Spot 019: Smoke and Mirrors


by Michael D. Brown

How did my clock become adept at sleight of hand? Midnight chimed yet instantly, I noted the italic el of three-o-five. What the hell! The truth in two-hundred-fifty words stared from my laptop’s screen. It could have been taken as libelous, were it not for how my rant nailed our situation in currency. Typed by a dervish, but with immediate editing, a chunky paragraph remained.
Some think I am on top of my game. A few believe I am under it, while most do not offer opinions as to me or my performance. It isn’t magic by any stretch—just a chain of commodious idioms, dull observations effected in deft movements. Alone I worry over taking the front or back seat, but in the heat of the moment, I will almost always step forward and sing loudly. One should never hesitate when it comes to that because you can convince yourself all is hackneyed, trite, and too, too familiar given the bad air. And, too, no reward is forthcoming.
Can complaints become art; does libel entertain; is the Pope catholic when he is on his private throne? Go with your first notion, I advise. I often discover the correct response corrected into negativity, and it distresses me to carry disowned points away from the stage. Do you have any favorites? There’s a tune I’m sure you haven’t heard in a long time. Give me ample space with that last one tucked away, and note, please, I have nothing up my sleeve.

See Authors page for Michael’s bio.



by Gita M. Smith

Gallantry was his forte. That and a charming total recall of faces and small details that women confided while slow dancing at parties. The second time he met a woman, he’d lean in and whisper, “You are wearing Obsession tonight. I thought White Diamonds was your scent,” or some version thereof.
The woman would be utterly captivated — and utterly sure he was smitten with her. Who else but a suitor would notice her perfume?
It was his favorite parlor trick.
One spring evening, at a party for the Italian ambassador, he was standing by a stunning Eurasian woman in teal blue taffeta. They had met once before (La Scalla-November- intermission-Puccini), and he opened with, “Have you been to the opera since we last spoke?”
She registered no surprise, saying, “I see you have given up horn-rimmed glasses.”
He bent to her beautiful shoulder and murmured, “And you are still wearing Fleurs-du-Rocaille.”
Brushing her lips over his ear she countered, “And you still like Vetiver by Creed.”
“Have you missed me?” he asked, feeling strangely heady.
“Not at all,” she answered. “I keep quite busy.”
“So do I,” he said, “quite enjoyably.”
“Do your lady friends take you to Monte Carlo for the season, or to the Met in Manhattan?”
“Well, no, that’s not how women relate to me.”
“Then,” she whispered deliciously again, “I get the better bargain. Now do excuse me as I must refresh my perfume. I have a wealthy Belgian banker to confuse.”

See Authors page for Gita’s bio.



by Bill Lapham

Hankins and Jenks were in their hole in the jungle, listening. They couldn’t see shit—no stars, moon, campfires, nothing. No light whatsoever. They saw blackness, like blind men in a common grave, alone with their thoughts, maintaining strict communications discipline a long way from home. Human flesh in a void. They heard the sounds of the night jungle. No wind, a drizzle of rain, no respite from the tension. They choked the life out of their plastic and steel weapons, eyes and ears straining to register the slightest deviation from nothing.

“You see that?” one of them asked so faintly it may have only been a thought.

“No,” the other one said, air tiptoeing across his vocal cords.

They were alert, if clinically sleep deprived, but this was no clinic. This was real, for the most part. Minutes or hours ticked by, they couldn’t tell which.

“You see that?” the other one thought he said.

“No,” the first one breathed.

Siamese twins had more privacy than Hankins and Jenks. They had been friends since before the war. They could complete each others’ thoughts. Hold conversations without saying a word. If one suspected trouble in the darkness, the hair on the other one’s neck stood up.

The eastern sky leaked light into the jungle one wave-particle at a time.

“Light,” one said when he noticed.

The other nodded.

They would crawl out of their hole when they could see well enough to make their way. That was the plan anyway.

See Authors page for Bill’s bio.



by Travis Smith

“You can’t keep doing this.”
“Who are you to judge what I do?” the man asked, turning towards the voice.
“They will catch you and we will all pay the price.”
“This place deserves to burn.”
“Why is it your right to decide?”
“They sit here in their hallowed walls and judge others. It is time for someone to judge them.”
“Burning their church will not stop them.”
“With no walls of isolation they will be forced to see the world outside.”
“They will rebuild it.”
“And I will burn it again.”
“They will catch you and then you will be judged.”
“No. The judgment will be on them.”
“You will …..,” the voice faded as smoke drifted across the mirror.
“See how easily you are wiped away? The smoke from my judgment obscures your image. You think you can judge me, but I have the power to judge, not you.”
“You don’t judge. You destroy,” the voice cracked through the growing smoke.
“You are the one who is stuck there, frozen in glass. You are just envious of my freedom.”
“You aren’t free. You are trapped by hate.”
“LIAR!” the man raged, punching the mirror. “You are weak and now you can burn here in this house of judges and lie in the ashes of their altar.”
The man looked down at his image reflecting in a blood splattered shard of mirror.
“You are wrong, I will be waiting for you wherever you go.”

See Authors page for Travis ‘s bio.



by Sandra Davies

In the early days we’re so eager to impress, to be the sort of person this wonderful person (because in the early days they are wonderful, aren’t they, else why bother?) thinks you really are, and when it’s gone on for a bit, then you can’t suddenly announce out of the blue “Well, actually … ” can you? At least I can’t. And I don’t think I suffer any more than most people from self-deception.

So no, I didn’t want to hear the truth from him. Because then I’d have to tell him my truth. And he’d never cope with that.

That said, of course, he won’t be telling the truth. He knows when he’s well off, thinks I can’t see what he’s up to. Which, of course both gives him away and makes me suspicious. And angry.

Oh I admit he’s clever, hides his tracks very well, but whenever someone starts behaving like that, inappropriately, given the circumstances. I always look for a reason. And I didn’t have to look far in this instance.

He was very careful to begin with, very careful, but then he got over-confident. And careless. He should know better than to leave evidence lying around, evidence that I’m perfectly capable of interpreting.
I’m biding my time, but he will learn, when the time is right, right for me, he will learn that he’ll have to be a good deal cleverer before he can expect to run rings around me!

See Authors page for Sandra ‘s bio.



by Paul de Denus

“Where did you get the money?” my girl asks, knowing we have none for such luxury. She doesn’t realize I have talents. I can scrum up the scratch for the weed, the cash for the coke anytime. She’s happy to see the stuff on the table – a free ride to oblivion – and her question quickly fades in a cloud of smoke.

How do I do it? Smoke and mirrors; that’s my game. They’re my high, our high. How do I get it? I have a look that’s appealing to some. I’m young and fit, can flash a smile that makes the eager ones quiver though I have zero interest in their needs. They see what they want to see, believe what they want to believe. “You know I’m good for it,” I’ll say, with a wink or a touch to the thigh and out comes the blunt or the whole bag or the ridge of snow on an ice pond and everybody’s happy for a while.

My girl won’t bring up the money subject until we’re way low again and I’ll come up with something to remedy the situation. It’s all smoke and mirrors you see and what’s a little deception when everyone gets what they need in the end.

See Authors page for Paul’s bio.


Illustrations for Spot 019 still on order.


3 Comments to “Spot 019: Smoke and Mirrors”

  1. I just finished watching a program with fiery religious overtones, and the villain’s name was Travis. So it spooked me more than a little when I read the fourth Spot this evening.
    Michael, when I was done reading your Spot, I wanted to throw a warm soft blanket over you. You produce so much more than “just a chain of commodious idioms, dull observations effected in deft movements.” That would make you a cheap huckster. I hope you know that you truly do make magic.
    Lapham, you always capture the dichotomy of battle. On one hand you repudiate war and on the other you create two people who have bonded so closely that “Siamese twins had more privacy than Hankins and Jenks. They had been friends since before the war. They could complete each others’ thoughts. Hold conversations without saying a word. If one suspected trouble in the darkness, the hair on the other one’s neck stood up.” That’s a fantastic paragraph.
    Travis, you know how to write crazy. You do crazy too well for a man with such a normal — convivial — personality. Well done.
    Adios till next time. Love y’all.

  2. I didn’t really kow what was meant by ‘smoke and mirrors’ lovely though the phrase is. Nor am I sure I know more now, having read these. But I DO know that I am the richer for havng done so. Bill has excelled himself in description of two men, as Gita points out, and her imagination seems to know no bounds. Travis does a particular sort of disturbing and Michael another – both powerful in their impact.

  3. Reading these was an enjoyable way to wrap up my afternoon! (although I suppose I should be wrapping up my work instead)

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