Untitled Story from Sam’s Place – Chapter IV



Donnie didn’t look up. “Sometimes I got to look after more’n the here and now, that’s all I’m saying.”

“Bull,” said Sam. “You just get scared Hell’s gonna scorch your britches. Then you let them sons of bitches twist you ever which way.” Sam waggled his fingers for Donnie’s beer cup. He refilled it and handed it back. “Myself, I ain’t been much on religion since I come back from the ‘Nam, ‘specially the kind of gospel they spew around here.”

Donnie probed the gap in his lower teeth with his tongue. He frowned. Then he shrugged and sipped his beer.

Sam snorted. “You think you can have it both ways, don’t you? You think you can chase women and gamble, drink and carouse, and then you can run off to church, and you won’t stay up nights worrying ‘bout what’s gonna happen to you when you die. Worse yet, you let that ol’ preacher and his deacons lord it over you – until you get tired of it, that is. Then you thumb your nose at ‘em and waltz on down the road and don’t give a thought to whether they’ll take you back next time you feel the need for a little religion.”

Donnie backed up to his table. Sam was becoming a scold, and Donnie didn’t like it. “It ain’t exactly like that. It ain’t, Sam, and you know it.”

“Okay, let me ask you, then. Just what do you get outta Sunday mornings hollering them hymns and amen-ing ever other thing that comes outta Wesley Wilding’s mouth?”

Donnie threw back his beer, crumpled the plastic cup, and tossed it in the general direction of the trashcan. “I’m going back to shooting pool.”


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Untitled Story from Sam’s Place — Chapter III


“I believe I’ll just shoot some more pool,” said Donnie.

Sam edged his chair a step closer to the heater. Before long he nodded off. Donnie continued to line his shots. Finally Sam woke and lumbered to the restroom. Returning, he drew a cupful of draft and selected a packaged sandwich from the small refrigerator behind the bar.

“It’s almost noon,” he said. “You hungry yet?”

“Thirsty’s more like it.”

Sam drew another cupful and handed it across. Donnie licked at the foam and then took a long pull from the amber liquid. He eyed Sam. “Kind of sad, y’know?”

Sam turned to peer at him. “What is?”

“I ain’t judging, and that’s a fact. But lately you been looking like your dog’s done up and died. The pity is, you ain’t got nothing to your name ‘cept that mangy ol’ hound. A dog’s good to have around, I guess, but they’s just so much a dog can do for you.”

“Least he’s quiet some. He don’t yap my ear off like you been doing.”

Donnie chuckled. “Maybe you do need to spend time singing some hymns.”

Sam said nothing. He finished eating, and as he turned toward the trashcan with the sandwich container, a scowl darkened his face. He eyed Donnie and began drumming his fingers on the bar’s top. “I got my trailer,” he said at last, “and my dog ain’t dead. Anyway, I got this pool hall, so that’s that.”


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Untitled Story from Sam’s Place – Chapter II




Donnie started after Sam, but then he stopped. Sam was an even tempered fellow for the most part; moody sometimes, though, and that made him seem unpredictable and maybe even a little dangerous at times. Donnie re-racked the balls and began practicing shots.

Sam returned to his paper. Minutes passed in thick, Sunday silence. Finally, he tossed the paper in wild array to the bar and reached for the TV remote. Nothing on the broadcast channels but the usual early morning political talk shows. He flicked to ESPN. Nothing there but rehashes of the previous week’s football games and a talk show emceed by two men who seemed bent on outshouting one another.

Donnie cackled. “I s’pose we could wash up and go to meeting.” Meaning church.

“In a pig’s eye,” Sam growled. Donnie quietly cleared his throat. Sometimes he felt that way, too. But on other occasions, when he felt himself sinking into moral quicksand, he’d sense the flames of Hell licking at him, and for a month or so, he’d show up at the United Methodist, singing the hymns as if his heart would burst and amen-ing every other of the preacher’s utterances.

“No?” he asked, altogether too timidly.

“If you had to deal with that bunch the way I have,” Sam growled, “you’d think fire and brimstone was the better way to go.”

“Okay,” Donnie ventured, “if you say so.”

“Go on,” said Sam. “Go on if you got a mind to. I’m staying right here in front of this fire.”


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A Serialized Story

One of the stories in my SAM’S PLACE – STORIES collection was broken into fourteen serialized chapters, something Hemingway did in at least one of his collections. My fourteen serialized chapters manage to link together the entire collection, but they stand alone as a cohesive story.

Over the next two weeks, these fourteen will appear here on Gridleyfires, the blog. To see how they tie together a separate collection, see the print or e-book version of SAM’S PLACE – STORIES.

Here’s the first of the fourteen – – – – Bob



    Sunday morning had crept in on a throaty wind, softened only by a pure but raggedly applied coating of snow. Sam had risen early, fed his dog Luther, and driven two miles on the all but abandoned two-lane to his pool hall. He wouldn’t open his establishment to business on a Sunday: the citizens of Striven, Alabama, its city fathers and religious leaders, wouldn’t have abided it. He lit the gas space heater at one end of the bar, listened to its hollow voice for a moment, and then warmed before reading the Sunday paper.

The door opened to Donnie Wimple. Without a word, Donnie chose a house cue, racked the balls on the table nearest the heater and began shooting. Sam turned to watch. After a while, he chose a stick for himself and began a game of rotation with Donnie.

Sam’s plump fingers ached with the cold still hovering in his building, the aching aggravated by arthritis and scar tissue from a long-ago Viet Cong grenade. As he attempted to line his first shot, he blinked. He adjusted his glasses. Blinking again, he swore and adjusted the glasses once more. Then he decided to turn on more lights in the ever-dim pool hall. He bent to the table. His cue ball chased after its object. Both dropped into a corner pocket.

Donnie shot and missed, and then he watched without his usual brash comments as Sam lined another shot. The ball failed to drop at a mid-table pocket, and the cue ball clumped its way back up the rail, leaving Donnie a perfect shot at the far corner. Donnie smirked now, and was about to offer a jibe. Before he could speak, Sam slammed his cue to the table and stalked away.


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A Really Great Review

Collateral Damage NEW Cover copy 3

We writers read for enjoyment, yes, but try as we might, we find ourselves sizing up the competition. At first we gain prototypes from which we learn. As we continue to grow in technique and possibly in talent, we try to fit ourselves into the panoply of writers: the famous, who make the money; the geniuses, who give us new structure and vocabulary; the storytellers, who hold us speechless as we turn page after page.

This is largely what we writers do when we blog books. But occasionally we grab the brass ring for ourselves, and something we’ve written becomes praiseworthy in the eyes, the ears, the mind, of prominent reviewers. I received such a gift this weekend – – praise for my latest, Collateral Damage and Stories. What transpired? Have a look:

Asheville_Citizen-Times_20160724_D03_2-REVIEW_Collateral Damage and Other Stories_Bob_Mustin

Thank you, Rob Neufeld!

The Power of Flash Fiction


Flashes of War, by Katey Schultz

Sadly, there’s a lot to write about war in recent years, and there’s sameness to much of what’s written about it, whether fiction of non-fiction. The horror of combat, in which one’s mortality is constantly at the fore. The comradeship between combatants, something hopelessly misunderstood by most readers. And the alienation of combatants upon their return home, home a reality that doesn’t seem as real as that within a war theater.


Katey Schultz writes of these tropes, but she does it with deep insights into the humanity of those involved. Her stories here are set in Afghanistan, Iraq, or “back in the world” today’s soldiers left to fight its generation’s war. Never one-sided, her stories are sketches of these people, the American combatants, the Iraqi and Afghani civilians, the families back home in the U.S., all of whom cope with the trials of trying to etch normalcy into a war environment.
Surprisingly, these sketches are often in the form of flash fiction, i.e., 500-750 words, and these are the most powerfully wrought pieces in her collection.

I find no fault with this writing; she’s crafted each piece carefully and thoughtfully, and the voice each piece speaks is seamless, near-perfect, in both narrative and dialogue.


My rating: 20 of 20 stars


We Are One, We Are The World


Listening to two presidents give eulogies yesterday for the five Dallas policemen killed by an angry, sniper-styled person, I came to the conclusion that these two men, at least, get it. I won’t paraphrase these two separately; what they said in their eulogies had its significance more in common words and feelings than in separation of tone, of relative ability to articulate thoughts.

René Descartes famously linked the reality of his existence to his ability to have thoughts; i.e., “I think, therefore I am.” In a time when our ability to understand the world we live in was discrete, separated into this science, that moral quality, this person, that as-yet-unformed opinion, Descartes was right. But I submit that he didn’t dig deep enough into his maxim to uncover its true philosophical floor.

Meaning what?

Meaning there is no separate mind for each of these presidents. Meaning there is only one mind, and it’s universal. Thus these two presidents, each so different from the other, expressed their sadness, their hope for America and its people, their belief that we are not a divided people, from different modes of understanding, and they articulated these understandings so differently.

Still, their message was  the same.


We’re entering an age of intuitive ability, and that can mean – at least to a limited extent – easy answers. And because answers and truth will seem to flow so very easily, we’re going to be tempted not to put our intuitive insights about the world’s problems – and our personal ones – through the rigors of reason. The glib fools of the world will spout nonsense that we will accept at face value unless we test said nonsense against our own intuitive sense of what’s real, what’s not. Because such foolishness is in that universal mind, too.

Universal mind, we’ll discover, contains silliness as well as gravity. Understanding as well as confusion. Lies as well as truth. Universal mind isn’t simple; far from it. It’s complicated and mysterious, and each of us is hopelessly enmeshed within it. Let us embrace our intuited ideas, but let’s not forget to test them – and those of others as the age of enlightenment taught us. But let’s not test our ideas to the point of divisiveness, focusing on the uniquenesses that separate them. Instead, let’s do as two presidents did yesterday – – speak from the heart, from separate life perspectives, but from the depths of mind, where even those separate perspectives yield common truths.


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