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If you’re new, you can start an ongoing story or read older, completed stories at the Library.

Illustrations by Tim Sebian-Lander.


I made a mobile game. Come play!

GPG IconLife has kept me too busy to update this site with any regularity, but I haven’t stopped working on projects — the latest of which is an Android mobile game, RGBPONG. I used to be into game design back when I was a kid — it was a ton of fun getting back into it to build this app from the ground up. Game development is and isn’t much like writing; maybe I’ll write a piece about that (from my very limited perspective on either).

RGBPONG is a cross between old-school PONG and Simon Says. It’s fast-paced arcade fun — easy to learn and hard to master. Give it a try!

You can find it, play it, review it and share it all in the Google Play Store right now.


There will be more content over here in good time, but in the meantime — enjoy!

Underthrow, 21

“It was a fucking joke, man!” Miles sputters with blood after the two are pulled from each other, after Miles tries to tackle Travis’s ribs to reciprocate the blow while his new college peers hold him back, after disinterested former players retreat to the parking lot, unlocking the cars their parents purchased for graduation presents: everything for everyone else a graduation present, another rung on a ladder leading away from the County.

“I know,” Travis says long after Miles has left. The fist said their goodbyes and Travis feels no more spite. He stares at the wide expanse of the park. From where he stands he can’t see Route 4, but he can make out the squat skyline of Walmart and the supermarket in the shopping center on the other side of the road, Subway somewhere beside them, distant but omnipresent.

the end

Underthrow, 20

After the throw, after everything, Travis runs as if to outrun failure, approaching his fallen friend with mounting dread, but he stops at the last moment.  The wrong sound reaches his ears: not the horrible constant scream of Mark Stetson, but a stuttering laugh.

“Oh my leg,” Miles wails, “oh my leg, oh Travis you went and broke another leg!” He convulses and guffaws and clutches his knee, contorted halfway into the fetal position. No one else laughs; the boy who was chasing Miles throws up his hands and calls him a jerk.

Violence jams Travis’s brain. His eyelids sting like whiplashes. He knows he will not see Miles Harris again for a very long time, the way he will not see Sarah Teague for a very long time. I just wanted a good memory, Travis thought. I just wanted to keep things here another moment. But Miles won’t remember, and I don’t think he’d care either way; no one will remember, everyone made escape plans without me, was I the only one who loved this place?

Travis dives to the ground. His heart shatters in his chest. He pins Miles to the mud with his knees and throws a fist at Miles’s teeth to stop their chattering. “You were my friend,” says the fist, “you were my friend,” but Travis just screeches incoherence. His fist misses teeth, hits a cheek instead; heat and pain explode under his knuckles.

Underthrow, 19

Travis arrived an hour early on Saturday to jog and stretch.  He wore black gym shorts and the same undershirt he had worn at work the night before. If the odor lingered, it wouldn’t matter after the group’s collective sweat overrode their senses.

Miles drove into the parking lot at noon with three kids packed into his mother’s blue luxury SUV. Travis had seen the kids at Miles’s parties, but they were Miles’s friends, not his. Two of them wore University of Maryland shirts; Miles had a grey shirt that screamed DUCK FUKE in blue college lettering. All four exited the van yelling at each other, exchanging the second half of some collective in-joke.

“Enjoy my shift, Trav?” Miles asked with a grin. He slapped Travis on the back.

“Sarah showed up,” Travis said. He didn’t know whether to sound confused or angry.

Miles tried to slacken his jaw in shock, but the strain of pretending sent him into a spasm of giggles. “Sorry, man,” he said. “But, admit it, I fooled you pretty good.”

“That was a prank?”

“I didn’t see me working at Subway last night,” Miles said. Small titters punctuated each of his words like a stutter. “Did you?”

Even now, Travis thought, Miles was high-school cruel: His definition of a prank was arbitrary trickery, where the punch line was simply that anyone would trust Miles to be honest. A high school stoner’s idea of a prank. But they weren’t in high school anymore, Travis thought. Was Travis the only one who saw things moving forward? Would everyone else pretend it was fine and leave Travis scrambling in the background, trying to collect the pieces left behind like the discarded trash that littered the edges of Route 4?

“Let’s start already,” yelled one of the boys in a Maryland shirt.

Underthrow, 18

“Miles is the same way,” Travis said, resisting the urge to defend the job and realizing as he spoke that there was no more Miles at Subway; this was Miles’s last shift, sans Miles. Travis halved the sandwich and swaddled it in paper packaging. Vin, who Travis figured had too little energy to engage in a teenage chat, finished the other sandwiches and set them by the register.

“I just can’t wait to get out of the County,” Sarah said, rifling through a shiny red purse for her wallet. Travis had never seen the purse. It could be her mother’s, he thought, or a graduation gift from her father Dr. Teague, the oral surgeon, who ran his practice in the same business park as Dr. Harris, both a half hour’s drive north of their comfortable County homes.

“There’s nothing wrong with the County,” Travis said.

“I’m sure it’ll be fine once I’m only visiting for Christmas,” she replied.

Sarah laughed, but gentle, melting whatever resentment Travis meant to carry. She held the sandwiches at her side with the red purse slung over her other shoulder. If she didn’t leave, he wouldn’t have to think about Miles or what morning shifts would look like next week. Travis knew this was the longest talk they would ever have, and it only made him want her more; he wanted to keep her here a second longer, to stop her from fading into memory with spitballs.

“I’ll see you around,” she said.

“Definitely,” he said, knowing it was a lie, and she left.

’72 Skylark, 19

It feels like it might rain as I step outside of the bar; ordinarily the air here is dry and grainy, but tonight it shimmers on my skin. The highway is desolate, glinting under the high moon. I’ll be a failed hitchhiker for hours, in all likelihood.

I walk by the fat nose of Miriam’s car, its enormous headlight eyes bulging in the direction of its owner. Myself, I don’t look back. I can’t; I’m Lot escaping Sodom. The faster I move, the less likely it is that someone shoots me in the back while they can still see me.

So fear keeps me moving, as usual, but this time I’m unleashing it on purpose, with all the indifference of a tidal wave. Fear moves me past the trunk of the vintage car. I could open it if I wanted to, now, and peek inside or steal the rich man’s secret, but fear pushes me away, gently, and I sway into the night like a ship rocking as it balances in the current. A coward after all, and always. That’s for the best, I think, and better than cruel.

Behind me I hear the clap of a gunshot. I’ve lost track of time, from standing to here; the shooter could have been anyone. Even that bartender. But I don’t flinch, and I don’t even consider turning around.

the end

Underthrow, 17

When Travis came out of the bathroom, he saw Sarah Teague waiting at the counter, wearing a shapeless black tee shirt and blue jeans.

“Short movie,” Travis said without meaning to sound bitter.

“I don’t know what that means,” Sarah said. “I’m picking up food for dinner.” She scribbled on the sandwich order pad and slid it across the counter. “I can’t believe my sister wants food from this place. She’s trying to torture me.”

Behind the counter, Vin had arranged four sliced breads for four sandwiches. “Help me out here,” he said, jabbing his knife toward Travis.

“Didn’t Miles ask you out?” Travis asked. A twinge like yesterday’s upset stomach bubbled under his apron.

Vin let out a low whistle as he opened the oven. Sarah’s eyes narrowed, but her cheeks flushed, which told Travis both that Miles had asked her nothing and that, if Miles were to ask her, she’d say yes.

“Oh,” Travis said, answering himself to kill the silence.

Sarah stared at the chopped lettuce and cleared her throat. “Isn’t Miles usually here on Fridays?” she asked as though the name were being mentioned for the first time. “How much did he take from his dad’s checkbook to get you to cover his last day?”

Travis grabbed the order pad, read Sarah’s tidy handwriting, and assembled a veggie sandwich: lettuce, tomatoes, green peppers, black olives, onions, pickle relish. He listed the ingredients in his head, over and over, not because he might forget but because they made better sense than Miles and his non-existent date with Sarah Teague.

He added the pickle relish as Sarah spoke again. “You’re going to Maryland, right?” she asked. “Picked a major yet?”

“I’m not going to college,” Travis said, embarrassed by the decision for the first time. He forced himself not to mumble. “Not for a while, anyway.”

“Well, you’re not staying here,” she said like saying made it true. She leaned over the counter and smiled. “I can’t believe you and Miles held up so long here. If my parents hadn’t forced me into a job this summer, I wouldn’t have stayed a week.”

’72 Skylark, 18

“Excuse me?” the brother snarls. He’d shoot me, I guess, or threaten to, but he can’t afford to move the gun.

“She’s here. You’re here. Ask her yourself.”

“That wasn’t our arrangement,” he says. “What, are you afraid to hurt a girl? Coward. You’ll get nothing from me.”

I want to laugh, that he’s calling me a coward of all things, but I just shake my head. “Don’t want it,” I say, but before I can stand, my hand is pressed to the table. Miriam. Her hand’s harpooned out to mine, pinning me as best as she can.

“Don’t go,” she says.

“I bet you’re faster than you look,” I say to her, and I set my knife down on the table with my free hand, a few inches from her spread fingers. All things considered, I’m acting very calm.

“What are you doing?” asks the brother, who doesn’t interest me anymore.

“Brett,” she whispers, still frozen by the gun at her back. “Please.”

“It’s Rick,” I say, grinning. “I’m a changed man, and this isn’t my fight.”

“Rick.” She’s trying to hold me in place with her eyes. If she had a gun, I think she’d point it at me right now, despite what I’m doing. “Help me.”

“I am,” I say, sliding away from the barstool. “I’m being the best version of what I am. Like you said.”

Underthrow, 16

Saturday: Travis runs like he means to catch his own pass.  The football bounces on the ground, ten yards short of where Miles lay crumpled.  Travis decides that he is a failure; no one will return to Elmswood for this, to feel this badly again.


The normal Friday night shift consisted of Miles, Vin, and a sophomore named Lonnie DiCarlo. Lonnie called in claiming to have the flu, but rather than call a substitute, Vin and Travis decided that they could manage the few extra responsibilities.

Travis mopped the floors where customers had tracked mud onto the white tile. Subway’s yellow light felt unreal against the blackness outdoors, as though Travis were standing inside a jack o’ lantern at midnight. Vin rested his elbows by the cash register, stared at a blank order pad, and fought the urge to sleep. He worked morning and night shifts on Fridays, which to Travis sounded unbearable.

“If I could, I’d stay here ‘til four in the damn morning,” Vin said. He closed his eyes, as if he could wander halfway into dreams without interrupting the conversation. “Money’s money. The County ain’t a cheap place to live, even if it’s cheap to look at.”  He snorted at his own joke.

“You could move somewhere else.” Travis set the mop in the water bucket and slumped into a red torn-leather booth.  His limbs buckled; Vin’s exhaustion passed to him along the oily air. “They have Subways in cheaper places.”

“I’ve been here too many years. Family’s been here too many years.” Vin shook his head. He looked old with his eyes closed, somewhere past middle-aged, digging into thick and muddy experience. “It’s like living any place. You don’t mean to get stuck, until the place piles on and you can’t get up to leave.”

Travis thought he should say something profound in reply, but he only managed “I’m gonna use the bathroom,” which at least gave Vin a chuckle.

’72 Skylark, 17

She won’t break eye contact. I have known this woman for less than half an hour. But she has me swimming, in my mind, through old memories. Floating downstream with distant aches and pains. This is enough money to pay a year’s rent. Maybe a year and a half, if I move. Not many other ways to get that kind of money when you’re broken the way I am.

“So, where’s she keeping it?” the brother asks. “Some lockbox somewhere?”

“No,” I say without turning.

“Years without a word,” Miriam says, looking at me and talking to him, “and you do this now? Why bother? Can’t you leave anything in peace?”

The brother snorts. “Well, where, then?”

I feel the tickle of rushing water filling my eardrums and the heaviness of salt water across my back. We took ice baths after games; they always reminded me of distant beaches, places like where Grandad tried to teach me fishing but soon abandoned me to slap waves and build mountains. Places I would have visited more often, if I’d had the time back then. Exhaustion, more than anything, overtakes me.

“Nah,” I say. I pull my blade away from Miriam’s thigh. Her eyes widen; I watch a line of sweat expand along her eyebrow. “I’m out.”

Underthrow, 15

Thursday night: Travis’s finger still stung, and his stomach churned even before he ate a foot-long B.L.T. on his lunch break, so he chose not to throw the football with Tony in their driveway. Tony had turned on only one of the house lights, a dim standing lamp in the living room which glared against the setting sun creeping through the windows. Travis tossed his polo and khakis into a small hamper hanging on his bedroom doorknob and walked into the living room in a white undershirt and boxers.

Travis’s mom had left a sticky note on the kitchen counter that read CHICKEN IN THE FRIDGE. XOXO. She had managed to balance the store-brand chicken wing box atop the milk and orange juice; there was no other space in the old refrigerator.

“At least let me come Saturday,” Tony said. He slumped against the foot of the couch, his torso hiding the torn part of the cushion where the foam stuffing had begun its escape.

(Tony, though four years younger, stood half an inch shorter than Travis. He had wide shoulders and a thick neck, and could run the length of Elmswood Park without getting winded. All Tony had talked about since June was playing fullback like his hero Joe Riggins, the legendary Redskin that wouldn’t go down with a dozen defenders on his back. Travis knew his brother would shine on the high school team as easily as he had on Pop Warner teams. Sports might be Tony’s future; Travis just had the one day.)

“No,” Travis said, pulling his shoulders back. He had learned years ago that if he stood upright and projected his voice, he sounded enough like their father to keep Tony in line. “Play with your own friends. Put that chicken in the microwave.”

“Want to play some Halo?” Tony asked as he rose to obey the command. The brothers never had more sophisticated conversations than this. They played catch in silence. From their parents, they gained work ethics and an ideal of home as a quiet respite from the exhaustion of employment.

“Sure,” Travis said. He grabbed a video game controller, sat on the couch, and tried to think of Elmswood Park to replace the image of Sarah’s orange hair, framed by a green hat. The best he could do was to instead remember the back of her hair in social studies class, pretty even when pocked by spitballs. Even after closing his eyes to sleep, waves of orange colored his vision like cheap sunglasses.

’72 Skylark, 16

“Yeah,” I say, meeting her gaze with heavy eyelids.

The bartender appears from the back room and stares at the scene before him. As far as I can tell, he can’t see any weapons, but he can probably smell the sweat and fear in the room. Maybe there’s a shotgun under the bar on his side, but maybe not, in a sleepy place like this. It doesn’t matter. He’s frozen, more confused than terrified.

“Get back in there,” the brother snarls. “Now!”

He backs away. I imagine him hiding in the back room, fetal curled around his stash. Lucky for him, nothing will be stolen, and the plan is to get her outside; he won’t have to explain anything at all to the bar’s owner. Life will return to its regular schedule.

“I’ll tell you where it is,” Miriam says. There’s no clear panic in her voice, but I can see as she looks at me that she’s struggling to stay level. But she’s done this before. He’s done this before. She thinks she knows the drill. “You can have it. I’ll go.”

“You were going to keep it from me,” he says. “I don’t like that.”

Underthrow, 14

At four o’clock the four employees removed their gloves and exchanged goodbyes, exiting into the open air of Elmswood. They behaved, Travis thought, as if all four would return without fanfare for work on Monday morning, but it broke his heart to smile and turn away when Sarah closed her car’s front door.


Saturday, the game, Travis’s pass in the air: Miles turns his head to locate the ball. In that moment, although he is barely five foot ten and built like a matchstick, to Travis he looks exactly like Mark Stetson. The grass trips him, Travis thinks, or else the defender steps on the back of Miles’s heel. Either way, Travis watches his friend twist and collapse into the wet dirt.  He hears someone groan. Kyle Samson, one of the varsity team’s receivers, spits into the grass and turns away from Travis and the field. Not this again.

’72 Skylark, 15

He’s wearing a trench coat, the kind that screams “criminal” or at least “flasher.” And horn-rimmed glasses. This is the first time I’ve seen him. From Miriam’s reminiscence, I might have expected a boy, but this is a man of leathery skin and a set jaw, with crinkles along his eyes. A man who looks at the world with a mixture of amusement and revulsion.

“Hey, Miri,” says her brother, as he pulls an arm from the folds of the coat and places the nose of a pistol against the middle of her spine. “So good to see you, after all this time.”

“You’re late,” I say. My instinct kicks into gear, and before Miriam can twitch her neck to see what’s happening, I’ve pressed the long end of my switchblade against her thigh, a few inches from the femoral artery, where all the life can pour from a body in minutes.

“Did she tell you where it is?” His voice is a raspy snarl, a lung cancer drawl, like he’s trying to sound decades older than he is.

Miriam looks at me, and for me everything clicks at once. I’m expecting rage, or anguish, or pure fear–the typical reactions. Instead her eyes settle into mine and soften. A face of forgiveness.

Underthrow, 13

Miles laughed and slapped Travis on the back, at once becoming his usual self. Sarah, Travis noticed, had seen their illicit bargaining, but she only raised her eyebrow for a moment before focusing on squeezing mayonnaise onto a blanket of shredded beef.

“Everything good here?” Vin asked with a scowl. He stood where Travis should have been, slicing bread. A line of customers snaked long past the entrance again.

“All good,” Travis murmured, repeating it like a desperate mantra as he returned to the sink. All good. In a few seconds he’d pull away the paper towel, grab a fresh pair of gloves and replace Vin, rejoining Sarah and Miles on the assembly line for the last time.

Football would happen; Travis would be all right.

’72 Skylark, 14

The television has moved on, at last, from sports; now it’s just an aerial shot of a townhouse catching fire somewhere nearby.

Miriam shakes her head. She won’t look at me. To her, we’re strangers now caught in intense, awkward intimacy. She’d probably like to leave, but she thinks she’s been waiting for someone else. I wish she would say “sorry” again.

“People are what they are,” I say. “From birth, it’s always there.”

“You might be right,” she says, sounding hoarse, “but you’re wrong, too.”

I shrug.

“If people are what they are,” she says, “they can still choose to be the best or the worst version of what they are. You think you’re a coward, but maybe you just knew you didn’t want that kind of suffering in your life. If you hadn’t drowned in self-pity, maybe you would have found something you liked that didn’t have that pain. My brother could have become Robin Hood, or something like that, instead of stealing from the poor or from his family. Same instinct, better outcome.”

Sweet idea, I think to myself, watching the bartender disappear into the back room, either to take a final bump or to hide his stash for the night, keeping it safe for tomorrow night.

That’s when her brother walks into the bar.

Underthrow, 12

“I don’t need it that bad,” Travis said. He tried to cover the lie with confidence by turning to meet Miles’s eyes with a paper towel pressed hard against his wound.

“Take my shift tomorrow night,” Miles said. Travis could smell lemonade on his teeth, which beat the skunk odor that hung on Miles’s lips and clothes during night shifts. “I want to ask Sarah out to a movie.”

Travis froze. Out in the restaurant, Sarah filled a diet soda for a middle-aged businesswoman who carried a bagged lunch. The woman came in every other Thursday, just for the soda; she knew Sarah’s mother from local PTA meetings. Sarah’s face sparkled as she talked about Johns Hopkins and practicing medicine, like her oral surgeon father.

“Come on, man,” Miles murmured into Travis’s ear, beneath Sarah’s voice. “You’re not here Fridays. I’ve thought about this for months and now the summer’s over. Be a friend.”

“Why wait until now to ask her?” Travis asked. Blotches of purple danced in front of his eyes and his stomach was upside down. He tried to focus. Miles wasn’t making sense; didn’t Miles know, anyway, about Travis’s feelings? “When have you been nervous about girls?”

Miles shrugged and kept his shoulders raised.

Just a movie date, Travis thought. He wanted to crawl into bed, feeling deathly ill, like when strep throat took two weeks of seventh-grade classes and replaced them with sweaty sheets and a boa constrictor around his neck. He could hear Sarah laughing, but he wasn’t sure if he was imagining it or if she really was laughing. Either way she was right there, ten feet away. She wasn’t Travis’s girlfriend; how could he stop Miles from asking her out, if Miles really wanted it? At least, this way, Travis could get something he wanted, too.  Seems reasonable, Travis thought, and so he resisted the urge to vomit.

“Deal,” Travis said.

’72 Skylark, 13

“Oh?” she says.

It must be past midnight, but as long as I’m starting, I’ll finish.

“It was an MCL sprain,” I say. “A minor one. Recovery should have been six weeks, give or take, and it happened in September, so I should have been able to play again that year.” Suddenly my bones ache for another beer, to have the foam collapse against my tongue. “Just some light rehab, they said, and wear your brace. You know what I did? Nothing. I sat around and drank in my dad’s house until he hated me. Dropped out of school by Halloween. Never answered my phone. Saw myself in local news stories, the reporters asking where I’d gone.”

“Why?” Miriam asks. “Hadn’t you been injured before?”

I shook my head. “Not like that. I hadn’t realized I could be hurt like that.” I wish I had another drink. I was a stupid, coddled child. “My parents never kicked me out into the world; they let me choose to hide.” And I suffered for it, and so did they. “Once I took that hit and felt that pain, all I could think was, I never want to hurt like that again. No determination in me except avoidance. I was a coward then, and I stayed coward. I threw everything away.”

Underthrow, 11

When the customers began to appear, the Subway shift fell into its usual routine, even on Sarah’s last day. Travis took orders, sliced breads, and assembled the meats and cheese; he passed the sandwich to Sarah, who added vegetables and condiments; she wrapped the sandwich and moved it along to Miles, who took cash or credit before telling customers to have a nice day. Vin ran to the fridge when they were low on peppers or provolone. During the lunch rush, when the order line stretched beyond the front door, they became a mindless assembly line. Travis often found it relaxing, like a long jog around the park, except for the oily skin.

Today, however, Travis wanted to stop; he had to convince Miles to play football. He funneled the anxiety into the job, mishearing three orders, dropping a turkey sandwich meat-down on the floor, and slicing open his index finger while halving six inches of wheat bread.

The latter, at least, brought momentary peace. Travis soaked his finger in the back room sink, watching the blood twirl red ribbons into the hot rushing water. The distraction of stinging pain pulled some of the panic from his afternoon. He wondered if he could drain even more of his adrenaline through the open wound, if only to keep him from tripping over his own feet and decapitating himself with the bread knife.

“Trav,” Miles said, sidling over and putting an arm around Travis. “Let’s make a deal.”

Travis turned away from his damp hand. Miles was sweating; his fingers tapped a rapid gallop along Travis’s shoulder. Even at his most stoned, Miles never came to work this anxious.

“We can play football,” Miles said, “if you need to so bad.” He flashed a smile. “Just do something for me first.”