"The question to remember, son, is – what is it that pleases you?" His father leaned in at his side. Ripe, golden rays of light streamed through the branches. Dust from the day's work settled into a peaceful stillness that felt like cleansing rain on weathered skin. The air was fresh again. Evening birds chirped echoes of gratitude under the open sky. Tony felt the weight of his father's hand on his shoulder, and forever remembered his breath in his ear. It would be the last time they saw each other.

Posted
AuthorDerek Franz

Hunger was already a problem. Ethel considered herself as good as dead. That didn't mean she had to be uncomfortable in the meantime, or roll over and die, for that matter. She'd had enough sitting around and suffering ... On this morning, she had a purpose in mind, and that was to hunt some food.

Posted
AuthorDerek Franz

Dawn lit the land when Tom reached the turnoff of the long gravel road. He was almost within sight of the family homestead, yet he never felt so far away. Frost still clung to the tall yellow grass, and his ears and nose were red from the chill – Big Piney wasn't called "Ice Box of the Nation" on its town welcome sign for nothing – but he felt sweaty with nerves.

Posted
AuthorDerek Franz

Ethel's movements hurt more than ever as she licked the last drop from the upturned canteen. Her right leg was still propped on the rock it had been on all night, and every shift in her body hinged on the spike of pain that emanated from her broken ankle. The second night in the southwest desert had been longer than the first, but she'd managed a few fits of sleep. Now she was out of water, a dreaded moment she had tried not to think about before.

Posted
AuthorDerek Franz

For a while all Thomas could do was wander from the slushy road to his wrecked car in the trees, then back out to the road. There was a numb shock to his mind. He couldn't quite believe the implications of what had just happened, let alone imagine what to do next. ... He was utterly alone in the silent, black moment. ... Six hundred miles away in the desert of the Utah-Nevada-Arizona borders, Tom's mother was settling in for a hard night as well.

Posted
AuthorDerek Franz

Ravens spiraled playfully on the updrafts. Thomas could almost touch them as he dangled his toes over the sheer cliff, kicking his feet into the air rising from the valley floor. "Come play. Come play," the ravens seemed to say. ... Thomas imagined a shark trying to trick him into diving out of a lifeboat. The ravens were so friendly and playful it was hard to trust them, though he wanted to.

Posted
AuthorDerek Franz

Where am I? Ethel wondered when she woke. The 72-year-old was cold and stiff from sleeping on the desert slickrock. For a moment she felt like she couldn't sit up. Her neck hurt to move. Even her eyes – crusted from the powdery dust of the land – struggled to open. ... Then she remembered the BANG under the hood and coasting to a stop on the shoulder of the road.

Posted
AuthorDerek Franz

This story is a second chapter to last week's story, "The Lotto Winner."

Tom hung up the payphone and lingered a moment in the stale fluorescent light of the shabby booth. Things weren't going well with his mom. What happened between them? She didn't approve of his new lifestyle, that was obvious.

Posted
AuthorDerek Franz

Ethel's heart skipped. She pulled the freshly lit cigarette from her lips and set it into the ashtray. It smoldered while she stared at the six numbers in the newspaper. They matched! They matched? Couldn't be. That kind of thing never happened to her. But they matched the lotto ticket in her hand all right.

Posted
AuthorDerek Franz