Healing through story

Month: October 2021

Mannequin Monday – Pink Lady

What I’m Writing

I offer you another Halloween-themed story. Desmond dodges trick-or-treaters, and encounters a woman in scrubs at Harry’s Bar and Grill. A note of caution: mature content. Enjoy.

Pink Lady

Bob Gillen

Desmond flipped on his TV to a live ball game. A cold sixpack waited for him in the fridge. Pure heaven. With Frida out of town at a company sales meeting, there’d be no yapping about how she couldn’t find enough buyers to meet her quota. No whining about the terrible economy. 

The doorbell rang.

Who ever comes to our door? He raised himself off the recliner and opened the door. Four kids in a mix of store-bought costumes yelled, Trick or treat!

Aw shit. Halloween. He pulled loose change out of his pocket and divvied it up among the four. As soon as they left, he turned off the porch light, grabbed the remote and killed the TV, then blacked out the living room.

I can’t deal with this shit. They’ll be ringing the bell all night.

Desmond slipped out the back door into the chill night. His destination, Harry’s Bar and Grill. Actually, just Bar. The Grill menu consisted of a grilled cheese sandwich on white bread. For an extra buck you could get the Special, grilled cheese with pickle and mustard.

Harry snugged his collar around his neck. He decided to walk. Too many kids out tonight for him to risk driving while high. Even though he had no plan to come home till every kid was off the street.

Four blocks down and around the corner, he stepped into Harry’s. One glance told him this was a mistake. All the patrons wore costumes. The bartender spied Desmond, said, “Costumes required tonight, buddy.”

Desmond looked around the dim interior. A few open seats at the bar, most of the patrons sitting or standing in the center of the room. Everyone talking loudly. A few couples danced off to the side. His sports channel played on the TV over the bar. 

He turned to leave.

The bartender handed Desmond a faded pink baseball jacket with a monogramed L and a Red Sox cap. “Here, wear this. From lost and found. You got a costume now.”

Desmond slipped into the jacket. A size too small. The cap, a size too big. He looked around again. No one was looking at him. Dark enough in here. This might work, he thought.

He found a seat at the bar where he could see the TV without staring at neon beer signs. The bartender put a longneck in front of him. Ice cold. Okay, this is working.

Three innings later, bored to death by a scoreless game, Desmond ordered his sixth beer. A woman sat down on the stool to his right, partially blocking his view of the game. The woman wore blue hospital scrubs and a surgical mask, the mask pulled down under her chin. 

“I like your costume,” the woman said to Desmond. “You must have put a lot of work into it.” 

The bartender stepped in front of her. “What’ll it be tonight, Liz?”

“Scotch,” she answered, holding up three fingers horizontally.

“You got it.” The bartender pointed his index finger at her, stepped away.

Desmond looked at the woman. Reflection from the neon beer signs gave her eyes a sickly green color. He said, “What are you, a nurse?”

“Nurse? I detect a note of sexism there. No, I am a surgeon.”

“Coulda fooled me,” he said.

“Wouldn’t be hard, I’m guessing.”

Shit, who is this dame?

“Okay, Scrubs, you’re a surgeon. Big whoop.”

The bartender put Liz’s drink down. She sipped it slowly. Smiled. “Mother’s milk.”

Desmond pointed his longneck at Scrubs. “I get it. You’re a tough broad doctor from one of those old noir movies. The ones with cliché dialogue.”

“You got me there, buddy. A tough broad doctor.  Why don’t you drop your pants and cough for me?”

Desmond tried to swallow, gagged, his eyes tearing up.

“Wow, most guys would have their pants around their ankles by now,” she said.

Desmond wiped his face with a bar napkin. He felt redness creeping up from his neck to his forehead.

“You like this, don’t you?” she said, waving towards the crowded room. “You came here to ogle the girls.”

“Lady, I came here to dodge trick or treaters and watch a ball game.” 

Scrubs hoisted her glass in his direction, slid off the barstool and melted into the crowd. Desmond went back to watching the game.

The ball game dragged on into extra innings. Many extra innings. A single run finally ended the misery. 

Desmond signaled for another longneck. Too early to go home. Shrieks and laughs from the crowd pierced the room.

“Hey, pink lady.”

Desmond turned to the voice. He needed a second to focus. The surgeon in blue scrubs. 

Desmond fingered his borrowed jacket. Forgot I was wearing this. “Hey Scrubs. You still here?”

“Afraid so. Nobody to go home to.” She signaled for a refill.

“Yeah, me too. But that’s okay.”


“You wouldn’t believe the yapping and yimmering I put up with.”

“The only whining I hear comes from my vacuum cleaner…when I use it. Doesn’t happen often.”

Getting near to closing time.

Scrubs lifted herself onto the empty seat next to Desmond. She gestured back towards the crowd. “Getting near to closing time. Desperation is rearing its ugly head.”

“Wait,” Desmond said. “If I took a drink for every cliché you came out with tonight, I’d be passed out by now.”

“Buddy, if you even recognized all my clichés, you’d have brain overload.”

Geez, she’s got a mouth. Change the topic.

Desmond said, “Looks like you come here often.”

“Score one cliché for the man in the pink jacket.”

Desmond shrugged. As the crowd screeched loudly, he managed a weak smile, “You’re not the only one with wit.”

The woman blinked, shook her head slowly. “You just call me a twit?”

Desmond laughed. “Wit. I said, wit.”

“Oh. Awful loud in here.” She waved the bartender over for another refill.

The bartender set the glass down. “You’re not driving tonight, are you, Liz?”

“I walked. I plan on getting home alive.”

She turned to Desmond, gestured to the crowd. “Closing time soon. Have you picked out who you’ll ask home yet?”

“Lady, I told you before. I came here to watch a game and dodge kids ringing my bell.”

“So you don’t want anyone ringing your bell?”

“Scrubs, your cliché score must be over a hundred by now.”

“Seriously, look at the women there on the dance floor. Who would you ask?”

“Them? Pathetic. One night a year they dress slutty and get away with it.”

“Yeah, so?”

“Most of those women are too old or too big to look sexy in those costumes.”

Scrubs smirked. “We all look the same when we’re standing on our heads.”

Desmond choked on his drink. He wiped beer off his mouth. “You got all the clever lines tonight, don’t you?”

“I’ll be here all week. Don’t forget to tip your server.”

Desmond took a last slug of his longneck, slid off the stool. He peeled off the pink jacket and hat, piled them on the bar.

“Another time, Scrubs. I hope you’re happy tonight with whoever picks the doc with all the lines.”

He stepped out into the night. Scrubs had it right. Nobody rings my bell.

What I’m Reading

I finished reading Drift, by L. T. Ryan , the first in a series of eight thrillers with main character Rachel Hatch. An enjoyable read. Refreshing – not quite the usual (trite) “gory serial killer preys on women or children” premise.

Hatch is ex-military, a wanderer after serving for 15 years on a slew of difficult and classified assignments. In Drift she works to find her twin sister’s killer. The author presents a compelling and authentic character, different enough from many other novel protagonists to be quite readable. I look forward to reading the next in the series.


And coming soon, a new format for this blog. Mannequin Monday will yield to a new title and logo. Sneak previews soon!


Mannequin Monday – The October Tree

What I’m Writing

In keeping with my October Halloween-themed stories, here’s one inspired in part by my friend Caroline. Maddie and Lyndie are two characters from my teen Film Crew series. This story serves as a kind of character study as I explore their personalities further. I hope you enjoy it.

The October Tree

Bob Gillen

Mid October. Fall descending into winter. Rain pelted the north-facing windows of Maddie Dela Riva’s house. Sodden gold and red leaves blanketed the backyard. 

Maddie hung a palm-sized pumpkin on a branch, stood back from the six-foot artificial tree standing in a corner of the living room. She smiled. Done.  

Winding around the tree was a long stream of narrow tatted lace, yellowed in more than a few places. A string of black-lit skull heads circled from top to bottom. Front and center hung a foot-long skeleton. Several smaller skeletons peered out from other branches. At almost eye level a puffy white ghost floated in a silent stare.

Miniature orange pumpkins followed the line of the tatted lace around the tree. A handful of glossy pine cones filled in the blank spaces on the tree.

Topping the tree, with a commanding view, a doll bedecked in black and white lace, black hair cascading down the sides of a skull face.

Maddie reached for her phone and snapped pictures of the tree from different angles. She texted her mom at work, sending her the pictures.

The doorbell rang. Maddie’s friend Lyndie Reed stepped in out of the rain. 

“Hey. Thanks for coming over.”

Lyndie shrugged out of her soaked parka.

Maddie smiled. “I just finished the tree.”

“Tree?” Lyndie peered over Maddie’s shoulder. “Way too early for Christmas decorations.”

Maddie stepped aside.

Lyndie’s eyes popped open. “Holy shit! What is that?”

She stepped closer, taking in the image before her.

“Girl, this is awesome!”

“You like it?”

“I love it. Do you do this every year?”

“The last two years…since my dad died.”


Lyndie saw a tear roll down Maddie’s cheek.

“Hugs, girl.” She swallowed Maddie in an enormous hug.

Maddie stepped back. “My dad died on Halloween. Mom and I started this to honor him. You don’t think it’s weird, do you?”

“Weird? I love it.”

“My aunt, my dad’s sister, hates it. She thinks it’s creepy. Won’t come over till we take it down on November second.”

“November second?”

“All Souls Day.”

Lyndie looked down at the base of the tree. Black lace wrapped around the trunk. A black knit cat sat peering up. A large battered book titled “Witches” sat off to the right. And at the center, nestled in the lace, a white box with a raffia ribbon bow on top.

Lyndie pointed at the box. “You do Halloween gifts?”

“Dad’s ashes.”

“Oh…oh.” Lyndie paused. “I didn’t know you back then. Your dad’s not buried in a cemetery. He’s…”


Lyndie shuddered. She turned, sat down on the nearby couch. “I’m missing something.”


“Isn’t this a dark way to remember your dad? I mean, skeletons and witches and skulls…”

“My dad’s gone, Lyndie. He’s at peace.” Maddie waved her hand at the tree.

“The skeletons and skulls are for me and my mom… till we find our own peace.”


And don’t forget, I’ll be starting a new blog theme soon to replace the Mannequin Monday one. Stay tuned.

What I’m Reading

I’m bouncing from book to book this week, not able to keep focus for too long on anything. Last night I started Drift, a thriller by L.T. Ryan. Looks promising so far. I’ll let you know next week.


Mannequin Monday – James the Invisible

What I’m Planning

I am working on a redesign of this blog. I want to move away from the Mannequin Monday theme and make the tone more heartfelt. A bit warmer. More on the redesign next week.

I’ll continue posting a short short story every week, and maybe offer more thoughts on my reading and my journey as a writer/creative. As they say, watch this space.

What I’m Writing

Continuing the Halloween theme for this month, here’s a fun story I wrote about a boy and his new crush. Enjoy.

James the Invisible

Bob Gillen

James the Invisible sat in Science lab, partnered with Dawn, the curly haired redhead. Dawn, the only person he would shed his invisibility for. Dawn, who looked right through him. Dawn, who was currently crushing on Ian, at the lab station next to them.

James dubbed himself The Invisible. No one knew him. No one saw him. And he was fine with that. Until now.

Ian passed Dawn a note. James peered over Dawn’s shoulder at the note. Meet me in the pumpkin patch after school. I’ll buy you the biggest one they have.  Pumpkins. She likes pumpkins. 

That night James the Invisible waited quietly for his parents to fall asleep. His little brother snored blissfully. James pulled on a pair of jeans, a black hooded sweatshirt, and sneakers. Marker pens in several sizes and colors. A pocket knife with a four-finger blade. Ready. James slipped downstairs and out the kitchen door. 

A chill breeze ruffled his hair, the bit that hung out from under his hoodie. A harvest moon hung up there somewhere, hiding behind clouds. James walked briskly to Randall’s Farm, the town pumpkin patch. 

She had been here, he thought. Only a few hours ago. With that clown Ian. Ian wasn’t strong enough to lift a large pumpkin, much less carry it home to Dawn’s house. James thought himself smarter than Ian. He would not pick the largest pumpkin. Nope, he would go for beauty. For symmetry. The pumpkin with the best shape. Like Dawn. Graceful. Cool. A radiant kind of beauty.

Credit: Goodfon

James slipped into the pumpkin field at the far end of the property. Away from the barn and the dogs. Away from the lights. He treaded his way down rows and rows of pumpkins. All so-so. None stood out. A bad crop, he thought. Fit only for carving up. But no carving tool would touch James’s pumpkin. No, its beauty would stand out of its own accord.

A dog barked off in the distance. James froze. Waited. The moon remained behind clouds. Not much chance of it showing itself tonight.

James spied the pumpkin. Dawn’s pumpkin. Round, no blemishes or scratches on the surface. He pulled out his pocket knife and sliced off the vine, preserving a three-inch stem. A gentle curve to the stem. Like Dawn, he thought. All gentle curves. No blemishes, like some of the other girls at school. Perfect. 

James pulled a rag from his pocket, wiped the field dust off the pumpkin. It was a beauty. Perfectly round. Smooth. 

James pulled markers from his pocket. Began writing Dawn’s name on the pumpkin. On her pumpkin. DAWN, in a graceful script. Red letters with several green leaves for a flourish. The letters wrapped around half the pumpkin. James smiled.

He waited a few minutes for the marker ink to dry. He could not dare smudge this beauty. He checked his phone. After midnight. Time to move. He lifted the pumpkin carefully. Admired his work. Walked away from the field.

One last thing. Leave the pumpkin in front of Dawn’s door. He knew where she lived. He had spotted her address on a form she had at her desk last week. Easy. Drop it and run. Mission accomplished.

James slipped along the sidewalks in the dark. Not a sound anywhere. No one walking their dogs. No cats prowling about. James found Dawn’s house easily. Number 1215 on Broad Street. He looked right and left, satisfied no one was around. 

As he stepped up to the porch, lights flashed on. Damn. Motion detectors. James put the pumpkin down in front of the door, turned to run, and smacked face-on into a rock pile of a man. The man pushed James back. James landed on his rear on the porch step.

“What are you doing, you little shit?” the voice boomed. “Ready to TP my house again?”

James could not find his voice. He squeaked. Pathetic. But no longer invisible. Nope, quite visible to this huge man.

The man stepped around James and peered at the pumpkin. He picked it up, gazed at the writing on its surface. Looked over at James. The man looked back and forth between the pumpkin and James’s face. Back and forth. And a grin cracked the man’s face. Just a slit at first. Then wider. And wider. Now, almost a laugh.

“You crushing on my Dawn?” the man asked James.

James felt redness flaring up his neck, his face. He could not lift his eyes to meet the man’s stare.

The man put the pumpkin down in front of the door. “What’s your name, kid?” 

A whisper. “James.”

“Okay, James. Here’s the deal. I will leave the pumpkin there for Dawn to find in the morning. I will not tell her who left it. How she finds out, if ever, that’s for you to figure out. Deal?”

James nodded. 

“Now go home before I kick your ass down the street.”

James jumped up and ran off. Mission accomplished. 

And still invisible.


Continue reading

Mannequin Monday – Full Moon

October. The month of hauntings. Ghosts. Spooky visions. Ichabod Crane fleeing in fright through Sleepy Hollow. I am aiming to offer a Halloween story every week this month. Today, Straw Man.

Mannequin Photo Credit: Dennis Duchet, CNN

What I’m Writing

I offer a Halloween story for your reading enjoyment. A short read for busy people.

Straw Man

Bob Gillen

A figure stood tall in the dark field, lit by a full moon lurking behind clouds drifting across its face. The figure stood stippled, dappled by the erratic moonlight. The first thing that came to the mind of the person watching the figure was a Halloween movie. A mysterious figure, tall, most likely male, silhouetted in the moonlight. No doubt a pitchfork or razor-sharp scythe in his hand. Ready for dark deeds. 

Credit: Depositphotos

The watcher stood motionless at the fence rail lining the pasture. The figure in the field did not move. Did not so much as lean or tilt for a moment. The figure did not look at the moon. It stared off toward the forest that rimmed the field to the north. The watcher saw a flicker of light at the edge of the trees. A whisper of a breeze gave the leaves the tiniest of movement. The flicker could have been moonlight reflected off a shifting leaf.

The figure in the field raised one arm and pointed in the direction of the now-disappeared light. There. Another flicker. Brief, almost unseen if one was not looking in that direction. The watcher leaned on the fence rail, leaned easily so as not to cause a creak. The figure’s arm lowered. The figure took a step toward the light. The light was now constant. A pinpoint of light. Like a candle flame off in the distance. Tiny. Steady. 

The watcher saw the figure take more steps, stiff, awkward. The clouds above streaked it with mottled light as it moved. Moved slowly. Moved toward the light. 

The watcher moved stealthily along the fence rail, staying parallel to the figure. The watcher remained vigilant, avoiding a snapped twig or a step in cow flop. 

The figure drew closer to the rim of the forest. It was within mere steps of going into the trees when the tiny light exploded in a flash. Illuminating the distant figure. The watcher gasped, shuddered in disbelief. The watcher saw a scarecrow, straw sticking out of the arms, legs, neck of ragged clothing. The figure, the scarecrow, disappeared the moment the light went out. Blinded by the flash of light, the watcher could see only the silhouettes of the trees edging the field.  The watcher blinked, trying to adjust to the darkness. The moon hid behind clouds now. Darkness. Impenetrable darkness. The watcher lost sight of the figure. The scarecrow. The tiny light in the trees, now gone. 

The watcher moved a few steps along the rail, peering into the darkness. Nothing. No figure. No light. No moon. 


And in a moment the clouds floated slowly away from the face of the moon. Light moved across the field. Moved toward the watcher. And as the sweep of moonlight reached the fence rail, a straw figure reached up from the ground under the rail and grabbed the watcher by the throat. Pulled the watcher over the rail. Slammed the watcher to the ground. A light flashed next to the rail. 

And then, only darkness.


What I’m Reading

I recently read William Kent Krueger’s latest book Lightning Strike. This is a prequel to the series of mystery novels with lawman Cork O’Connor as sheriff in a small Minnesota town. In this book we find twelve-year old Cork learning crime-solving, and the path of honesty, from his father, also a sheriff.

Krueger fills his stories with lively characters, locales that breathe with life, and a strong dose of Indian lore. Every page vibrates with the foibles and the goodness of human nature.

Don’t miss this one. It’s a joy to read.


Here’s another adventure story, as three teens film an off-road race in the Mojave Desert while facing down environmental activists set on sabotaging the race – and their film. Off-Road is a short novel on Amazon Kindle.

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