing how deep the cuts were, how they were scarring, how much his efforts cost. Unbeknownst to his peers, he had tried hanging himself twice and failed, he had tried gassing himself, but did not remember the bill had not been paid, and he reached the point of merely feeling foolish.
He was tired of working so hard to maintain equilibrium.
Finally, he succeeded with his estranged father’s luger, ostensibly left behind for his mother to protect the two of them from intruders. He lay on their living room floor about to reach nirvana while the red, red blood oozed from the wound above his heart, while in the classroom Miss H asked, “And where’s my prize student Jorge? I know he wouldn’t want to miss a reposition. Has anyone seen him today?”
And one of the wiseguys in the back called out, “Jorge who?”

See Authors page for Michael’s bio.



Illustrations for Spot 016 supplied by Michael D. Brown.


6 Comments to “Spot 016: Candles Burning”

  1. A Sunday morning treat – and WHAT a treat – lots of conversation from friends, and Kristine’s blowing across the bottle top was so individual and charming. Thanks Michael for all the work you’ve put into this – love the illustrations

  2. Meant also to say I loved Paul’s racing the moon

  3. Sometime last week, when I told Mike about the candle theme, he suggested writing about a person who has more than one lover, and I thought, “hmmph, that’s not what it means to burn the candle at both ends.” Then I look here and see impressive evidence of that interpretation. Just another week at MudSpots where I learn something new.
    I am curious to know whether Michael painstakingly melted candle wax on a wall to get the image at the bottom of the page. And how he created the 11/11/11 at the top. Maybe he will give us a Photoshop lesson at the next HoW?
    I was delighted that Lapham chose to do an all-dialogue piece because any time I do what he’s done, I feel validated, he’s that good. And Paul is just plain insane!

  4. Whole lot of dialogue this round, and it’s wonderful!
    Gita, only thing I could think of in reference to relationships and candles is that it’s best not to dip thy wick if you don’t want to get burned… and then Joe went a wrote it so well. And Sandra–I didn’t see it coming. You wonder if old friends really do have these conversations? (apparently they do, post-prandially) 🙂
    Gita your story made me feel like…if she lets her husband change the time on the clock but doesn’t trust he’s capable (instead of doing it herself and has to check the cellphone just in case)…maaaaaybe she’s not the best candidate for a start-up. no wonder he wants to sleep through her. it. them.
    Paul, is this how NaNoWriMo feels, I wonder? But I liked the tone and the valley where this story comes from.
    Bill kicked my ass as usual, writing an entire story without needing to spell out everything–you just knew.
    Michael Brown…a question. Does equilibrium escape most of us? I felt so sad for Jorge and his red, red blood and the wiseguy in the back will never care what equilibrium means.

  5. I have literally been ‘burning the candle’ at both ends with work and a painting project due this week- still the writing bug calls!!@Krisine: I was inspired by Nano though I’ve never tried

  6. I am late getting in to read these – but it was worth the delay. These were all great and I really liked the mix of takes on this.

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