Healing through story

Month: April 2023

shortfiction24 – and they were gone

Vinny and Lewis’s spirits are entangled due to a mixup at the crematorium, Tangled, and trapped in Vinny’s backyard, they can’t move on to the spirit world till Lewis finds the rest of his ashes. Along comes Fanny to help.

This is the third and final story in a three-part series. The early parts ran in May and November of 2022. You can find the original stories here:

Story 1: My Dance Space

Story 2: Not Ready For Us Yet

And They Were Gone

Bob Gillen

“So what’s your story?”

Fanny’s spirit hovered in front of Vinny and Lewis’s spirits. Fanny had just been freed after thirty years trapped in the roots of a bottlebrush tree in Vinny’s backyard. A lightning strike had seared the tree to its roots, burning off the wrappings on Fanny’s body. 

“We can’t move on. Our spirits are tangled together. A mistake at the crematorium. Some of Lewis’ ashes got mingled with mine,” Vinny said. “Lewis needs to find his other ashes. Then we’ll both be free.”

“Tough one,” Fanny said. “But now I’m free. I can move on.”

She swirled around the yard. “Feels wonderful.”

Vinny peered around his yard. His wife Margie had buried his ashes at the foot of the tree. The other day she set out a few Halloween decorations in anticipation of the upcoming holiday. The lightning strike destroyed the fake skeleton Margie had hung in the tree. It now lay twisteed and charred beneath the tree.

“We’re doomed,” Lewis said. “We haven’t got the strength to leave the yard.”

Fanny  moved close, grinned. “Sorry, boys. Time for me to move on.” And she was gone.

“Shit,” Vinny said.

Moments later Fanny returned.

“I got the nod. They can wait for me while I help you guys.”

Vinny shrugged. Lewis managed a weak smile.


“I can move around pretty freely. Lewis, where are your other ashes likely to be? Where did you live?”

“About a mile from here…a few streets over from the Interstate.”


Lewis told her.

“Wait for me.” And she was gone again.

Dusk was turning to dark when Fanny finally returned.

“We gotta get moving.”


“I’ll explain on the way.”

“We can’t leave the yard, remember?”

“You can do limited movement if you’re with me. Stay close.”

Lewis beamed. “We can go?”

Fanny nodded. “Let’s move.”

Vinny hesitated. “I won’t be coming back, will I?”


“Bye, Margie. Catch you in the next life.” He blew a kiss towards the house.

Fanny turned to leave.

Vinny’s eye caught the charred skeleton. “Hold up.”

He floated over and raised up the skeleton. “Might as well have some fun on the way out.”

The three spirits moved off, Vinny hauling the skeleton.

Darkness was falling now. Vinny and the other two floated across front yards as they headed out. Vinny kept an eye out for children. No need to scare them with a floating skeleton.

Four doors down the street Vinny stopped in front of Mr. Cruikshank’s door. The neighborhood crank. Every neighborhood had one. He used the skeleton to ring the doorbell. When Cruikshank opened the door, Vinny shook the skeleton violently, dropped it to the floor. As he floated away, he heard Cruikshank screaming.

“So worth it,” he said.

After a time they came to rest in front of Lewis’ former home. His mother’s house.

“Here’s the issue,” Fanny said. “I heard your mother talking on the phone. She plans to take the boat over to Catalina Island tomorrow morning. She’ll spread your ashes at sea.”

“Shoot. Can’t we stop her?”

“Best chance is to get at the ashes before she leaves.”

“Where are they? I’m not feeling anything.”

“In the trunk of her car. She’s already packed and ready to go first thing in the morning.”

“So how do we do this?” Vinny asked. “How about we jiggle the doors and shake the car…set off the alarm? That will draw her out to the driveway.”

“My mother never locks anything.”

“Let’s try.”


“Now what?”

“Duh. Why don’t I release the trunk lock?” Fanny swirled into the car. The trunk lid opened halfway.

Immediately Lewis disentangled from Vinny, swirled into the trunk. “Bye.” And Lewis was gone.

Vinny felt light, ecstatic. “I’m free. As Lewis would have said, I got my dance space back.”

“You can thank me later.” Fanny drifted next to him. “Ready?”

“So ready.”

And they were gone. Off to the spirit world.


shortfiction24 – we gotta go, lady

Rosa Merced is riding home on the subway on a frigid January night after another twelve hour day at the office. She did not expect to come face to face with a dying man.

This story was inspired by a newspaper article I read years back in NYC. Don’t recall if it was legit news or a tabloid version. Enjoy!

We Gotta Go, Lady

Bob Gillen

Rosa Merced stomped her feet on the floor in a futile effort to warm them. The air in the near-empty subway car had to be ten degrees colder than the winter air up on the street. She pulled her wool beanie further down on her head and snugged the scarf on her neck.

Two more stops and home. Rosa pictured herself wrapped in an electric blanket, with a cup of hot tea and the chocolate chip cookie she had wrapped in a napkin in her purse, a leftover from her department’s catered lunch. That seemed like an eternity ago. Twelve hour days were getting too common.

The train doors were closing as a transit cop stepped in from the platform. He stood eyeing each passenger in the car. Satisfied, he moved to the door at the end of the car. The train began to move into the tunnel. Rosa closed her eyes for a moment, wishing for her warm blanket. Just as her car rolled into the blackness of the tunnel, the train squealed to a halt.

Shit, what now? Come on guys, I need to be home.

The lights in the car flickered, went dark. Rosa could hear the transit cop talking into his intercom. “Okay. Okay, yeah.” She turned to stare out the window. Darkness. She sat in the frigid blackness for what felt like hours.

She spotted beams from flashlights bobbing around in the tunnel. 

The conductor’s voice came over the train’s PA system, so garbled all she heard was, “…delay…as soon as possible…”

The transit cop exited the car and walked towards the rear of the train. Rosa heard voices, muffled, anxious, coming from outside along the tracks. An emergency floodlight powered on, lit the tunnel. Several firefighters stood nearby. An EMT approached the side of her train holding up a blanket.

Rosa startled as she followed the EMT’s path. She was face to face with a man. A man standing up against the side of the train. He had a filthy beanie pulled down over long gray hair. An unkempt gray beard trailed down from his chin. The man’s face was lower than Rosa’s. She guessed he was standing on the wooden guard that ran across the top of the powered third rail. 

The EMT draped the blanket over the man’s body, covering him from the shoulders down. Rosa realized the man was wedged between the side of the subway car and a steel support column alongside the track.

The man looked up. His eyes locked on Rosa’s.

The transit cop reappeared, his flashlight poking the darkness. “We need you all to walk though to the rear of the train and exit at the last station.” Without waiting for a reply he moved on to the next car. The few passengers began to shuffle toward the door.

Rosa stared at the man in the tunnel. His eyes pleaded for help. Firefighters fussed around him but he took no note. He continued to look to Rosa. She met his eyes, willing herself to hold his gaze. It was a look she knew well. Her dear aunt had lay dying, unable to speak, her eyes saying, ‘Don’t leave me. I’m not ready to go yet.’

The transit cop came back, waving his flashlight beam in her direction. “Lady, you have to exit the car. We need to move the train.”

Rosa said, “Give me a minute.” The cop looked out the window, saw the trapped man, nodded, stepped away.

Rosa pulled off one glove, fumbled to open her purse. She found the chocolate chip cookie. She stood. A blast of frigid air hit her face as she opened the train window. An almost overwhelming smell of urine wafted in. She knelt on the train seat and handed the cookie out the window. She realized the man’s arms were pinned. She reached down to hold the cookie to his mouth. He took a bite, chewed, swallowed. A thin smile creased his face. A face crisscrossed with lines and crevices of pain. Rosa offered him a second bite. His eyes lit with joy. A tear rolled down his cheek, froze before it reached his chin.

“We gotta go, lady.” The transit cop spoke quietly from behind her.

Rosa pulled her arm back inside the car. She held the man’s gaze for a few seconds longer. 

Oh God, I shouldn’t do this. Rosa smiled at the man, took a bite of the cookie herself. He nodded. She stood, placed her palm against the cold glass for a moment, and backed away from the window. The cop directed her to the rear of the train.

When she reached the station platform, the doors closed. The train inched forward. Rosa stood watching it crawl into the tunnel. Shouts of firefighters and EMTs filled the space as the train moved further into the tunnel. Somewhere in that tunnel a man was dying. She heard a single scream echo through the tunnel and the station.

Rosa tossed the bitten cookie down on the tracks. “For your journey, my friend. Vaya con Dios.” She turned towards the exit.


shortfiction24 – Ashley plans for her transition

Searching for a college is a daunting task for Ashley. A poor GPA and an upcoming gender transition narrow her choices dramatically.

College night at her high school is a bleak experience until she meets an unlikely possibility.

Ashley Plans For Her Transition

Bob Gillen

Megan pulled her Prius into a spot in the school’s lot.

“College night, Ashley. Seniors rule.” She killed the engine.

“Let’s wait a minute.”

“Yeah? What’s up?”

“I’m nervous.”

“No worries, Ashley.”

“Easy for you to say. You got your pick of almost any college in the US, with your GPA. Me, I could double my GPA and not come close.”

“Remember what our counselor said. There’s a school for everyone.”

Ashley shrugged. “I have to limit my search to schools in fifteen states, the fifteen that are LGBTQ-accommodating.”

Megan punched Ashley on the arm, slid out of the car. “Come on. Let’s find our schools.”

Inside Ashley followed Megan to the Duke table. Out of her league. Ashley left Megan there and walked the aisles. She found herself getting discouraged quickly. A number of the smaller colleges were in states Ashley would avoid.

Ashley wandered to the rear of the room. Her classmates crowded the UC system table. At the end of the row, Ashley spied a table with a banner that read: Vancouver. Discover Canada. The rep behind the table was reading what looked like a well-worn paperback copy of Kerouac’s On the Road. She looked up as Ashley approached the table.

“Hi. Can I help you?”

The rep had black curly hair to her shoulders. She wore a simple black dress, a necklace with a turtle hanging down.

“If you take students with a 2.6 GPA.” Ashley managed a weak smile.

The rep wobbled her head for a moment. “That might be doable. Talk to me. What are you interested in?”

“Wildlife conservation.”

The rep nodded. “My name is Jennifer. You are?”

“Ashley. Hi. Glad to meet you.”

“I represent three different colleges in Vancouver.”

“I didn’t know we had Canadian options.”

“We welcome international students…and yes, America is considered international for us.”

Ashley fingered her list. 

“I see you prepared for tonight. Mind if I see your list?”

Ashley handed Jennifer the list. 

Jennifer glanced at the items on the list. She nodded.

“I know this list. States favorable to LGBTQ, right?”

Ashley felt her face redden. She nodded.

“You can add Vancouver to your list.”


Jennifer glanced around. “You know what, I think it’s snack time. Will you watch my table for a moment while I get coffee?”


“What can I get you?”

“Coffee…black. Maybe a brownie bite?”

“Done. Be right back.”

Ashley looked around the room. There was a soundtrack of dozens of voices, all animated, excited. A big moment for many of the seniors. Searching for their leap into the future.

Jennifer returned, juggling two drinks and a plate of snacks. She grabbed an empty chair and set it beside her. “Come. Sit with me. I think we have a lot to talk about.”

Ashley slid behind the table, grabbed a snack.

Jennifer sipped her drink. “Let me start by saying the colleges I represent tonight do not offer much, if anything, in wildlife conservation. Can I ask what appeals to you about that career?”

Ashley shrugged. “I’ve always liked animals. I don’t have the grades to go for a veterinarian degree.”

Jennifer peered at Ashley. “What really appeals to you about wildlife conservation?”

Ashley sipped her coffee. She looked directly at Jennifer. “It looks like a quiet way to make a living.”

“Quiet how?”

Ashley took a breath. “Away from a lot of harassment.”

Jennifer smiled. 

Ashley found herself spilling to someone she just met.

“I’m trans. My parents are giving me a breast reduction surgery as a graduation gift. Once I get out of here I’ll change my name to Asher. And I need a school in an LGBTQ-accommodating state.”

Jennifer smiled. “I’m trans too. Made my transition five years ago.”

Ashley stared open-mouthed. “Wow. you fooled me.”

“Yeah, the docs did a good job.”

Ashley brought the conversation back to its purpose. “Your schools don’t have a wildlife conservation program.”

“We don’t. The bigger schools in Vancouver do, but honestly, I don’t think they would look at you with your GPA.”

Ashley nodded.

“Let me ask you this. Would you consider a different major if it suited your lifestyle?”

“Like what?”

“Film and television, for example.”

Ashley frowned. “Never thought of it, but the work involves lots of people, right?”

“If you mean, a lot of people collaborating on projects, yes.”

“I don’t know…”

“One of the schools I represent is Columbia College. It has a strong media program. Film, television. Good internships. Are you aware they are calling Vancouver Hollywood North?”

Ashley shook her head.

“Tons of film and television production going on. Plenty of jobs and internships.”

“I don’t know…”

“You certainly don’t have to decide tonight.”

Ashley picked up her list from the table.

“Before you go… have you considered a gap year?”

Ashley squinted. “How would I do that?”

“If I am getting too personal here, stop me. You said you’ll have surgery as soon as you graduate.”


Just then two classmates stopped at the table. One said, “Ashley, are you already a college admissions rep?”

“I’m repping for our high schools. You two morons want to repeat senior year? Lots of perks.”

The two laughed and moved on.

Jennifer continued, “With a gap year you can manage your transition more effectively. Take the summer to recover, and start your transition. Columbia College will admit you as a delayed admission. You may have access to student housing. I would have to look into that. I should add, Vancouver is an expensive city to live in. Rent and housing are among the highest in Canada.” 

She sipped her coffee. “With your admission and initial leave of absence, you can get an entry level job in film right away. I told you, Vancouver is quite LGBTQ-friendly. You can explore the city, find groups that will support your transition. And with the job you will have insurance. That may pay for at least some of your hormone therapy.”

“This is too amazing to be true.”

“All true. After a year you can decide if you want to continue with Columbia. You will be admitted as a full-time international student.”

Ashley said, “That’s a lot to think about.”

Jennifer handed Ashley a business card. “My phone is here. Call or text anytime.”

Back out in the parking lot Ashley met up with Megan. “Duke, here I come,” Megan said. I can get early admission if I want.”


“How did you do?”

Ashley pulled her list from her pocket, ripped it in shreds.

“Fuck the US. I can go to Canada. Take a gap year and work in film and television while I manage my transition, then attend Columbia College. As an international student.”

Megan stared at Ashley for a moment. Broke into a grin. Hugged Ashley hard.

“Friends forever.”

Ashley’s phone chirped. A message from Jennifer. So happy to meet you tonight. Call if you need more info or just want to talk.

Ashley texted back. Thanks! I’ll be in touch soon. I already feel safe about my future.

Jennifer replied. Safer, yes. But safety will remain elusive. We are always vulnerable.


© 2024 Bob Gillen

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