Treehouse

online magazine for short, good writing

Category: Brief Encounters

New Brief Encounters Prompt: When Life Gives You Lemons…

by Treehouse Editors

We’re excited to announce that Brief Encounters submissions are back open, and our newest prompt is: When Life Gives You Lemons…

Do you make lemonade, or lemon dill potatoes? Do you light the lemons on fire and hurl them through life’s windows to let it know that you’re not to be screwed with? Can you make lemonade without sugar and water? Send us your most creative and unexpected stories of making the best of a bad situation, whether they be poetry or prose (as long as they’re 400 words or fewer, of course).

We can’t wait to see what you guys come up with!

Brief Encounter: I’ll Tremble If You Like

by Treehouse Editors

Timothy Stewart Johnson

Mitchell stands before the fireplace spinning the cylinder in his father’s revolver. Mark and I sit before him on the sofa trying to telepathically communicate a plan to save ourselves, but fear blocks our brainwaves and we sit quietly, waiting to die.

“I’ve decided not to become a composer. I’ve decided to be a murderer, and I have someone picked out.” He keeps us pinned with the gun.

“Tim, you’re not trembling. I bet you’d tremble if I shot Mark.” I will tremble if you like, I say, lying. He cocks the hammer and points the gun at Mark’s face. We see the little gray bullets in their cylinders.

Click.

He blows imaginary smoke off the barrel. “The old empty chamber routine,” he says, smiling broadly. Still I don’t tremble.

We hear the crunch of tires in the driveway. Mitchell puts the gun in his pocket and he and Mark walk out the front door. They smile and say, “Hi, Mom and Dad.” Everyone calls my folks Mom and Dad, and they have no idea they are being patronized. I help unload the station wagon. Later, Mark comes back alone. “He was just fucking with us,” he says.

As the bus passes the school the next morning, I see Mitchell standing by a side door, hand inside his coat, waiting anxiously to kill Terry Payne, for she has decided not to be his girlfriend. I run from the bus to the parking lot to tell someone, but no one cares. Joints are being passed around, and I end up getting stoned.

An hour later, I come out of gym class and see a parade of police cars rolling down the street in slow motion. From the back of the last one, Mitchell flashes me the peace sign.

I am called to the office and asked what I knew and when I knew it. No one ever asks me why I didn’t tell anyone. I think they know. It’s because they are grownups and they are not to be trusted. We handle our business, they handle theirs.

The hives and the diarrhea keep me out of school for two weeks. Mark discovers heroin, and Mitchell is placed in an institution to be cured. Still I do not tremble, for it is not my way.


Timothy Stewart Johnson survived the 1960s with little more than some minor cuts and bruises and now works as a writer and designer in corporate marketing.

Brief Encounter: The Treachery of Text Messages

by Treehouse Editors

Brian Erickson

there is (or was)
a fine line between being
“available” and “too available”

made finer by the filter
of text
labored over, smirked at, refined
and made finer;

outcomes thought out,
predictions resigned,
no response needed;

but if one comes, in time?

unheeded you write back
to where
you
began


Bored and raised in New Jersey, Brian Erickson began making films in high school and continued his studies at NYU, where he focused on writing and directing, thus sparing the world from his “acting.” Recently, ideas that aren’t quite stories or screenplays have sprung to mind, so he has begun writing them, rekindling his fondness for poetry. You can view some of his work on Vimeo (https://vimeo.com/brianerickson).

Brief Encounter: Silently

by Treehouse Editors

Doug Hoekstra

Last time a homeless man asked me for money, it was by the St Francis Hotel in San Francisco, where Fatty Arbuckle’s career ended. Buster Keaton stayed true to his friend, and I thought of Buster as I folded a Franklin and dropped it into the man’s upturned pork pie hat. The bill landed softly over scattered change, covering it like a newspaper blanket. The man quietly nodded his thanks.

“That was a bit much,” my cousin said, as we continued walking. “What if he spends it on drugs? Or worse?” he added, snapping his words like chewing gum.

My cousin had never given me a gift that he didn’t follow up on, asking if I’d played it, read it, or wore it, dependent.

“What if he does?” I said. “It was a gift, he can do whatever he likes. Maybe it’s what he needs right now.”

I wondered what “worse” could be, as we turned the corner and passed the storefront where Tippi Hedren met Rod Taylor at the pet store in The Birds. Something apocalyptic? Seemed like the man was already in a state of worse.

“That’s funny coming from you,” he added, eager to emphasize the fact that I was a teetotaler, since he was not. My cousin was a bricklayer, I taught schoolchildren; he hunted venison, I was a vegetarian; he wore MAGA hats while I raged against the machine. For him, it was always competition.

As we passed the Bay Area Mindfulness Center, the sun shimmered over the China Basin, just past where we were about to take in a Giants game, the last remaining link to our childhood. I thought of Buster again and the baseball scene in The Camerman. No words, just action. Pure genius. The silent movies were the best.


Doug Hoekstra is a Chicago-bred, Nashville-based writer. His first book, Bothering the Coffee Drinkers, appeared on the Canopic Publishing (TN) imprint in April 2006 and earned an Independent Publisher Award (IPPY) for Best Short Fiction (Bronze Medal). Several of the selections in the book appeared in other publications, and one story, “The Blarney Stone,” was nominated for a 2006 Pushcart Prize. Other stories and poems of his have appeared in numerous online and print literary journals and a second book of prose, The Tenth Inning, was released independently in 2015.

Brief Encounter: I Could Never Do a Cartwheel

by Treehouse Editors

Katie Miller

I imagine it feels like this: a single step off a ledge, a free fall so fast you forget to hold your breath.

*

I’m not saying that doing a cartwheel is the same thing as making a bad decision, but I am saying that I’ve never been able to do either, and I just think that maybe the two deficiencies are not unrelated.

As a kid, I’d watch my friends’ bodies slice through the air, all ease and stretched-out limbs. You just sort of—well, you just sort of kick your feet over your head, they’d tell me, brushing the dirt off their palms as they landed back on their feet as though seconds before they hadn’t been upside down, head inches from the ground. You just kick, let your body follow. Let go.

My body swollen with a pent-up energy that I’m only now beginning to recognize as a lifetime’s worth of accumulated indecision, I’d start the lunge. I’d fold myself sideways, tentatively palm the warm grass, repeat to myself: just kick just kick don’t think everyone can do a cartwheel you can do a cartwheel just let go. Before I could even plant my second hand on the ground, though, the inevitable self-conscious hesitation—potent, physical, this hesitation would seep through my body, settle into my stomach and weigh down my arms and legs like lead until I crumpled to the lawn, motionless.

*

Maybe it’s no surprise, then, that I’ve never made a real bad decision—one of those willed, eyes-squeezed-shut-to-the-inevitable-fallout risks that you might talk about only years later, in a dimly-lit dive bar, maybe, head bowed over a beer as you tell a stranger about this one time, when. Because if I could never trust myself enough to let go for a cartwheel—the simple one-two kick, a rotation guaranteed to deliver me back to solid ground—there is certainly no chance that I could risk a fall with no bottom, a somersault through the air sure to deliver me, battered, to some different reality. A reality in which I’m left aching, sore for the assurance of solid ground.

*

But still, I close my eyes sometimes and imagine I can hear wind whistling through my ears. I imagine that for just a moment, I don’t think about the bruises that will line my shins when I hit the ground: I’m here, suspended, weightless.


Katie Miller lives and works in Tucson, Arizona.

New BE Prompt: Willful Bad Decisions

by Treehouse Editors

The new writing prompt for our next round of Brief Encounters submissions is: Willful Bad Decisions!

Ever done something that you knew was a bad idea, but went ahead and did anyway? The text you shouldn’t have sent, the job you shouldn’t have quit, or the hornets’ nest you shouldn’t have kicked? Send us your super-short (400 words or less) pieces on the theme of red flags deliberately ignored. For more information about Brief Encounters, see our submission guidelines. We can’t wait to read your good, short writing!

 

Brief Encounter: Jenny’s Dead

by Treehouse Editors

Eugene Schottenfeld

Jenny’s death was the best thing that ever happened to me. I even threw a party with my few remaining friends to celebrate it. I was grateful for them, but it was hard seeing how many people had abandoned me because they preferred Jenny. Even my own parents hated me for killing her, their precious daughter.

I tried to explain to them that Jenny was the one who’d been killing me first. How Jenny had controlled my every movement, how she had made me feel broken and ashamed and so very alone. For years, I cried myself to sleep, just from picturing her long blonde hair and perfect makeup and bodycon dresses. One night, I’d decided it had to be me or her, and, well, what person wouldn’t put himself first?

So I planned how to kill her, bit by bit, so nobody would notice until it was too late. I started with the makeup and the tight-fitting dresses; easy enough, with boyfriend jeans and hipster flannel shirts in style. Next I attacked her hair with scissors, chopping it off in huge heavy chunks. My roommate got mad at me for clogging the sink, but she was pretty supportive otherwise. Then came the injections and the knife, the long cuts hacking away pieces of her flesh, beautiful scars replacing her ugly breasts.

After that, just the courthouse remained. It was the scariest day of my life; what if the judge thought the same way my parents did, and punished me for killing Jenny? But my lawyer convinced him to declare Jenny dead and me alive. The judge even wished me luck.

Now I just needed to get rid of the last traces of her. I stood under the big “Goodbye Jenny” banner my girlfriend had put up, and got a small bonfire going. Watching her makeup and clothes burn made me feel bad for a moment. Jenny had made my life a living hell, but part of me still missed her. She’d been with me so long, after all.
I pulled out her license from my wallet. My eyes lingered on her picture and her name before I threw it in. As it turned to ash, my nostalgia did too, replaced with relief.

My girlfriend hugged me and handed me my new license.
“Congratulations on your transition, James.”


Eugene Schottenfeld is an emerging writer, recent law school graduate, and classically trained musician. He currently lives in Brooklyn with his fiancé.