Youth had proven very traumatic for Brantley, as it does for most turtles. He had been born in steaming muck beneath a rotting log, hatching from a leathery egg synchronously with thirty-three of his siblings, all of them clambering over one another toward freedom like a riotous mob. He had a sense of direction, some instinctual behavioral tract that kept Brantley moving, scuttling against thirty-three other muddy little turtles. Emerging from beneath the log, Brantley had been greeted by two hungry raccoons scooping the baby turtles up like treasure. They were brutally efficient, missing hardly a turtle, picking the tiny squabbling pucks up in their inquisitive fingers, lifting them to their mouths, cracking open their still fragile shells in their molars, folding them open with both hands and slurping out the insides like oysters on the half shell. One had reached for Brantley, brushing its claws on the back of his shell before instead grabbing another young turtle as it came from behind and tried to scramble over him. Something drew him away, something kept his tiny legs scrabbling like a wind up toy and pulled him to the water as if a guideline had been tied around his neck.

Brantley escaped somehow, but remained forever traumatized by the experience. For years he had nightmares of raccoons cracking him open like a wiggling nut, slurping out his insides and throwing his empty shell to the deer flies. Brantley hardly slept for three years. Most turtles that live to be three years old don’t sleep at all. No time for sleep in the food chain.

Brantley spent the majority of his youth hiding beneath logs, the best place for a young turtle to be. Brantley was quite good at hiding. Exceptional, even for a turtle.

Florida Box Turtle (by “Jonathan Zander (Digon3)” on Wikimedia Commons)

Posted for the DP Weekly Writing Challenge: Flash Fiction


You know what’s happening, that’s the hard part. You’ve seen it hit so many other people, and the symptoms are so well known and hard to ignore. The fever, the pale skin, the cloudy eyes, the odor of rancid milk. And then there’s the unbelievable craving for brains. It’s inexplicable. It’s not like they’re some sort of gourmet masterpiece of culinary delight. Honestly, they make me nauseous. It’s a texture thing, like overripe banana. Just kind of mushy and no flavor, hard to actually swallow, but for some reason I cannot get enough. The brain cravings are even worse than the nicotine cravings I had before I was afflicted. I usually started craving my next smoke when I was half way done with the one I was smoking, but at least I found smoking enjoyable on some level. How depressing it is to not only be a zombie, but to be so disgusted by the one and only thing my so called life now seems to revolve around.

There is a short period of time when the sickness first hits that you realize what is happening and you become very emotional. There are tears, angry tantrums, a lot of feeling sorry for yourself and asking why me. The thought of blowing your head off with a shotgun makes numerous appearances. Then the emotion fades away suddenly and you feel okay with it. It’s not so bad. No more pain or depression. No more bills or taxes. No more sneaking off to smoke a cigarette when no one’s looking. No more responsibilities or worries, almost like a vacation. But then you get your first whiff of brains and you lose it. Brains are all you can think about, like some sort of preteen on a One Direction binge. I have urges to get an I ♥ brains tattoo even though I don’t really love them. I’m caught up in all the hysteria. I don’t want to regret it later.

Got Brain? (by DBDimitrov on Flickr)

So I’m trying to deal with this brain fetish thing. I wish there were Brain Addicts Anonymous meetings. A 12 step peer support group. A sponsor I could call when the craving hits, which I’ve got to say is pretty much all the time. Not like I could actually use a telephone anymore. All coordination of my fine muscle control has abandoned me, leaving me lurching around like a corpse with a handicap. But while my body deteriorates I’ve still got all these thoughts in my head and no way to express them. My tongue fell out last week. I can barely even lift my arm anymore let alone bend my fingers. I’m lucky if I can actually stand up and balance these days. It’s embarrassing. But when I get a whiff of that brain matter I get a sudden surge of energy and stumble off toward the source, asking myself what have I become.

I’m on the hunt now, having got the faintest hint of fresh meat in the air. Me and few of my zombie bros are shuffling down the street with teetering purpose. I catch a glimpse of myself in a storefront window as I’m hobbling along, and I can’t help but think that I look like shit. But compared to some of these other car wrecks I actually don’t look so bad. At least most of my face is still there. At least all my limbs are still attached. My tongue is gone but honestly it was just getting in the way. But I don’t stand for long, because the scent is strong.

Then I see the meal ticket already swarmed by brain addicts. I’ll be lucky if there is anything left the way the melee is digging in. I feel sick but I can’t help it. I stumble toward the bloody mess in hopes of getting a sad little morsel. I see another zombie approaching from the opposite side, and our vacant eyes meet for a moment. I can sense that he is sharing my feelings about our current situation, saying what the fuck bro, can you believe this shit with his cloudy eyes. I wonder if we all have these same disgusted, self-loathing thoughts as we continue about our business. I wonder if we are all sad little prisoners trapped inside our decaying bodies, addicted to something we don’t really want.  Then he shrugs his shoulders, which is no easy feat for a zombie, and dives into the swarming mass of brainivores. And I of course dig in from the other side, hoping to get at least a taste, and I have only one thing to say for myself.


Gunning Late

Doc Brody was late for the appointment, which had clearly been made for high noon. He had personally requested my promptness. “Don’t be late,” he’d said. How unprofessional. How inconsiderate. Was his time somehow more valuable?

What kind of self respecting outlaw shows up late for a gun fight anyway?

Six Gun City (by Carolinadoug on Flickr)

Written for the DP Weekly Writing Challenge: Fifty

For this week’s challenge, you must write a fifty-word story. Not five thousand, not five hundred, but precisely fifty words.

See my other fifty word stories HERE.


Justice found Trujillo in the form of a posse. Shotguns, six shooters, extra rope. They followed the trail of bodies and broken hearts across the countryside.

The sheriff looked into his only eye and asked if Trujillo had any last words. He shook his enormous head.

The noose barely fit.

Get a Rope! (by mlhradio on Flickr)

Written for the DP Weekly Writing Challenge: Fifty

For this week’s challenge, you must write a fifty-word story. Not five thousand, not five hundred, but precisely fifty words.

The Test

The lecture diverged to the subject of taking personal responsibility for your actions and making decisions that considered others. The art of thoughtful action.

A hand rose in the back of the classroom. “Mr. Peabody, will we be tested on  this?”

“Every single day for the rest of your lives.”

Question (by Clarkston SCAMP)

Written for the DP Weekly Writing Challenge: Fifty

For this week’s challenge, you must write a fifty-word story. Not five thousand, not five hundred, but precisely fifty words.

Bird Seed

The box read bird seed on the side. “But dad,” I said, “we don’t even have a bird feeder.”

“We don’t need one son,” he told me. “This is the kind of bird seed you plant in the ground.” I didn’t know what he meant, and he could probably tell from my blank expression. “We will grow birds from the Earth. Who needs a bird feeder?”

I was sure my father had gone crazy, that he had finally blown the fuse that would send him to the funny farm. But it wasn’t the first time he had told me something that made me doubt his sanity, nor would it be the last. It seemed to be a daily occurrence, and usually by the time he was tucking me in bed that night I would have come to understand his words and realize he was very sane.

So we planted the bird seed in the backyard in November, in an empty weed-filled space next to the fallow vegetable garden. We also planted some on the hillside on the other side of our fence, sprinkling it across the ground like dew before sunrise. Everyday I would check for sprouts, trying to confirm that something was growing there. I wanted to know what birds looked like when they grew from the ground. All that seemed to be sprouting were more unwanted weeds.

“Be patient,” my father told me.  “Growing birds takes a long time, sometimes more than a year.” I felt cheated, like that amount of time could never pass quick enough. For a young child a year may as well be forever. It didn’t take long before I forgot about the bird seed completely.

The following summer my father sent me out to the chicken coop to retrieve some eggs, and some tomatoes and cucumbers and possibly some beans. Whenever I strolled through our vegetable garden it felt like a stroll in the produce aisle at the supermarket, or a trip to the farmer’s market. It felt like my own private salad bar.

I was enjoying the sweet flavor of some especially sugary cherry tomatoes when I happened to notice the overgrown weed patch on the side of the garden where we had planted the bird seed. The November planting had faded so far from my memory that I had forgotten even forgetting, and it felt almost like I was noticing it for the first time. What caught my eye was a sparrow clinging delicately to a sprig of what I later learned was millet. I had to rub my eyes in disbelief. The bird seed had actually grown a bird.

Then I noticed another sparrow, and a robin and mockingbird, and other birds I didn’t know the name of, descending from the sky toward this patch of bird seed gone to seed. Only then did I understand the act of growing birds from seed.

bird from seed (by Erwin Schoonderwald)

How Did I Get Here?

(aka My Illustrious Writing Habit)

When I tell people that I started writing stories in second grade many find this hard to believe. In truth I may have started earlier, but since the first physical artifact of my early writing still in my possession dates from the second grade, I’ll go with it. The second grade was also when I published my first collection of short stories under the tutelage of Mrs. Olson, my 2nd Grade teacher. Most of my memories of Mrs. Olson revolve around my surprise at how freaking old she was, by far the oldest looking teacher I have ever had. I remember her librarian glasses and how the skin hung off her arms when she was writing on the chalk board, swinging back and forth like a wrinkled hammock in the breeze. It is quite possible that she wasn’t really that old, but the mere act of teaching snot-nosed little brats everyday had caused her physical body to age at an accelerated pace, something I know about all to well having somehow becoming a teacher myself. But I digress.

Chapter 1 – Simple Pleasures



I actually found my book of stories while cleaning out a closet at my mom’s house when we were getting ready to sell it. Its somber title was January Stories by Jeff Hager. One thing I had when I was younger was imagination, though not necessarily reflected in this title. I practically lived in an imaginary world, but  since I was such a lone wolf I had no imaginary friends in there with me. It was me and my words and my pictures. Here’s a transcript of one story, Nogmania.

My nogs live in people’s hair. If you don’t comb it they will eat you up. If you take one out they will give you a disease.They are like little savage monsters. They are smaller than a termite. One day everybody was combing his hair and all the nogs died, except one was lucky and didn’t die. He moved into Bottle City!

Despite the fact that the POV changes and there is a character named everybody, it is better than a lot of my first drafts. As you can see I also illustrated each of the stories, and I was quite the young artist if I do say so myself. I was using similes at age 8, and unlike a lot of the stories I wrote in high school, something actually happens in this one. But I also see why my teachers and mother were so concerned. I rarely ever spoke, in class or at home, but when I sat down to write somehow words and ideas poured onto the page. Soon after the triumph of January Stories I completed another illustrated book called Lost Land. It involved a young boy going back in time and meeting a bunch of dinosaurs. Some were nice and some tried to eat him. I think it was loosely based on the original Land of the Lost television show, which was a favorite of mine. This book proved very predictable in its storyline, but the illustrations were pretty kick ass, mainly because my father had given me a book on how to draw dinosaurs. I probably drew a dinosaur on at least 75% of my papers in elementary school, usually when I was supposed to be working on math problems or something else that didn’t interest me. Dinosaurs were cool. That was all that mattered. These early writing successes planted the writing seed somewhere deep in my brain, but unfortunately the successes were short lived. My youthful enthusiasm would soon be placed ruthlessly into a chokehold by the iron grip of editing, criticism, and rejection.

Chapter 2 – The Doubt Creeps In

3rd grade was difficult. ADD wasn’t widely understood. I wasn’t hyper, but definitely had difficulty concentrating and staying seated in class. My third grade teacher had called for a conference with my Mom about my distractibility in class, and her suggestion was I may have ringworm that was causing my restlessness. She swore she had seen it before, so my mother took me to the doctor to have me tested for parasites. I wish I was making this up, but unfortunately my imagination is not that macabre. Needless to say there were no parasites. I continued to struggle in school, except when I was writing.

By fourth grade my teacher noticed my writing immediately. She thought it was good, so good that she accused my parents of writing my homework assignments. Of course they didn’t. They proofread maybe, but I was very incensed that someone didn’t believe I had written the words that I wrote. My parents were contacted and of course denied the accusation. Being a teacher myself I know that parents always do, whether they wrote it or not.

My fifth grade teacher went even further and accused me of plagiarizing my state report. There were four grades and I got an A+ on three. On the writing grade I got a D because my teacher assumed I could not have written such descriptive and interesting passages. This was about twenty years BG (before google) and the internet was still a glimmer in some nerdy engineer’s glasses. I had written every word myself, and put a lot of work into it. I’m still not sure what is more disheartening for a writer, being told your writing is not good enough, or being told your writing was so good you couldn’t possibly have written it.

Chapter 3 – Accusations and Lies

It wasn’t until middle school that I finally found the recognition I thought I deserved. But it wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns. It was middle school after all.

During these middle school years my writing actually started gaining a little momentum, and garnered some praise and recognition from my teachers. In seventh grade I got first place in our school limerick contest, though I have no idea how, as poetry has never been my strong suit. The teacher that judged the contest had a peculiar disdain for me, and assumed I must have plagiarized the content from somewhere. I was called down to the principal’s office to answer to these accusations. She didn’t know where I had plagiarized it from and had absolutely no proof, but was nonetheless positive I could not have written the poem myself. But lacking any concrete evidence, I denied the charges and was eventually allowed the first place prize, and awarded a tacky little certificate most likely run off the school ditto machine. I have no further proof of any of this happening beyond my faulty and questionable memories of these incidents.

It was finally in the eighth grade that a teacher directly praised my writing abilities and presumably my intelligence. In English we often had to answer in class essay questions in response to the literature we read, and my English teacher would always start reading my paper the moment I handed it to her. I remember one time that she gasped out loud after I had turned in an essay response, while most of the class was reading silently. “Jeff, your response is perfect,” she said, “just perfect.” I felt suddenly embarrassed by this, and I’m sure that my classmates were looking at me like I was some kind of do-goody brown-noser, though I can’t be certain due to my prominent position in the front row (did I mention my ADD?). This one teacher had praised my writing privately many times, reassuring me that I had a certain lucky proficiency with words that was above the average.  Since she actually witnessed me sit down and compose the words in front of her, she must have realized that I had in fact written it myself. She was the first person I remember telling me to keep writing, which later became a theme among teachers that recognized some kernel of talent in me, and even as I write this now I try to keep telling myself this. Just keep writing.

Posted for the DP Weekly Writing Challenge: Writerly Reflections

Stay tuned for more chapters…(upcoming episodes)

Chapter 4 – Acceptance

Chapter 5 – College (what I can remember of it)

Chapter 6 – Life Experience

Chapter 7 – Self Actualization