Author: Bob Gillen (Page 2 of 16)

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.

Mannequin Monday – Out of Sight


This week I clothe the bare form with words I wrote 10 years ago.

What I’m Writing

I’d like to share a writing exercise I found this week from an old notebook. It’s dated October 24, 2011. The writing prompt was “Out of sight, out of mind.” It clearly needs polishing, but I will post it as is. An example of my writing, my thinking, from 10 years ago. I hope you enjoy it.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Bob Gillen

What can I do to make myself remembered? Will you never forget me? I slip away from your awareness. I slide out of your consciousness. I feel myself drift away. I see you look for me less and less. Like a sailboat moving out to sea, you stop watching from the shore. When? When I drift far enough that you can’t see my face clearly? Far enough that you can’t see my shape? My boat?  When I am finally over the horizon? My boat moves with the wind. I can’t – I won’t – stop it or turn it around. I move with the winds. I stand tall and catch the wind. I move. You stay. We drift away. I want you to remember me. How? Will you remember me when you feel the wind in your face? The same wind that moved me. Yes, it won’t be a picture, a memento, a recording. No, it will be a breath. A spirit. A moving, tuned to the earth, to the spirit, to the air and the wind. Tuned to life.


What I’m Reading

I enjoyed a book from Pamela Toler, whose work focuses on women in history. Her latest story is targeted at middle grade readers. I always enjoy this market. The stories are direct, basic, always a good adventure. This one, centered on World War Two, is titled Great Escapes: Across the Minefields. In the deserts of Libya, as the Allied Forces attempt to keep Rommel’s army from seizing the Suez Canal in 1942, nurse and driver Susan Travers fights alongside the French Foreign Legion.

In the desert the Allies are surrounded by Rommel’s forces. They attempt a daring escape, with Travers driving the lead truck through enemy lines… to freedom or to death.

Credit: HarperCollins

Travers became the only woman ever to be accepted as an official member of the Legion. The book is available on Amazon Kindle.

You’ll find more about Pamela Toler at her own site.


Mannequin Monday – Half Pepperoni

This Monday our mannequin stops for pizza before catching a flight back to LA. Two surviving brothers share a moment after yet another family funeral.

What I’m Writing

Here’s a writing exercise I did for a course I’m taking with my writing group. The goal was to create a story around a memory shared by no more than three characters. Their voices should contribute to the reader’s sense of place.

Half Pepperoni

Bob Gillen

Andy and Peter drape their coats over an empty chair, sit down at a table in a deserted pizza place in Queens. The room looks out on a creek, quiet today, two p.m. on a January weekday. 

The owner steps up to the table, wiping his hands on a stained apron. 

“Hey guys. Ain’t seen you in a while.”

“Hey Pat,” Andy says.

“Hi Pat.”

“No one else coming?”

“Just us today.”

“Who died?”

Peter points to his brother Andy. “Andy’s sister-in-law. Michelle.”

“Hey, I’m sorry. Last time you was in here, it was a whole crowd.”

“Not anymore.”

“What’s your poison?”

“Large pizza,” Andy says.

“Half pepperoni,” adds Peter.

“You got it. For you, I’ll make it right away.”

Andy looks around at the empty room. “Pat, we’re the only ones here.”

“Hey, I get delivery orders too, you know.” He disappears behind the counter.

Andy fingers the faded red and white check cloth on their table.“I swear these are the same table clothes from the last time we were here.” 

Peter nods. Says, “So?”

“Yeah. Back again.”

“I know. Another in and out funeral for me.” Peter looks at his watch. “I got time to catch my flight, yeah?”

“Sure. JFK’s got security moving faster these days.”

The two turn to stare out at the creek, all the small boats covered for the winter, bobbing slightly in the chill breeze. Seagulls perch on several of the boats.

“See that white house across the creek? With the closed-in patio?” Peter points out the window. “The one with the floating dock?” 


“My eighth grade girlfriend’s house. We used to swim off the dock after school in the spring.” 

“Her name was Patricia?”

“Right. Good memory.” Peter smiles. “I never told mom I was swimming there. I would dry off as best I could, pull on my jeans over my bathing suit, and hope the wet didn’t soak through by the time I got home for supper. She never found out till Patricia’s mother met mom in the market and said it was so nice that we were all swimming every afternoon.”

“She must have been so pissed at you. Because someone knew something she didn’t.”

“Tell me about it. I had so much guilt laid on me over that. Why didn’t you trust me to tell me…”

“And have her say no, right?”

“Yeah. Trust me, but if it’s fun, no way.”

“I remember one day she was crying after she talked to you. Crying in the kitchen. She didn’t see me. Maybe that was the day.”

Peter shrugs.

“Man, that was a lot of years ago,” Andy says.

Peter gets up and walks over to a jukebox standing along the far wall. He drops a few coins in, punches a couple of buttons. As he sits, the first song comes up. For the good times.

“Shit,” Peter shakes his head as he sits. “The day after mom’s funeral, Michelle said to me, Well, Peter, with her gone, you and I are the oldest in the family now.

“I don’t remember her saying that.”

“Yeah, right here. Maybe this same table.”

“And now she’s gone.”

“You and me, man.”

Pat slides a large pizza pan down on the checkered tablecloth. “It’s hot.”

“I hope so,” Andy grins.

Pat tosses paper plates on the table. “Drinks?”

Andy asks for water. “Coke for me, Pat,” Peter says.

Peter reaches for a slice. Bubbling cheese, pepperoni crisp around the edges. Oil dripping onto the plate. “I miss this.”

Andy runs a hand through his hair. “First time we were here…right after dad’s burial. I couldn’t believe he lasted as long as he did.”

“Three years sober and the juice still got him.”

“I don’t think mom was upset at all.”

“What the hell. He used to get loaded, then throw rocks into Jack’s pool next door. She was mortified.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“Sure, couple times a week. I’m surprised Jack didn’t slug him.”

Peter laughs. “For almost a year before she died, I’d call mom every week from LA and she’d say, if you can’t get in here to visit me, don’t bother coming to my funeral.”

“She said that?”


“And you almost didn’t, right?”

“Yeah. It was a busy time. I think I did it just to spite her.”

“That was a big wake. Everyone showed up. In the middle of winter. Probably afraid she would haunt them otherwise.”

Peter laughs as he scarfs down a mouthful of pizza. “I was so annoyed. People kept coming up to me saying, do you remember me? Shit, I hadn’t seen those people in thirty years. One guy, Johnny, the cop from Staten Island, he says, Remember me? I say, “Sure, Richie, how are you?”

“He says, no, I’m Johnny.”

“People do that.”

“It pisses me off. Just say hello and give me your name. Come on…I do appreciate that they came for the wake, though.”

Andy and Peter chew silently for a few minutes.

Pat comes over to the table with their drinks. “You guys, I was just thinking, last time you were in, you had your wives with you.”

Andy looks at Pat over his cheese slice. “Both gone, Pat.”

“Oh shit. I didn’t know.” Pat crosses himself. He waves his hand at the pizza. “This one’s on me. You guys been through a lot of shit.”

“You got that right, man.”

“Hey Pat,” Andy says. “How you doin’? Everything okay?”

“Yeah, business is good. Little slow for the winter. Come summer this place is a gold mine.”

“Your family?”

Pat smiles. “Remember my daughter AnnMarie? Used to wait tables here?” He wipes his hands on his apron, pulls a phone out of his back pocket, thumbs through the pictures. “Here’s the whole family…at her wedding last June.”

Andy and Peter smile at the photo. “Good for you, Pat.”

“I been lucky.” He crosses himself again, walks away.

Peter hoists his Coke glass. “So, Andy, like Michelle said to me, you and me, we’re the oldest in the family now.”

“I still got some good years left in me. You?”

“The same.”

“From our lips…”


Continue reading

Mannequin Monday – First Words

We kick off another week. Our bare mannequin is draped with the story of a parrot’s first words. A New York parrot. Yes, language!

What I’m Writing

Today I’m sharing a fun story. I hope it gives you a smile as you start your week.

A Parrot’s First Words

Bob Gillen

I’ve heard longtime residents tell the story of a parrot that rode the NYC subway system. Rode back and forth, only on the elevated lines. Never underground. The bird was first spotted at the Howard Beach station in Queens, near the  transfer point to JFK airport. 

New Yorkers with a long memory recall a man who rode the train with his parrot sitting on his left shoulder. Mostly rode south to Rockaway Beach. Got off at Beach 116th Street and walked the boardwalk. The man spent hours sitting on a bench watching the older men play handball. Men with deep tans on their legs and arms, milk white torsos if a shirt lifted in the breeze. 

One New Yorker, a man who rented a beach bungalow every summer, told me that the bird liked lemon ice. His owner let it eat from his cone. The bird’s owner always wore khakis and a Hawaiian shirt, sometimes with birds on it, sometimes flowers. A tan porkpie hat sat on the back of his head.

The handball players would yell to him, Hey, where’s my margherita? The man smiled, the bird ignored them. 

Credit: NY Daily News

Someone claimed to have once spotted the man and bird riding north from Rockaway on the A train, then transferring back to the Lefferts Blvd. station. The two got off near the public library. The man was seen a few hours later riding back towards Rockaway with a handful of books. No one recalls hearing where the man lived.

The subway bird sported a beautiful array of colors. A largely red head and chest, with blue and green plumage. A big bird. Almost the size of a child’s head. One day, in late summer, a few days before Labor Day, the bird rode the train alone. His owner was never seen again. The bird rode the train to the last stop in Rockaway, flew about for a few minutes, and perched in the returning train.

A proud, cocky bird, he knew his place and would yield to no one. He preferred the ledge between two opposing seat backs, and no one would sit near him. Everyone said him. I have no idea how you tell a parrot’s sex. One know-it-all was quoted saying he was a Macaw, and both male and female were colored similarly. The bird would occasionally poop on the seat back. Once a guy sat down in it. He never knew. At least not till he got home.

In all of his travels back and forth the bird never spoke. Not even a squawk or a screech. On days when the train was pretty empty, no women and kids around, there was always a guy who tried to teach the bird to curse. He cocked his head but remained mute. Not a word.

One day a subway conductor spotted the bird riding between the rail cars. He perched on a platform and let the breezes rush through his feathers.

Funny how the bird never had a name. No one ever christened him with an identity. Always just the bird or the parrot.

No one knew how or what he ate. People would offer him a piece of a donut or a snack bar, but he never touched them. And he never, ever let anyone hold him. He perched only on the train seats.

One day in late fall Animal Control showed up with a big net. Someone must have thought the bird would not survive the coming winter. They went home empty handed. The net man waited till the doors closed on the car to move against the bird. But a passenger opened the door at the end of the car and the bird flew out and lit on a handrail. 

The bird got to be well known. A reporter from The New York Times, one of those guys like Meyer Berger who hunted down all the quirky stuff in the city, wrote up the bird in a story. Photo and all. Lots of people called the paper, said he was their bird. No one showed up to actually claim him.

One day in racing season the parrot was sitting on the northbound train as it pulled into the Aqueduct station around the time the race track closed. Men and women dragged themselves on the train after losing at the track. Threw torn-up betting stubs on the car floor. The bird was annoyed at the crowd. Not much space for him to perch. 

Anyway, one guy who looked especially despondent sat where the bird liked to perch. The bird even fluttered his feathers but the guy paid no attention.

After tearing up his last betting stub, the guy looked up. He let a thin smile cross his lips. “Dinner,” he said aloud. “Can’t afford anything else tonight.” He reached for the bird.

Credit: Pinterest

The bird flew off a few feet. The guy got up to reach for him again. The bird flew around him and perched on the seat where the guy had been.

The guy lunged for the bird. It flew down the car a few feet. Out of reach. But it left poop where the guy had been sitting.

“Damn bird. Now I can’t sit.”

The guy stepped closer to the bird, and in his frustration spat at the bird. He missed. Much to his later chagrin, his spit landed on the neck of an off-duty cop. An off-duty cop leaving the track after betting and losing a lot of money. 

Now, New York has a lot of laws. One is, you don’t spit in the subway. An unwritten law is, you don’t spit on a cop. Especially an off-duty cop who now has an incident to deal with. After losing at the track.

The cop turned. “You.” 

The guy glared at him.

“You spit on me?”

The guy said, “Maybe I did, mac. I was aiming at the bird.”

The cop swiped the spit off his neck with his left hand, wiped his hand on the guy’s shirt. 

“Fuck you, mac.” The guy shoved the cop. Not knowing, of course, that he shoved a cop. The cop spun the guy around, pushed him down against an empty seat. Empty because another man was smart enough to get out of the way.

“You just shoved a cop,” the cop said to the guy.

“Fuck you, mac,” the guy said again. Not smart.

“You’re under arrest,” the cop said.

The bird had been watching this action closely. He hopped down on the seat next to the guy. Got right up in his face.

The bird squawked. Then it said its first words.

 “Fuck you, mac!”


What I’m Reading

I’ve done a lot of reading on my three-week hiatus from the blog. Next week I’ll offer comments, after I organize my thoughts. I especially enjoyed re-reading The Old Man and the Sea and Hatchet.

More next week. Thanks as always for stopping by.


Find my stories on Amazon.

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