Inspired by the romantic, edgy, sultry, mysterious artwork of Robert McGinnis, I have been crafting very short stories to go with his images.

Born in 1926, McGinnis is known for illustrating over 40 movie posters (including Breakfast at Tiffany’s and several James Bond films) and over 1,200 paperback books. For more on him, visit his official website: robertmcginnis.com


Check back to this page, as I post new Tiny Stories on a regular basis.

FOR THE GOOD OF THE FAMILY

Damn, she was bored. Daddy has ushered her through the clinic’s secret back door to an empty waiting room and now there was nothing to do. Daddy was somewhere behind the “Staff Only” door talking with the doctor about her. Daddy went all kinds of restricted places, because he was a powerful and important man. They hadn’t invited her back there, because it was a man’s job to figure out a woman’s place.

What was the procedure called again? She couldn’t remember. Words were often getting mixed up in her head, especially when she tried to read them. It was like the letters leapfrogged over each other until they didn’t make a word anymore. Just a big scramble. She was twenty-three years old, yet recently she’d overhead Mother telling an aunt that she had the reading level of a fourth grader. What a thing to say! She knew she wasn’t as bright as her little sister Kick, but she wasn’t an imbecile for goodness sakes.

Daddy had told her the procedure would make her feel better… calmer and happier. She wouldn’t be prone to fits anymore. That would be nice, sure, but maybe she wouldn’t be prone to fits in the first place if Daddy and Mother weren’t always displeased with her. Sometimes they said it with words and sometimes they said it with pursed lips and heavy sighs. Sometimes Mother hit her with a ruler or coat hanger, as if she were still an unruly child. They wanted her to be charming like Jack and strong like Joe, not sensitive and curious and boy-crazy.  What was so wrong with kissing though? She liked soft lips and soft words. It was one of the only times that she felt good enough.

Suddenly, the “Staff Only” door swung open and a nurse stood there, smiling warmly. Even though there were no other patients in the secret waiting room, the nurse addressed her by her full name. “Rosemary Kennedy,” she said. “Are you ready?”

Yes, she was. Rosemary stood and squared her shoulders. Just as she was about to ask the nurse what today’s procedure was called, the rascally word wormed its way up from a hidden chamber in her brain. A lobotomy.

……..…..
Tiny Story by Hallie Shepherd (inspired by historical events)
Artwork by Robert McGinnis

PUMA CAT

As Anna swayed to the music, she saw the bodyguard staring at her. In her mind, she named him Blue Shirt. She smiled at Blue Shirt and spun away toward the bar. This was part one of the plan.

At the bar, Anna ordered a plain soda. She was on a mission tonight, and women on missions couldn’t have drunk, muddled brains.

Anna settled into a booth near Blue Shirt, and as she sipped her pretend cocktail, she laughed inside. How silly to have a large man guarding a locked office door. These people, they were so thick. They thought they could stop what was going to happen tonight with muscles and guns and ego.

After a bit, Anna went to Blue Shirt and asked him in a slightly slurry voice where the bathroom was. He pointed her down the hallway and she touched his arm as she thanked him. Part two of the plan. As she walked to the bathroom, she passed the fire alarm.

It was another hour of waiting before Gus Salvo arrived, flanked by three bodyguards. Gus had greasy hair, a stick-out belly, and thick sausage fingers. He walked like a god and talked like a fucking idiot. Anna watched Blue Shirt unlock the office, and Gus slipped inside.

The three other guards dispersed, and Anna waited for her opportunity. It finally came when a group of women stumbled toward the bathroom in a laughing group. She fell into step beside them, and with them as her shield, she pulled the fire alarm. Part three.

Patrons in the bar moved toward the front door exit, but Anna instead rushed toward Blue Shirt. She feigned confusion and said, “Oh dear, oh dear!” Blue Shirt gave her an assessing look – just another silly drunk – and he unlocked the office door. “Sir, let’s go,” he said to Gus Salvo. Part four.

And that’s how Anna found herself being whisked down a back hallway with Blue Shirt and Gus Salvo himself. Gus probably thought he was going to rape her just like he had her sister Rhea. But would he kill her like he had Rhea?

Anna wasn’t herself anymore as she trailed Blue Shirt and Gus down the dark hallway. No, she was a puma cat ready to pounce. She was a tigress and she was a sorceress and she was the moral of the story.

In the parking lot, Blue Shirt went toward the parked black SUVs and Anna reached under her dress and removed the switchblade from under her garter. Part five. The final part.

Anna didn’t even take a breath before she flicked it open exactly like she’d practiced so many times in her living room. She just turned on Gus Salvo, and began stabbing, stabbing, stabbing into his chest. She stabbed at him with two years of built-up grief and obsession and anger. She stabbed at him because she was the jury, judge, and executioner. She stabbed at him because he deserved a death even worse than stabbing, but this was the best she could do. She aimed for the heart and blood sprayed onto her cream dress as she hit it.

It felt like minutes but it had to be only seconds before Blue Shirt shouted something and Anna took off running. She was still the puma cat, and she ran faster than she ever had in her life. She knew Blue Shirt would catch her, but that didn’t matter. She’d come here tonight willing to pay any price. And as she made her escape with her puma cat legs and sorceress wings, Anna realized it was the first time since Rhea had been murdered that she’d felt truly happy. Gus Salvo was dead and something in the world had finally been made right. Oh, Rhea, she thought. We did it.

………………….
Tiny Story by Hallie Shepherd
Artwork by Robert McGinnis

 

THE STAR

Rita had grown up under the flickering lights of Jersey City. Mama had been a dancer in one of those casino groups that was long legs and glittering sequins and alluring smiles. When Rita had watched Mama dance, the messes of school had faded away. No more ‘D’ in math. No more shoes with duct tape. No more bullying.

At eighteen, Rita left Jersey City for Las Vegas. She wanted her name in lights – a show of her own. First though, there was waitressing, housecleaning, and topless dancing. She told Mama that she’d fly her to Vegas soon to see her perform in a big show. But “soon” turned into months turned into years.

Then finally, Rita landed a job as a backup singer and dancer at the Sands Casino for Danny Thomas. Three weeks later, Mama called with terrible news. Stage four cancer. Mama wanted to come to Vegas now and see the show.

That night, Rita lay in bed and wept. She wept for Mama’s pain, she wept for the coming grief, and she wept because Mama would never see Rita’s name in lights. The next day, Rita drove to the airport. Mama, who used to kick her leg above her head, now walked slow and labored.

At that night’s show, Rita’s anxiety melted away as the joy of performing overtook her soul. A half hour in, she felt pin pricks of nerves in her chest. The part where she sang a duet with Danny for two verses was coming. It was a minor part of the show, but it was her big moment. So Rita sang that night like she was on mountaintops. When the duet finished, there was a burst of applause. It was Mama in the second row, on her feet clapping. And then the most extraordinary thing happened. Others rose to their feet and began to clap and cheer. Perhaps it was just human nature, to follow another’s lead, but that didn’t matter. Rita beamed and took a bow.

Mama would die three weeks later. Rita would dance and sing backup for another thirty years. The standing ovation that night would be the only one of her career. On Rita’s death bed, she would fondly remember that night with Mama. Rita never got her name in lights, but that didn’t mean that she wasn’t the star of her own show.

………….
Tiny Story by Hallie Shepherd
Artwork by Robert McGinnis

 

IF ANYTHING HAPPENS TO ME (Part 2 of 2)

Gayle was supposed to keep watch, but she figured it would look suspicious if she were found lingering in an empty hallway. So she entered a room next to the study and discovered a lonely little wet bar with dusty alcohol bottles. She poured a drink and sat down facing the hallway.

What could be in that ledger? For two weeks, Gayle had been offering Roger casseroles in an attempt to gain entry into the house, but Roger had always thanked her at the door and sent her on her way. She hoped the blonde neighbor lady found the ledger quickly.

After minutes of breathless waiting, Gayle heard footsteps and her heart about leapt out of her chest as Roger passed by the open door.“Oh, Roger!” Gayle called out, and he skidded to a halt. He entered the room and said, “I was wondering what was taking you and Regina so long.”

Over Roger’s shoulder, Gayle saw Regina exit the study. The clasp on Regina’s purse wasn’t quite closed; something was stuffed inside of it. The click-click of Regina’s heels on the marble floor gave her away, and Roger turned. Regina froze, the color draining from her face.

“Oh dear, Roger,” Gayle said. “She looks absolutely peaked, doesn’t she? Poor Regina is sick. Female problems, mind you.”

And so that’s how the two women ditched the party, under the guise of Gayle helping Regina home. At Regina’s house, they scoured the ledger for an hour, searching for clues hidden in numbers and dates and notes. Just as they were feeling the weight of defeat, a folded piece of paper fell from the ledger.

Gayle read it aloud: “If you are reading this, I’m surely dead. That’s the bad news. But the good news is I know where you can find my body. Roger owns a piece of timber property. There’s a tiny cabin in the woods, and he always said if he killed me, he’d hide my body at the bottom of the defunct well near the cabin. Go to the cops. Thank you. All my love, Alana.”

Gayle reached for Regina, and they held each other as they cried.

……….
Tiny Story by Hallie Shepherd
Artwork by Robert McGinnis

 

IF ANYTHING HAPPENS TO ME (Part 1 of 2)

Regina had been next door neighbors with Alana Bezos for eight years. One morning Regina awoke and saw through her window that police officers were coming and going from the Bezos house. Alana had gone grocery shopping the day before and had never returned. Or so Alana’s husband Roger said.

But Regina knew something the cops didn’t. In recent months, Alana had confided that behind closed doors, Roger was controlling and occasionally violent.

Alana had said, “Listen, Regina, if anything happens to me, you need to find a navy, leather-bound ledger in Roger’s study. I hid it in the bookshelves.”

Regina had responded with alarm: “What do you mean – if anything happens to you?!”

Regina had tried to convince Alana to leave Roger that instant, but Alana wouldn’t discuss it. Instead, she said that Regina would need to find the ledger before telling anyone – even the police – what Alana had told her about Roger.

So tonight, Regina was at the Bezos house. Alana had been missing only two weeks and Roger had the gall to throw a dinner party. He’d invited Regina and even though the thought of being there without Alana made her feel sick, Regina knew this was her chance.

During the meal, Regina excused herself to use the bathroom. As she walked down the hallway, the voices in the dining room faded away. With a quick glance, she slipped into the study. She’d never been inside this room before, and now she found herself facing an entire wall of bookshelves. Good Lord.

Regina moved to the shelves. Where would Alana have hidden it?! It would take Regina forever to look behind and in between every single book. And that’s when she heard the approaching footsteps. Before she could even react, the door swung open. It was the tall redhead she’d just met tonight; some woman Alana had known from the gym. Regina and the woman stared at each for several moments, neither one speaking. And that’s when Regina knew. “Are you looking for a book?” she asked quietly.

The woman nodded slowly and then said, “Yes, I prefer leather-bound ones.” Regina exhaled and replied, “I’ll search and you keep watch.”

……….
Tiny Story by Hallie Shepherd
Artwork by Robert McGinnis

 

UNFINISHED BUSINESS

Jackie felt a tight sensation in her right calf, and she reached underneath the covers to massage it. How the hell could a person get a leg cramp just sitting there? She’d been on top of that bed, knees pulled to her chest for a good fifteen minutes, maybe more. Perhaps she was holding tension in her body from the anticipation… But now her mind was beginning to spin. Was Ted not going to show?

Five months ago, Jackie had been thrilled to receive the wedding invitation to Hannah Morry’s wedding. A destination event at a Victorian lodge. The plan was for all of the old college friends to arrive on Friday night for the rehearsal dinner. At the time, only one thing had dominated Jackie’s mind: Ted.

Jackie and Ted had unfinished business. Making out twice in the dorms, drunk off Tequila, was not the end of their story as far as Jackie was concerned. There were more chapters to write. It’d been six years since graduation, but Ted still floated in and out of her mind.

Earlier in the evening, Jackie and Ted had been flirting and dancing at the rehearsal dinner. They had fallen back on their old inside jokes, but this time, there was something else there too. An adult attraction that felt deep and sensual. As things had begun to wind down, Jackie had said to him, “I’ll be in my room.” She was pretty sure her implied invitation had been pretty clear. But now twenty minutes had gone by and no Ted. Maybe he thought she had just been simply informing him of her whereabouts, as in, “I’ll be in my room reading a book. Good night!”

Jackie was sick and tired now of sitting there in a negligee in a pose that she imagined to look coquettish but maybe just looked ridiculous. Maybe she’d always been ridiculous. Maybe it had always been the Tequila and nothing more. She swung her legs over the side of the bed and stood, stretching out her calf with the damn cramp.

And that’s when she heard a light knock on the door. Her breath caught, and then she cleared her throat and asked, “Yes?” Through the door she heard Ted’s muffled voice say, “It’s me.” And Jackie forgot all about the leg cramp.

……….
Tiny Story by Hallie Shepherd
Artwork by Robert McGinnis

 

THE SHOW MUST GO ON

The show is a disaster. Karl saved money for twenty-two years so he could open his own theatre, and now this one bad show is going to take it under. He is going to be laughed out of town. All because he took a chance on a no-name actress and gave her the lead in the first play he ever produced.

Two hours ago, no-name actress showed up to the theatre high on something. By the time Karl realized she was tripping on drugs, it was already a full house. Opening night, for Godsakes. And you know what they say: The show must go on.

So now, Karl takes a drag of his cigarette and looks at his watch. Seven more minutes of intermission. Seven more minutes before he will have to go back inside and listen to the audience laugh at his precious adaptation of The Misfits, which is meant to be a serious piece about loss, aging, and human fragility. But his actress who is playing the role that Marilyn Monroe portrayed in the movie has been alternating all night between moments of clarity and moments of slurring her words.

Suddenly, the door opens and a brunette steps into the alley. Just great. It’s the woman from the paper. When she sees Karl, her face lights up: “Well, hello! I’m Jessica Riley from the Times.” And then she starts to giggle, and Karl feels himself shrink inside.

Through her laughter, she says, “It took me a few minutes to understand the depth of what you were doing but once I did, I thought, brilliant.” Karl leans closer, trying to make sense of her words as she continues, “I’ve always been a fan of satire. I appreciate that you also made it a tragic reflection into what happened to Marilyn Monroe in her later life. The actress you cast – she captures Marilyn’s charm and sexuality but embodies her later deterioration too. It’s the best show I’ve seen this year!”

With that, the woman goes back inside. Alone in the alley, Karl takes a shaky drag from his cigarette and realizes two things. One, he is not going to be laughed out of town. And two, he needs to figure out how to make sure his actress gets high as a kite before every show.

……….

Tiny Story by Hallie Shepherd
Artwork by Robert McGinnis

 

JOY RIDE

Once upon a time, Shelly had been a fourteen year old girl who’d needed cash for a summer of movies, fast food, and days at the lake. So she’d spent three months looking after headstrong Gregory Adkins every Tuesday and Thursday. He liked to catch frogs and climb trees and play video games.

Now, eight years later, Shelly was home from college for spring break, and she was at the grocery store when a young man in the aisle smiled at her. Little Gregory Adkins! Except Gregory wasn’t so little anymore… They laughed and greeted each other, and then he told her with charming pride, “I just bought my own car! It’s parked out front.” And Shelly replied, “This, I have to see.”

So that’s how Shelly ended up in the passenger seat of Gregory Adkins’ Camaro. As he accelerated onto the country highway, Shelly studied his face and tried to figure out why the hell she wanted to kiss him so badly. How old was he anyhow? Well, at least sixteen if he was driving. Finally she asked, “Have you graduated yet?” and he responded, “Two more months.” She tried to sound casual as she asked, “So you’re… seventeen?” And then she tried not to smile when he replied, “Eighteen.”

Shelly had never been with any boy who was younger than her, but there was something enticing about Gregory. Was it weird to want to do things with a grown-up version of the little rascal she used to bark orders at? Because God, she still wanted to order him around. But in a very different way now.

When the lake came into view, Shelly told him to go there. Five years ago, this is where the kids went to make out. She wondered if Gregory had a girlfriend and she was about to ask but then realized she didn’t really care. Shelly was home for a week and then she’d be gone anyway. So she told him to park near the empty boat launch.

Shelly sat quietly until he killed the ignition and then she asked, “How do you feel about kissing your babysitter?” Without missing a beat, Gregory replied, “I feel like I waited eight years to do it.”

……….

Tiny Story by Hallie Shepherd
Artwork by Robert McGinnis

 

FOLKLORE

The story would go down in history as something that the husbands orchestrated and the wives went along with. There would be small town whispers about too much alcohol and indecent morals. An entire decade would pass with a hundred thousand raised eyebrows, a million judgments masquerading as Christian concern, and a heavy feeling of tsk-tsk-tsk. And then another decade, and another, until one day at the tavern, a grizzled old man would ask, “Remember when…?” and everyone at the table would wonder if there was a truth to be remembered at all or if it was just folklore.

But I’ll tell you the truth: Layla was restless, and she’d always been attracted to Vicky’s husband. And Vicky was disappointed that she’d been unable to conceive a baby. She felt like she was sitting at the bottom of a swimming pool. And Fran had always been up for a good time. She’d been a party girl in high school and now she missed running on the train tracks while drunk.

So it was Layla who went to Vicky’s house and posed the idea, but surprisingly Vicky said she was up for it. And so the two women phoned Fran. At first Fran just laughed, but when she realized they were serious, she said, “Oh. My. God. Yes!”

So let’s be clear: It was never the husbands’ idea. It was the wives from inception to completion, no matter how many townspeople remember otherwise. But really, what exactly are they remembering? They certainly weren’t there to see Layla pull the car keys belonging to Vicky’s husband and subsequently end up disappointed by a lukewarm encounter after she’d built up a fantasy in her mind for years. And they weren’t there to see Vicky find a passion inside herself she forgot existed. And they definitely weren’t there when Fran cried in the bathroom later that night as feelings of guilt and jealousy washed over her.

The townspeople don’t know a thing about that night. But they all assume that the husbands got wild and unruly, and the drunk wives caved in and agreed against their better judgment. But let’s get real… that’s rarely how these key parties go.

…………

Tiny Story by Hallie Shepherd
Artwork by Robert McGinnis

 

DARKNESS

She always went walking alone at night, her quiet thoughts her sole companion. This was when she wasn’t required to smile for anyone.  This was when sometimes the pressure in her throat started to ease. But this was also when she remembered. And with those memories came the tears. Because even on her best days, it was a heavy feeling deep in her bones. A sadness that made it hard to swallow without feeling as though she would choke on her own tongue.

On these nocturnal journeys she would pass by the other estates, pretty and lit up from the inside. From the darkness, she got a glimpse into the private lives of these neighbors she’d cordially spoken to her entire life but didn’t really know, and then she’d wonder: Behind that laugh, what did that man feel scraping on his brain? Underneath that beautiful dress, did that woman have a soul that was caving in on itself?

Usually, she made herself turn around when she reached the apple orchard, but on her most desperate nights she forged ahead another mile. On those nights, she found herself standing outside the estate of William Hartley. The man she loved. Five weeks ago, she had seen him sitting in a chair by the window and when he had turned his face into profile, she could see him smiling and talking to some unseen person in the room. Three weeks ago, she had seen him pass in front of the window carrying a coffee cup. And last night, she had seen him kiss his wife.

So today at the apple orchard, she turned back for home. Because there was a limit to how much damage her heart could handle.

……….

Tiny Story by Hallie Shepherd
Artwork by Robert McGinnis

 

DEATH DEFYING

The audience members shade their eyes from the sun as they watch the beautiful performer in the white swimsuit climb the ladder. Every so often the performer pauses to look down, in shock to find the ground so far below. Midway up the ladder, she closes her eyes for a good three seconds, then takes a breath. With shaky legs, she continues upward to the platform at the top, which sits fifty feet above a deep pool of water.

The year is 1924 and carnival performers have been diving horses since the 1880s, but no one in the audience has ever seen the spectacle nor even heard of a woman doing such a thing. One of the men lights up a cigarette, because he has the most uneasy feeling that he’s about to witness something horrible. When the performer’s foot slips off one of the ladder rungs, he sucks hard on his cigarette while those around him gasp and murmur. As the performer regains her footing, a woman in a brown trench coat turns to her husband and says, “Good Lord, I hope we aren’t about to witness this poor lady’s death.”

This poor lady – known by her friends as Hazel – reaches the top and steps onto the platform. To her right is a steep, narrow ramp that leads to the ground where her horse Sunny waits. To her left is a wooden bench, which will put her at the perfect height to grab Sunny as he gallops past. Hazel climbs onto the bench and turns to the audience to give a final wave before anxiously wiping her hands down her swimsuit as if her palms are sweaty.

Of course, the truth is, Hazel’s palms aren’t sweaty at all. She just likes to build tension in the audience, so they appreciate the stunt even more.

As the trainer below releases Sunny and she hears his pounding hooves coming up the ramp and sees his wild mane flowing, Hazel feels alive. The ten seconds that the entire spectacle takes is the ten seconds in life that she is most herself. As Sunny reaches her, Hazel leaps onto his back and grabs hold of his mane. And for several magical moments, she is flying and she is free. Splash!

……….

Tiny Story by Hallie Shepherd
Artwork by Robert McGinnis

 

SIGHT FOR SORE EYES

By the time Rita has finished towel drying herself after her bath, she knows that she wants to make love to her husband Thomas. While it would be more economical to simply walk into the living room completely naked, Rita instead puts on her black panties so he’ll feel the lace, her strappy heels so he’ll hear the sound on the tiles, and her favorite perfume so he’ll inhale her spicy entrance.

Thomas is in the living room reading the Sunday paper, and he doesn’t pause in his reading when Rita enters the room with a click-click-click. But she sees his nose twitch as it picks up the perfume scent and he tries not to smile. He’s wearing his old black framed glasses. He always tells Rita that he does it to make her laugh and because he knows that she thinks he looks handsome in glasses. But Rita suspects it’s more than that. She thinks Thomas likes the weight of the frames on the bridge of his nose as a reminder of days past… back when everything was easier.

Rita stands before Thomas, and he asks in an innocuous voice, “What do you feel like doing for dinner, honey?” He’s still pretending to read the paper, but she can tell by the uneven way his fingers are moving across the Braille letters that he’s not reading a thing.

“Look at me, Thomas,” she says. Slowly, he sets aside the paper and reaches out his hands until they find the black lace, because that is how he looks at her – with his sense of sound, smell, and touch. And now, there’s only one last sense to give him. Rita kneels in front of the chair and his lips taste hers. After several lush moments of kissing, Thomas pulls back and says, “You look absolutely beautiful.”

……….

Tiny Story by Hallie Shepherd
Artwork by Robert McGinnis

 

LITTLE RED DRESS

At the end of her waitressing shift, Sandra dashed out of the Fried Friends of the Sea Diner. As she hustled to catch the number three bus, she grabbed a handful of hair and pulled it to her nose. Ugh, grease. Sandra’s perfume was in her backpack and once she got into her little red dress, she’d dab on extra to ensure that no one at the party would notice.

Sandra rode the number three to the dry cleaners, paid thirteen bucks, and carried the dress on its wire hanger in its plastic wrap nine blocks to the Hyatt Hotel. She could hardly believe that she was about to attend “the holiday party of the year.” She’d only been given an invite because some high society couple had backed their Porsche over her bicycle and felt badly about it.

Inside the Hyatt’s powder room, Sandra removed her dress from the plastic and froze. It looked so… small. With a feeling of dread, Sandra squeezed herself into the dress and discovered that yes, it was much shorter and it was much tighter around her bust. The dry cleaners had shrunk it.

Everything inside Sandra turned from fairy dust to rotten pumpkins. There would be no fancy party for her. She was just the waitress at the fish fry. Sandra wanted to collapse onto the nearby chair, except the dress was so short that her bare skin would touch the leather, and she didn’t trust chairs in bathrooms. Even fancy bathrooms. She yanked her work shirt out of her backpack and tied it around her waist before she sat.

Ten minutes later, Sandra was still sulking when two women in lovely black dresses entered. The shorter one saw Sandra and stopped, saying, “See, Helen! That’s what I mean. If only we were taller, we could wear a dress like that and be legs for days. She pulls it off six ways to Sunday.” And the friend nodded in agreement, and the two women continued into the bathroom.

After several long moments, Sandra stood up, removed the old work shirt from her waist, and squared her shoulders. She was going to this party. Because dammit, those women were right: She was legs for days and six ways to Sunday.

……….

Tiny Story by Hallie Shepherd
Artwork by Robert McGinnis

 

DESIRE

“We shouldn’t be here,” she whispered.
“I know,” he echoed.
Only one more button and she would be able to shimmy her dress over her hips. One more button and they would be unable to ever go back. This was the defining line in Before and After.
She rested her hand on his shoulder and leaned into him. He inhaled the scent of her. They stayed like that for several moments.
“I don’t want anyone to get hurt,” she said.
“Me either. We’ll be careful.”
“I don’t want us to fall in love with each other.”
A long moment passed before he quietly said, “Maybe we should stop.”
She looked up at him. It wasn’t a soft and clever form of seduction. He meant it. They could be careful and they could be smart, but they couldn’t be certain they wouldn’t fall in love.
But looking in his eyes, she knew the answer. She would rather fall in love and die a million tiny deaths secretly in her heart than not feel this right now.
“Undo the next button,” she told him.

……….

Tiny Story by Hallie Shepherd
Artwork by Robert McGinnis

 

DICEY

The Big Boss thought that Lenora was a complete idiot. He thought she didn’t understand his bookie talk and his coded mobster speak. He was convinced her boobs were bigger than her brain. (Much to her delight, she’d actually overhead him say those very words).

But the Big Boss was wrong on all counts. The average human brain weighed 3 pounds and Lenora’s bra size was barely a 34B (she just liked to wear push-ups). And for the last two weeks, while she’d been wandering the Big Boss’s back offices of the casino in a seemingly ditzy trance, she’d actually been paying attention. Last week, she’d sat atop his desk running her fingernails on his neck while he’d typed in the passwords to three of his bank accounts. And yesterday, she’d watched him spin the dial to unlock his safe while she sipped a mojito and giggled.

So who was the real idiot? Because now here she was, all alone inside his office while he smoked outside with his buddy. And so she spun the safe 55-13-32 and that warm stack of cash went straight into her purse. Back when Lenora had been a teenager sneaking out of the house, her mother had told her she’d amount to nothing. Now she wanted to say, “Look at me now, Mama.” Because next, Lenora planned to go back to her apartment, clean out the Boss’s bank accounts, then leave town – six hundred thousand dollars richer.

But just as she was shutting the safe, she heard the men returning. Damn!  As they entered, she hopped onto the roulette table and gave them her best doe eyes. The Boss smiled at his buddy and said, “Isn’t she something?”

“She don’t look too smart,” the buddy replied (inwardly, she corrected “doesn’t), “But she’s pretty enough to play around with.” And right then and there, Lenora’s plans changed. She wasn’t leaving town tonight after all. No, sir, she was not going to leave town until she’d taken the Big Boss’s buddy for all he was worth too. Because men that talked like that about women needed to learn a lesson.  So she smiled and cooed, “I like to play.”

……….

Tiny Story by Hallie Shepherd
Artwork by Robert McGinnis

 

 

HOMECOMING

Shannon stood alone on the hot, dusty street of her small Texas town, her heart thumping in her throat. Underneath her skirt, she could feel her thighs stick together. She’d wanted to look nice for him, but now she just felt sweaty and wilting, more so from anticipation than the actual heat.

Because any minute the bus would turn onto Main street and her old flame, Gabe, would finally be back after five long years in the North Dakota oil fields.  Last week, his mother had told Shannon that he was coming home because he’d had enough of the loneliness and the uneasy feeling of tearing up the Earth day after day.

Shannon didn’t know how it would be between them now. Once upon a time, they’d been madly in love, but maybe that was just two eighteen-year-old kids high on a whole bunch of firsts. Initially after their parting, there had been handwritten letters, but then she’d met another young man or two, and he’d had a handful of lady friends, and their bright and shining love had dwindled down to memories.

So now, when the bus finally pulled down Main and came to a stop in front of her, Shannon held her breath until Gabe appeared in the door. He raised his eyebrows as though surprised to see her, but the truth was, his mother had told him that Shannon would be there.

Gabe gave a friendly, “Well,  hello there!” as he ambled over to her, and Shannon smiled and returned the greeting. When he reached her, they just stood in front of one another for several long moments, taking in each other’s faces as if remembering a song they used to know by heart. Shannon could feel the melody floating in her chest, and Gabe could feel the drumbeat deep in his soul.

And so finally, their lips met. Who moved first? It was impossible to know, because it was a magnetic pull more than a choice or action. It was just the truth of what was always going to happen today. She was still his, and he was still hers, and their song had never stopped playing.

……….

Tiny Story by Hallie Shepherd
Artwork by Robert McGinnis

 

DEAR HARRY

Oh God, Caroline never should have married Harry. His rich and snobby friends all said she’d married him three years ago for his money. They didn’t think she heard their whisperings but sometimes at these awful pool parties, she stood inside the coat closet to calm herself, and she heard all kinds of things. What those people didn’t understand is what it felt like to sleep inside a car or wake up so hungry that you chewed a piece of gum in the middle of the night because it was the only thing you could find to occupy your mouth. They’d never experienced anything like it and had no idea of her destitute origins. Well, she was tired of being Harry’s dirty, little secret. And she was tired of him complimenting her bikini in front of his friends in a way that felt less like a compliment and more like a declaration of ownership. Sometimes he’d even squeeze her bum and the men would chuckle in appreciation. Harry was always squeezing her and she was always trying not to visibly shy away.

But she was leaving Harry today. This very instant. She would write him a goodbye note, pack a bag of clothes and canned foods, and drive away in her car. She’d sleep inside it if she had to and she’d chew gum if it was all she had, but she could no longer bear being tired and hungry in a way that had nothing to do with sleepless nights or empty cupboards and had everything to do with her soul.

Caroline sat down at Harry’s desk in his empty study, pen in hand, faintly aware of the sound of laughter outside by the pool. She tried to think of what to write to explain why she was never coming back. It took many minutes, but finally she settled on the most honest thing she’d ever said to him: “Every single day, I go into the bathroom, run the water, and cry into a damp washcloth so you won’t hear me.”

……….

Tiny Story by Hallie Shepherd
Artwork by Robert McGinnis

 

CAPTIVE

Her pulse leapt at the sound of the hammer on the gun clicking back. She knew he’d done it to unnerve her, just so she’d hear it echo through the barn. It’d been several minutes since he’d tied her up and left her alone behind the hay bales. Since then, it had been his footsteps pacing near the window and the rough burn of the rope against her wrists and the apprehension climbing up her spine. He was drawing it out to show her he was in control.
“You won’t get away with this!” she shouted.
His response was a laugh, and then she heard his footsteps approaching. He came around the hay bales and stared until she looked away. He knelt before her and used the barrel of the gun to push her hair out of her face.
“Do you want to rethink the way you speak to me?”
“No,” she answered.
The single word was soft but defiant.
He pressed the gun to her temple and she squeezed her eyes shut. The cold metal moved from her head to her chest in a light caress, until he finally pressed it hard between her cleavage.
“Please stop,” she pleaded.
“Rethinking things?”
“Just stop.”
He brought his other hand to her face, soft and gentle, because that’s how he always did this. Alternating between cruel and sweet.
Suddenly her eyes flew open. “Stop!” She ordered.
This time she really meant it and of course he could tell the difference, so he stopped.
It was the sound of bicycle tires on the gravel driveway.
His eyes widened as he heard it too.
“Shit!” she said. “Untie me! Untie me!” But he was already wrestling with the knots.
The tire sounds had almost reached the barn as she pulled her hands free from the rope.
“The gun,” she hissed, and he flung the fake thing into a pile of farm equipment just as a freckle-faced nine year old boy pedaled into the barn, braking to a stop at the sight of them.
The boy’s eyebrows drew together as they both tried to catch their breath, grinning at him in greeting.
Finally he spoke: “Mommy, why are you wearing a dress in the barn?”

……….

Tiny Story by Hallie Shepherd
Artwork by Robert McGinnis

 

WAVES

Three months ago, a house fire had stolen Kate’s husband and her infant son. Since then, she’d had a difficult time feeling anything other than a persistent empty sadness. Her therapist said she should “journal” her feelings, but all the pages were still blank.

Today, as Kate sat on the beach with her journal, her eyes drifted out to the surf and she saw a boy floating by himself. He was maybe ten years old, obviously a strong swimmer to be so far out. Suddenly, her sadness surged as she realized her own son would never know what it felt like to swim in the ocean. The closest he’d ever gotten was the one time she’d stood in the surf with him, dipping his chubby, pink feet in to make him laugh. The boy in the ocean was laughing too, reaching his arms toward the sky and flipping around in the waves. For a moment, she pretended it were ten years later and her son were still alive and she was watching him play on a sunny afternoon. The boy in the ocean flung his arm in a wide arc and back again as he made a noise. Wait… maybe that wasn’t a laugh…

Kate looked around at the others on the beach. There was a young couple flirting in the shoreline’s wet sand, a father and toddler building a sand castle, and three chatting women in lawn chairs drinking a deep red liquid out of sports bottles. Kate looked back to the ocean and no longer saw the boy. Oh, dear God, had he drowned as she sat here silent and uncertain and saying nothing? And then she saw his hand poke out of the water. He was still fighting.

Kate jumped up and ran toward the water, pointing as she shouted:  “THAT BOY IS DROWNING!” She wasn’t a strong swimmer herself but surely someone was. The sand castle father stood immediately, his eyes following the direction of her finger as the boy in the ocean let out a garbled shout. The father said, “Watch my daughter” as he handed the toddler to Kate. And then he raced into the surf.

Kate watched from the shoreline as the father’s sure strokes cut through the waves, but she couldn’t see the boy anymore. Oh God, she had shouted too late and he was going to die like everyone else. Some other mother somewhere would sit on this beach just like her, feeling nothing but sadness for the rest of her life.

The waves were bigger now, obscuring her view of the father and the boy. Others had gathered around her but didn’t they know it was pointless? The boy was gone and it was her fault. Long agonizing moments went by before she finally saw the back of the father’s head, barely bobbing above the waves, moving toward the shoreline. He was swimming a very slow backstroke, probably exhausted from the attempted rescue. He was lucky to be alive. She’d almost killed not one, but two, people. But then the girl who was one half of the young couple shouted, “He has him!” Kate didn’t want to believe it at first, but as the father reached shallower water, she saw that he did have his arm wrapped around the boy’s chest.

She ran into the surf and let out a joyful gasp. The boy was sputtering and in shock, but he was alive! The young couple grabbed him and dragged him onto the beach as the father stooped over in the knee-deep water, trying to catch his breath, head dipped low. Kate rested her hand on the father’s shoulder and said, “You saved him.”

And then he looked up at her and said, “You’re the one who saved him.”

Kate burst into tears. It was tears of sadness, tears of happiness, tears of everything, because yes, she’d had a small part in saving the boy. He was alive and had she not been sitting on this beach today with her sad, restless heart, he surely would have drowned. Oh God, where was her journal? She needed to write this down.

……….

Tiny Story by Hallie Shepherd
Artwork by Robert McGinnis

 

THE CLOCK CHIMES SIX

In the mansion’s ornate dining room, Grace and the billionaire were flirting over their meal of roasted duck and baby fingerling potatoes when the grandfather clock began to chime six o’clock. She set down her fork, because this was her cue to distract the wealthy investment banker.

For months, she and her group of misfit friends had planned this night, targeting the billionaire because of the extensive art collection in his library. Grace had already unlocked the front door earlier in the evening, and now she was going to have to ensure that the billionaire was distracted enough that he wouldn’t hear her thieving friends subdue his chef with the formaldehyde nor would he hear their quick feet on the marble floors as they carried away millions of dollars in art.

She jumped up from her chair and yanked her shirt over her head, revealing her gold, jeweled bra. His wine glass was halfway to his lips, and he froze. “I want you right here,” Grace said. “On the table.” He laughed in appreciation and said, “Come here, my queen.” She liked it when he called her that.

A knock on the door startled Grace, and she turned to see the nurse entering her white-walled bedroom with the six o’clock paper cups. The ornate dining room disappeared; the billionaire vanished, and the thieving friends turned to dust. Automatically, Grace held out her hand and the nurse poured the pills from one paper cup into her open palm. Grace tossed them in her mouth and swallowed without even drinking the offered water. She liked to feel the pills scrape down her throat. She stuck out her tongue as was required and the nurse nodded her approval. “See you at dinner, sweet,” the nurse said as she exited. Before the door clicked shut, Grace heard the sounds of another patient in the hallway screaming something about roller skates.

Grace closed her eyes and went back to imagining mansions and thieves and paintings and queens.

……….

Tiny Story by Hallie Shepherd
Artwork by Robert McGinnis

 

LOST LOVERS

She’d been spending a quiet afternoon alone in the park with her paintbrushes and her canvasses, surrounded by the lightest of breezes and the happiest of birds. And that’s when she saw him. He was carrying his rifle so he must have been coming from the nearby shooting range. It had been over a year since they’d even spoken, but as he smiled at her as he approached, she knew: She was still in love with the man.

He plopped down on the blanket next to her as though they’d just seen each other last week and his jovial greeting felt like paper cuts and bruises under her skin. After the romance they’d once shared, it felt artificial to say “hello” with such casualness. The way he squeezed her arm made her realize that his hands and shoulders, once hers, were now distant kingdoms. And his lips, once for kissing, were now for saying words that could only feel inadequate. She tried to match his level of light friendliness, even hearing a false laugh escape from some brave place deep inside her. Finally, she had to look away. Her bleeding heart was still calling out to his solid, beating heart and she was afraid he was going to know the truth of it.

And then he did something remarkable. From his pocket, he pulled out a diamond engagement ring and held it in front of her. She couldn’t breathe as she was flooded with the realization that during the past year, he had missed her as desperately as she had missed him. They were going to begin again… But then he spoke and it shattered her heart. He said, “Her name is Diane and she’s a history teacher.”

……….

Tiny Story by Hallie Shepherd
Artwork by Robert McGinnis

 

FINAL PERFORMANCE

She peered over the edge, gun still smoking. Where was he? She hadn’t seen his body hit the water below. She’d simply closed her eyes and pulled the trigger. Thankfully no one had appeared at the sound of the gun shot. It wasn’t yet two o’clock in the morning and the cruise ship band was still playing on the upper deck. There would be no witnesses. She could simply back away from the railing, return to her room, and claim that her husband had left in the middle of the night for fresh air and never returned.

She took a deep breath and flung the gun as far as she could into the ocean depths and felt the tension begin to leave her body. Back inside her room, she curled up on the bed alone and slept peacefully. It was the first night in over seven years that she hadn’t slept in fits and bursts, in fear of being awoken with his hands around her neck, his body forcing itself into hers, his face red with anger.

When she finally awoke to sunlight through her window, she realized that today would be her last performance. For seven years, she had pretended that everything was okay. Today, she would pretend that everything was not okay. She was ready for her final performance. She was ready for the rest of her life to begin.

She opened the door leading into the hallway and stopped cold. Her husband was leaning against the wall, wearing an ominous smile. “You missed,” he said.
……….
Tiny Story by Hallie Shepherd
Artwork by Robert McGinnis

 

LITTLE PROBLEM

Jeb had a little problem. She was blonde and 5 feet three inches and her name was Elizabeth.

She had a sweet smile and sincere eyes and a big, intoxicating laugh. She was some man’s dream come true, but the problem was, she wasn’t his. And the even bigger problem was that she was falling in love with him when this thing between them was just supposed to be fun. Hell, he’d even told her so the first night they went to the pub out on Route 66. Jeb was a widower and he’d flat out said that he wasn’t looking for a relationship of any kind, and she’d waved a delicate hand and said, “Me either.”

Well, Elizabeth was a little liar. Ever since that night at the pub, she’d started asking a lot of questions about how he was spending his time when they weren’t together. And she’d started wanting to make plans well in advance, even mentioning a concert that was two months away. And tonight while they had been looking up at the night sky at the observatory, she’d rested her head against his shoulder and whispered, “I love you.” The words had lingered unanswered for several long moments until it had felt like a stain on the air. Just when Jeb had thought it couldn’t get any worse, she’d whispered, “I know you do too.” And good Lord, what was he supposed to say to that? “No, Elizabeth, I don’t.”? He couldn’t say something that cruel. So he’d let those words linger too.

But here now, on her front porch, he rested his hands on her shoulders, intending to tell her that he didn’t think he could see her anymore. Except she took those hands of his to mean something else. She looked up at him, her adoring eyes an invitation. “Come inside,” she said, dipping her voice an octave lower than she normally spoke and that could only mean one thing.

Jeb didn’t love her, but he did like her, and she was so pretty and sometimes he was so very lonely, and they’d been together three times already, so what was a fourth time? So he said, “Okay,” and followed her inside.

Good Lord, his little problem was getting a whole lot bigger.
……….
Tiny Story by Hallie Shepherd
Artwork by Robert McGinnis

 

NEW NEIGHBOR

For six years, Roy’s writing desk had sat under a window with a view into the neighbor’s backyard. And for six years, he’d clicked away at his typewriter, only distracted on occasion by a family of raccoons. But then two months ago, Old Lady Gilmore had died and a young woman had moved in. She was in the backyard every afternoon, pulling weeds in her overall shorts, cleaning the swimming pool, sunbathing in her white bikini, and reading books. He could usually make out the letters on the covers: Catch 22. Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Howl. All banned books. Only one time did she look up at him. She’d shielded her eyes from the sun and peered at his window for a good thirty seconds, the faintest smile on her face. Roy hadn’t breathed until she’d looked away.

Today, she was lying down there in her white bikini and Roy decided that he was done with watching from afar. He abandoned the manuscript he’d been unable to type a word of in over three days, and he went into his own backyard. At the shared fence, he hesitated. It was tall enough that he couldn’t see over and there was no gate to connect the two yards. He considered knocking on the wood and calling out “hello!” but that seemed silly, because what would she do? Shout “hello” back?” Ah, fuck it, he thought. He grabbed a patio chair and put it next to the fence, stepped onto it and hoisted himself right over, landing squarely in the soft grass on her side. She looked up with a small, startled noise and he immediately regretted his choice. She was probably terrified. Just as he was opening his mouth to apologize, she spoke first. She smiled at him and asked, “What took you so long, neighbor?”
……….
Tiny Story by Hallie Shepherd
Artwork by Robert McGinnis

 

CLICK CLICK CLICK

Yvette needed to calm her nerves, so she sat down for a smoke. Tonight was the night she was telling her parents the big news. Last night when she’d phoned Mother and invited them to dinner, Mother had asked, “Is there any special occasion?” And Yvette had said that she had news to share. From the delicate but noticeable inhale on the other end of the line, Yvette realized that Mother probably thought she was going to tell them she’d met a man. Because what else was there for a woman in 1958? Well, Yvette hadn’t met a man. Not even close.

Her news was something much more exciting: She had quit the typing pool. Finally, free! When she’d taken the job three years earlier she thought maybe she’d like it okay. She’d always savored the way her fingers felt on typewriter keys and the economic little click, click, click. But in the typing pool, she’d quickly discovered that the monotony was killing her spirit. And the noise. Oh, the noise! Dozens of click, click, clicks overlapping every second of every day. In bed at night, Yvette would hear the cacophony echoing through her brain. She was certain she’d be hearing that sound on her deathbed. As she lay dying, she wouldn’t think of the people she’d loved or her biggest regrets. She’d just think click, click, click.

But no more of that. Yvette had bought her plane ticket to Africa. She was headed across the ocean to study primates. The idea filled her with a purpose she hadn’t felt since she was ten years old and had nursed a bird with a broken wing back to health. Birds were lovely creatures, indeed. But monkeys. Monkeys! They were extraordinary.

These were the things that Yvette thought about as she smoked. But suddenly, she paused and looked at the clock. Uh oh. Did she have time to run to the store before her parents arrived? Because suddenly it occurred to her that she’d forgotten one very important thing when she’d been grocery shopping earlier: The smelling salts. She was definitely going to need those to wake up Mother after she fainted from the news.
……….
Tiny Story by Hallie Shepherd
Artwork by Robert McGinnis

CLOSING TIME

She’d heard him play this jazz song before, but never after closing time when they were all alone, never while perched on top of the piano where she could feel the musical vibrations. His fingers knew the way without his eyes on the keys. Through the smoke from his cigarette, his gaze didn’t drift from hers, though she was sure he wanted to look at her legs. The air was crackling with that want. Wasn’t it….? Except he was nearing the end of the song and he hadn’t missed a single note. He was playing perfectly, and suddenly that realization began to unnerve her. Maybe the want crackling in the air was solely hers. Why was he so composed? Oh dear, maybe she’d been a fool to come over here and sit on top of his piano like this. How brazen. She’d read the situation all wrong. And just as she was about to deliver a breezy comment and hop down, she heard it: The jarring, misplaced D sharp when it should have been an E.
………
Tiny Story by Hallie Shepherd
Artwork by Robert McGinnis