Healing through story

Month: June 2023

shortfiction24 – a boy and his knife

The boy finds a fishing knife and uses it, treasures it all summer. Easy come, easy go?

This story was also inspired by a writing prompt: “What does a character carry in his pocket?” I hope you enjoy it.

Comments and Likes always welcome.

A Boy and His Knife

Bob Gillen

The twelve year old boy welcomed his first day of summer vacation. He would start his first job ever the next day. His mom had arranged for the job to keep him occupied. 

But today was freedom. His friends were all busy with family activities. The boy rode his bike to a sandy field near his house.  He skidded the bike around in the soft earth. He pedaled fast, then braked hard. In one skid he spotted something glinting in the dirt. He retrieved a silver pocket knife. Someone had lost it. 

It’s mine now

The boy tapped the knife against his bike frame to shake out loose sand. He opened it. Measured the blade against his open hand. A four-finger blade. 

The boy wiped the knife on his shirt, tucked it into his right front pocket and continued riding his bike.

The next day he showed up early for his new job. Delivery boy for the local meat market, Pat’s Meats. Pat was ready for him.

“Good morning. Before I open the store, I need you to get the sack of sawdust from the back and spread it around all the floors. There’s a rake in the back. Spread the sawdust evenly.”

“Why do you do that?”

“To soak up any blood or scraps that hit the floor. When I’m cutting.”

The boy dragged the sack out to the customer area. He pulled out his pocket knife to cut open the sack. Pat saw what he was doing. 

“That knife looks too dull for that.” He handed the boy a pair of scissors. 

Later that day, after closing, the boy swept up the sawdust into a garbage can, spread fresh sawdust. While he did that , Pat used a steel brush to scrape the top of his cutting block. The block’s surface was hollowed from months of scraping. 

“Good job today,” Pat said. “See you tomorrow.”

The boy’s second day was quiet with only a few deliveries. He watched Pat cut meat, hone his knives continually on a honing rod. The trimmed fat and scraps went into a barrel for pick up by a rendering company. 

At  the end of the day Pat used a whetstone to sharpen his knives for the following day. Pat stroked his knives across the surface of the whetstone while the boy followed every move.

“Could I sharpen my knife too?” the boy asked Pat.

“Let me see it,” Pat replied. He examined the knife. “All aluminum. A fisherman’s knife. It won’t rust.”

“I found it.”

“Lucky find. It’s a good knife.”

The boy smiled.

“Go in the back and wash it with soap and water, then I can sharpen it for you.”

Pat put the boy’s blade to his whetstone, then showed the boy how to do it himself. “Be careful with it now. It’s very sharp. Good for gutting fish.”

After a week of deliveries and in-store tasks, the boy was ready for a day off. He took his sixteen-foot skiff out in the bay to fish. Bottom fishing for fluke and flounder. He caught a half dozen fish the first day. He carefully sliced and gutted the fish on his boat, dropped the innards overboard for other fish to feed on. He wiped the knife carefully, tucked it in his pocket. At home his mom fried up the fish for their dinner.

The summer passed quickly. The boy worked five days each week, fished the other two.

Every day he patted his pocket dozens of times, feeling for his treasured pocket knife. Every Saturday, after closing, he sharpened the knife on Pat’s whetstone.

As Labor Day approached, the boy took a day off from fishing and wandered the neighborhood on his bike. A feeder road to the highway near his house sloped down to the local streets. The boy left his bike at the bottom of the slope, climbed up halfway to the top. He took out his knife, began tossing it into the ground to see if he could stick it in the dirt. He traced a target in the grass with his fingers, tossed the knife over and over. He speared the target most throws. 

This is cool, he thought. 

The boy stepped back a few paces, closed his eyes, tossed the knife at the target. He opened his eyes.

The knife was gone.

The boy searched the target area. Nothing. He ran his fingers through the grass and weeds. Still nothing. His search ranged up and down the slope. He found nothing. 

For hours the boy searched for the knife. It must have bounced away from the target. He gave up his search when it was time to go home for dinner.

The boy showed up for his last work day at the meat market. He repeatedly felt his empty pocket for the knife.

“You’re very quiet today,” Pat said. “You okay?”

“I lost my knife yesterday.”


“I was tossing it at a target in the ground. I looked away. It just disappeared.”

“First of all, not a good idea. That will dull the blade.”

The boy said nothing.

“You found it, right?”


“I could say, ‘Easy come, easy go,’ but that won’t help you feel better.”

The boy cast his eyes down.

“You lost your knife. That’s a tough break. But look at it this way. You had a good summer with it. You learned to care for it. You fished with it…And you did a good job working here. No knife, but good memories.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

For weeks after school started, the boy reached for his pocket, only to find it empty every time. All through that school year he could still see the knife settled in his hand, feeling the heft of it. Longing for it.


shortfiction24 – luke dumped me last night

Morgan Ward is blindsided by her boyfriend dumping her. It’s all mind-numbing, he had said. All too easy. Morgan doubts herself. Is it me?

This is another story resulting from a story prompt I found last month. I hope you enjoy it. Does it resonate with you? Comments welcome.

Luke Dumped Me Last Night

Bob Gillen

Morgan Ward slumped at her kitchen table, head in hands. The oven timer dinged. Morgan slid her dinner out and plated it. Packaged chicken Marsala and mashed potatoes. The red neon sign on her kitchen wall cast a pinkish glow on the potatoes.

She and her partner Luke had found the neon sign at a garage sale. It read Vacancy.

Luke Perrault dumped Morgan after almost a year together. Now he was gone. Vacancy was a harsh reminder, staring her in the face.

Last night Morgan and Luke had spent a pleasant evening over ribs and beers at their favorite bar. Actually, Luke’s favorite bar, because they served Molson’s Ale. During dessert Luke told her he was leaving. Leaving Southern California. Leaving her. Moving back to his native Montreal. Morgan had felt blindsided. She had no hint of a breakup. 

Luke had told her he missed his native city.

“I miss the struggles in my city. I miss the cold. I miss snow, ice, rain. The challenges to my daily routine. I miss working my way through it all. Life here is too easy.”

“Too easy?” Morgan gulped her beer.

“Yes. Life in Southern California is mind-numbing. Nothing ever changes.”

“Are we too easy?”

Luke nodded. “Yes, we are.”

“Isn’t that the point of a good relationship?”

“Perhaps, for some, but not for me.”

Morgan had wiped away her tears with a greasy napkin. “Give me some time. I can go with you.”

“No, Morgan. I need to do this alone.”

“This is crazy. Why is it wrong for love to be easy?”

“I can’t explain. I have to do this.”

And earlier today Luke had left his furnished apartment behind, and flown to Montreal. Flown back East to immerse himself in the changing seasons. And perhaps a tumultuous relationship with someone else.

Leaving Morgan devastated.

Devastated and uncomprehending.

Vacancy. A welcome sign for many travelers. For Morgan, Luke’s sudden absence created an unwelcome hole in her heart, in her life. Pushing her to wonder why ‘easy’ did not work for Luke. For them. 

Luke had said it was all about him. Morgan wondered, is it about me too? Am I settling for ‘easy’ in my life?

Morgan pushed the food around on her plate, managed to eat some of it. She washed it down with a beer. The last Molson’s Ale left in her fridge. 

My life is not easy. What is Luke talking about?

There was a knock on the back door. Morgan let her friend Debbie in.

“I’m on my home. I only have a minute. Rod said the kids are off the wall today.”

They hugged. “Good to see you. Want a beer? Wine?”

“One beer. Then I go. I heard about your day in the ER. That’s why I stopped.”

They sat. “We lost two patients. One gunshot wound. The other a car accident.”

“I keep telling you. Transfer up to Med Surg with me. Long shifts but we rarely lose anyone.”

Morgan sipped her beer. “I haven’t had a chance to tell you. Luke dumped me last night.”

“Oh shit. No. Why?”

“Life was too easy for him. He suddenly hates LA. He thinks our relationship was too easy.”

“Too easy? Seriously? That MFer!”

“Debbie, am I too easy?”

“Hell no. You have an easy-going personality, but you got a few rough edges too. Who doesn’t?”

Debbie turned to face the neon sign. “Speaking of rough edges, that thing has to go.”

“I was going to keep it. Kind of a fuck-you to Luke.”

“It has to go. Too much of a reminder.”

Morgan shrugged.

Debbie finished her beer. “I gotta go.” She stood, hugged Morgan again.

“Think about transferring. Reduce your emotional stress.”

“Today I couldn’t stop compressions on the car accident victim. She was in her twenties. Dr. Felice had to pull me away. He told me not to come in tomorrow.”

“Yeah, that sounds like you. No way you pick the easy way.”

Debbie left. Morgan got a stepladder and took the neon sign down. She set it outside the back door.

She tossed the empty Molson’s bottle in the trash.

“Easy isn’t me,” she muttered. “It was not me killed this relationship.”

The following morning she showed up for her shift in the ER.


shortfiction24 – the handoff

Tracy Anders adopts a black lab from a cancer patient who can no longer care for him. The handoff is swift, tearful.

Enjoy the short story. This is the 100th free short story I have posted to my blog. More to come! Comments are always welcome.

The Handoff

Bob Gillen

Tracy Anders brought her SUV to a stop curbside behind a silver Honda sedan. She slid out and approached a park bench, where a man and his black lab sat. 


The man tried to turn, made it halfway. The lab turned, eyes glowing, tail wagging.

“Tracy? Come sit with us.”

Tracy shook hands with Edward, held her fist out for the lab to sniff.

“Tracy, this is Ollie. Ollie, meet Tracy.”

The lab wagged his tail vigourusly. Tracy rubbed Ollie’s back. 

She looked at Edward. A man rail-thin, tee shirt hanging loosely on his frame. Under a flawlessly blue sky, his pallor was the color of melted candle wax.

Tracy sat.

“Thanks for doing this,” Edward said. “Ollie is a big dog, almost 80 pounds now. I can’t keep up with him. He needs better.”

“He’ll have a good home with me. How are you feeling?”

“The big C is beating me. I’m sliding down.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It is what it is.”

Edward took a yellow tennis ball from his pocket. Ollie jumped off the bench. Edward threw the ball out into a grassy field. Ollie chased it.

Edward pushed himself up from the bench, stepped to his car. “Pop the lid on your SUV.”

Edward took a box from his trunk and slipped it into Tracy’s SUV. He sat again.

“The box has his food and water bowls, his toys, a few days worth of dog food. And the name and number for his vet. He’s up to date on all his shots.”

Tracy nodded as Ollie returned with the ball.

A tear oozed from Edward’s eye. “I need to do this fast.”

He rubbed Ollie’s back, grabbed the tennis ball, tossed it far down the field. Edward walked to his car and drove off.

Ollie came back with the ball. He looked puzzled. He sniffed the space where Edward had sat. Dropped the ball, sniffed where the car had been.

Tracy patted the seat for Ollie to join her. He jumped up on the bench.

“It’s you and me now, buddy. Edward is too sick to keep you.”

Ollie placed his head in Tracy’s lap. She scratched his ear.

The two sat on the bench for a while. A few dog walkers appeared out on the field. Tracy clipped the leash on Ollie.

She set her palms down on the bench. The paint was cracked, broken. Brittle. She shuddered. Broken. 

“I’m broken too,” she said to Ollie. “I’ve got cancer, just like Edward. Mine is not curable, just like his, but mine is treatable. Manageable. You and I, we got some good years together.”

Ollie reached his head up, licked Tracy’s cheek.

She stood. “Let’s go home, buddy.”


shortfiction24 – a stairway to money

A client brings P.I. Frank Derringer a new case, and a chance at a lucrative bonus. My attempt at noir.

Please enjoy the story. Comments always welcome.

A Stairway to Money

Bob Gillen

The stairway echoed with the clang of dress shoes on the steel steps. Frank Derringer reached the third floor landing where his office was located. He paused to catch his breath. No wonder I have no clients. No one wants to climb these stairs with the elevator out of order. Again. 

Frank turned to his office, stopped short. Sitting on the floor in front of his office door was a woman. A beautiful woman. Blond hair. High heels and a black suit with a white blouse. Her long legs spanned the width of the corridor.

Wow, that’s gotta hurt ya, he muttered under his breath.

Frank stepped closer to the woman. He caught a whiff of a perfume foreign to his experience. “Can I help you?”

The woman waved her thumb towards the stenciled glass panel in the door. 

“If your name matches the name on the door, then yes.”

“I’m Frank Derringer. Derringer, PI.”

“Help me get up and find me a chair.”

Frank offered his arm and the woman rose gracefully from the floor. Frank unlocked the door and ushered her in. He moved straight to his desk, brushed an ashtray full of cigarette butts into a waste basket.

The woman sat opposite Frank. “I need your help in finding someone.”

“Before we start, I should say I take a twenty percent deposit before I start any assignment.”

“Seeing as you were an hour late in opening your office, I see no need for me to pay you a deposit. Take the job or I’ll find someone else.”

Frank opened his mouth to speak, thought better of it.

“Okay, how can I help you?”

“My name is Lily Collingswood, I want you to find my husband.”

Ah, another easy divorce case.

“What can you tell me about him”

“He’s dead.”


“The  cops shot him two nights ago.”

“And you don’t know where he is.”

“Well…he’s in the morgue. They’re holding him till they finish their investigation.”

“So…you know where he is.”

“In the morgue, but they will only let me see him through a glass window.”

“Did you identify him?”


“Then why do you need me?”

“It gets complicated. I need a picture of the tattoo on his arm.”

“Lady, this is getting weird.”

“I need that picture before they bury him.”

Frank let a cigarette. “Smoke?”

“No, thanks. Can you take the job?”

“You want me to go to the morgue, access your husband’s body, and take a photo of his arm?

“Yes, and more precisely, his left bicep.”

“May I ask why?”

“My husband stole a satchel full of diamonds three years ago. That tattoo is the key to where he hid them.”

“Haven’t you seen the tattoo already?”

“Yeah, but it’s a little esoteric. I would need to study it.”

“And if you find the diamonds?”

“Your fee would then be ten percent of what I get.”

“That’s generous…but I could lose my license dealing with stolen stuff.”

“Your decision.” Lily sat back in the chair, letting Frank stew over his answer.

The following morning Frank was at the city morgue. The medical examiner was an old friend. Frank stood over Lily’s husband’s body. His story, he was representing a client who was considering suing the city over the shooting. The medical examiner had shrugged, turned away.

Frank palmed his phone down behind the morgue table. While his friend examined another body, Frank slipped the cover down, spotted the tattoo, and snapped several photos. He pulled the cover sheet back up to the body’s chin. He then thought to look for surveillance cameras, but did not see any. He slipped the phone back into his pocket.

That afternoon, in a coffee shop with Lily Collingswood, he shared the photo. She studied it for long moments. “This is a tough one.”

“Nothing obvious?”


Frank sipped his black coffee, watched Lily intently.

“There are no numbers here. No names. Only symbols.”

Frank had already studied the tattoo before sharing it. Nothing made sense to him.

“Tell you what. You pay me my usual fee and I walk away. I trust you that if you recover the diamonds, you might remember me.”

Lily took out her checkbook without a word, wrote a check paid out to Frank Derringer.


Frank stood to leave. 

“I won’t forget you.” She said.

Frank nodded.

Back in his office, a cigarette burning down in his ashtray, Frank pored over the tattoo picture. He transferred it to his laptop screen for a larger view. Nothing jumped out pointing to a hiding place. 

If I can get to the diamonds before Lily does, I can offer her the ten percent cut.

Three days later Frank paced in a downtown subway station watching for passengers to clear the platform. When it was clear, he stepped around the south end of the platform and entered the tunnel. If he was right, the diamonds were stashed just inside the tunnel, under a patch of broken concrete.

Using his phone as a flashlight, he groped around for the satchel. Another light flashed over his shoulder. He whipped around.


“Shit yeah. So much for trusting.”

Frank stared at Lily. 


“Looks like we both figured it out at the same time.”

Frank stood away from the concrete. “Fair is fair. He was your husband.”

Lily stepped around Frank, poked around at the spot, and pulled back with a maroon satchel in her hand. She slipped open the drawstring. “Diamonds. Uncut.”

Frank took a few steps back, not wanting to appear threatening. He held up his hands. “They’re yours.”

Lily smiled. “Yeah. For the years of grief he gave me, I deserve this.” She shoved the satchel into her pocket. The two peered into the station platform. Still clear. They walked out into the light.

Up on the street, Lily signaled for them to step into an alley. She took out the satchel, removed a single diamond, slipped it into Frank’s palm. “No idea if this is ten percent, but my gesture of thanks…even if you were apparently going to screw me over.”

Frank shrugged, muttered a thank you. 

Lily walked off down the sidewalk.

Later Frank climbed the stairs to his office, called a fence he knew. Maybe I can afford an office with an elevator now.


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