Sandwich Sublime


(The Naked Ape [CC / Flickr])

A look of bliss crossed Bill’s face as he chewed. He swallowed, eyes closed to savour the moment.

“I love a ploughman’s sandwich,” he said.

“Ploughman’s?” asked Barney. “You’re looking that happy over a ploughman’s? I thought it was something special.”

“It is special,” said Bill. “It’s ploughman’s. Have you ever had a better sandwich than a ploughman’s?”

“Sure. Lots of times.”

“Like what?” asked Bill. “What’s the best sandwich you ever had?”

“The best?” Barney looked thoughtful. “That would be pterodactyl and cress.”

“You mean egg and cress.”

“Don’t be daft. I know what an egg and cress sandwich is. They’re all right, but I never tasted anything like pterodactyl and cress.”

Bill’s eyes narrowed. “Oh yeah. Where did you have pterodactyl and cress, then?”

“Let me think,” said Barney.

“Take your time.” Bill took another bite of his sandwich and enjoyed it as much as the first. “Still waiting. How long does it take you to think?”

“Don’t rush me.”

Bill finished his sandwich. “C’mon, tell me. This is getting boring.”

“I think I remember,” said Barney, “but I’m not sure.”

“So it was egg and cress,” said Bill.

“Not quite.” Barney closed his eyes, brow furrowed in concentration. “It’s coming back to me.”

“Yeah. Egg and cress.”

“Got it.” Barney snapped his fingers. “It was pterodactyl and pickle. Delicious.”

“Oh, right,” said Bill. “You got a point there.”

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Posted in Saturday Hooptedoodle

A Wise Hunter


(Andrew Foster [CC / Flickr])

I was hunting for a duck when I found a king. I was stalking the river bank like I do every morning but Sunday, fowling piece in my arms and an eye open for tonight’s dinner. A wise hunter knows all the best places for a morning hunt, but even a duck notices if you use the same place too often. That morning, I used a place where I could hide behind a bed of reeds and look along a stretch of the river that headed eastward. The sunrise would silhouette any ducks on the water before they could see me.

I lay prone and wedged a stick under the fowling piece. Even when I was a young man, there was only so long I could hold the muzzle out of the mud and if I’m not yet an old man, I’m not as strong as I used to be. I’d barely got myself settled when I heard the splash-splash-splash behind me. Quiet enough that I wouldn’t have heard it if I wasn’t keeping so still and quiet myself, but quiet and still is what puts duck on the table.

That sound wasn’t a duck. It was the sound of oars touching water.

Nothing else.

Not a word of talk, and none of the creak and groan of rowlocks.

Ducks could wait for another day. I’d been in the village square myself when the horseman read out the proclamation from the new king and when there’s a new king making proclamations, I don’t need to ask myself who might be slipping down the river at night with muffled rowlocks.

I could make out the horizon as an orange beam of light, reaching higher into the sky with every splash of those oars. I could see the church spire against it, which is when I know to cock the lock on the fowling piece. When there’s enough light to see a duck, it’s only a moment or two before there’s enough light for the duck to fly so a wise hunter shoots as soon as he can see.

Not that I was expecting to shoot at any ducks this morning.

The orange brightened to yellow as it swelled, painting clouds as it reached toward me. It wasn’t a duck I could see in the river, but a ship. A small two-master that must have had the devil’s own job of getting this far up by night.

As the boat passed in front of the reeds, I could make out the pale faces of the oarsmen over their black cloaks. I hadn’t forgotten that proclamation. A man who must rise before dawn every day to put meat on his table never forgets a reward in gold. Not after all the mornings I’d spent on that river, man and boy, thinking the rare days when I shot a goose were the days when a saint smiled on me and hoping there wouldn’t be too many days in a row when I returned with my boots full of mud and my hands empty save the piece.

It wasn’t the cloaked men bending to the oars that interested me. It was the purple-clad figure sat so upright in the centre of that boat that he might have been sitting on the throne he was fleeing. Not a dozen paces from where I lay in wait. I’ve shot many a mallard at three times the distance.

I’ll never have to shoot another one, I thought.

I squeezed the trigger.

The lock snapped shut.

Nothing else happened.

In all the times I’ve hunted that river, I haven’t once let my powder get damp. I dread what my father will say when I tell him. He taught me to keep the powder dry when I was too small a boy to even lift the piece.

So there I lay, watching the old king board the ship. Watching the ship slip down river as the sun climbed above the church spire.

The old king will be back again, of course. Or if not him, his brother or his son. Whoever it is will bring an army with them and when they’re done with the killing and burning, perhaps they’ll be the new king or perhaps they won’t. But either way, someone will be slipping away down a river and some king will be offering a reward in gold for stopping them.

I’ll be shooting teals and gadwalls until that day, but that day is the reason I swear a solemn oath that like the wise hunter I am, I will never allow the powder in my piece to get damp again.

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Posted in Saturday Hooptedoodle

A Cat Explains Christmas


(Monica [CC / Flickr])

Nothing stirs on the night before Christmas. Least of all the parents, who are exhausted by the time they’ve finally got the excited children to sleep. Not a breath of wind stirs the decorations and every screen is dark.

So what has woken the cat, and why is she prowling into the living room, fur bristling and body close to the ground? For once, the baubles hanging from the tree hold no temptation. Pulling the tree down for the third time remains as delicious a memory as the first time, but cats understand when it’s time to be serious. Such times rarely occur when humans are watching.

The cat bounded on to the back of the armchair, eyes and ears fixed on a space before the tree. Her muscles are taut, ready to dash in whatever direction the occasion demands.

There is no chimney in this house, which doesn’t concern the cat. Cats know the difference between myth and reality. Reality doesn’t come down chimneys. Reality simply coalesces as the cat watches, taking the form of a white bearded man looking down at his fur-trimmed red garments. The cat recogniss the expression on his face from when she brought her humans presents from the garden. She’s never persuaded them that disgust is not the appropriate reaction to being presented with a dead mouse.

“What idiot performed a summoning that’s left me looking like a coca-cola can?”

The question isn’t phrased in words. The cat wouldn’t understand if it was.

The cat’s answer replaces the disgust with surprise.

“They summoned me by mistake? Unintentionally? How in Hades could that happen?”

The cat merely blinks. Cats do not answer foolish questions.

“I see. Yes indeed, you’re right. I’ve felt the intensity rise around this night for years. I suppose it was only a matter of time before there were enough children wanting someone to come tonight that someone would have no choice. And as most of them are babbling about how good they are after they’ve been little bastards all year, it was bound to be one of us rather than our… shall we call them our more celestial counterparts? It’s not a night for taking names lightly.”

It pleases the cat that the man-shaped-thing has worked it out for himself, sparing the cat a lengthy explanation. She deigns an observation of her own.

“That’s interesting. We’re not very au fait with neoliberal economics where I’m from. We’re still stuck in the old homage to the king and flog the serfs system. Do you blame us for being so keen to get ourselves summoned? Or so reluctant to go back when we’ve burned the city or rotted the grain or whatever it is we’re dragged here to do? Anyway, I’ll take your word for it that this Twitter thing was what they needed to get themselves even more worked up about it.”

It pleases the cat even more that the man-shaped-thing has the sense to agree with her analysis, so she asks a direct question.

The man-shaped-thing looks thoughtful.

“You know, I don’t know what I’ll do. When I’ve been here before, it’s always been at the behest of someone who orders me about, and knows enough to put clear constraints on what I’m allowed to do.”

The cat offers no reply. The man-shaped-thing will get there by himself.

“No constraints.”

The man-shaped brow furrows.

“No orders.”

The furrows give way to a spreading smile beneath the beard.

“No one knows I’m here, or how to send me back.”

The man-shaped-thing slips off a glove to tickle the cat under the chin.

“You’re right. This is going to be fun.”



And with that, the Eclectics are going to join the cat on a seasonal break. See you in January!

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Posted in Saturday Hooptedoodle

A Cage for the Tongue


(Jennifer Kirkland [CC / Flickr])

The prisoner was limping as he preceded the guard into the cell.

“Damp walls and no windows,” he said as the guard unlocked his cuffs. “So familiar it almost feels like home.”

The guard said nothing as he attached the cuffs to his belt.

The prisoner flexed his fingers and rubbed his wrists. “I can’t smell boiled cabbage. It must’ve been a couple of days since you had anyone in here.”

He turned to face the guard, revealing a swelling across the left hand side of his face. It would be purple in a couple of days.

“Or maybe I don’t smell so well with a nose that’s been broken…” The prisoner counted on his fingers. “Seven times.”

The guard stepped back, leaving the cell without taking his eyes off the prisoner. He closed the barred gate and pulled a key out of his belt to lock it. He took another step back to stand against the corridor wall.

“You have to stand guard?” asked the prisoner. “That’s tough. Stuck down here with only me for company. You don’t mind if I talk to you, do you?”

The guard shrugged.

“Good. It passes the time. Then again, if I didn’t talk so much, you people might not give me so much time to pass down here. You might stop breaking my nose as well.” The prisoner slid down the wall to sit on the floor. “I guess habits are harder to break than noses.”

The guard didn’t answer so the prisoner went on. “But you’re one of the decent ones, aren’t you? You haven’t hit me once. You can’t even look me in the eye while we’re talking about it.”

He paused, but the guard still didn’t answer.

“All right then, while I’m talking about it. I guess I’m better at talking than you, but I’d really like you to give it a try. Maybe you can talk to me about why a bunch of guys big enough to fit those extra-large uniforms you wear is so afraid of a fat little man who talks.”

The guard looked at his boots.

“All right, not a fair question,” said the prisoner. “And it’s one I can work out for myself. You first put on the uniform because you needed a job. But they don’t let you put it on until they’re sure they know you do what you’re told when you’re wearing it. And they’ve told you not to talk to fat little men in cells. How am I doing?”

The guard moved his chin toward his right shoulder. It might have been a nod or it might have been a shrug.

The prisoner took it as a nod. “You’re not like the others. You’re not afraid to hear me speak or your truncheon would be out of your belt and you’d be in this cell right now. But you don’t like hitting people. Hey, do me a favour and look me in the eye again.

The guard raised his gaze. The prisoner’s swelling face had completely closed his left eye but his right eye was fixed on the guard’s face.

“You look like that uniform doesn’t fit so well right now,” said the prisoner. “But you’re past the point where you could have taken it off without the rest of them coming after you.”

The guard’s eyes flicked down, but returned to meet the prisoner’s.

“So I’m locked in my cell, talking like a champion, and you’re out there with your tongue in a cage. Strange days.”

Neither said anything for several minutes. Then guard rattled his keys from his belt and opened the gate.

The prisoner’s uninjured eye opened wide. “Seriously?”

The guard stepped back, giving the prisoner a clear path out of the cell and down the corridor.

“Oh hell no,” said the prisoner. “If I take that walk, they’ll throw you in here in my place. I can’t do that to any man.”

Posted in Saturday Hooptedoodle

The Significance of Cynthia


(mikepmiller [CC / Flickr])

Cynthia strode to the end of the pier and looked through the red and white telescope.

“I can’t see anything,” she said.

“You have to put a coin in it.” Phil caught up to stand beside her. “I didn’t think these things were still around.”

“Oh, right. I remember them from when I was a kid.” Cynthia stepped back and looked down. She rubbed her thumb over the coin slot. “Give me fifty pence, will you? I’ve got no change.”

“For that? It’s a toy.”

Cynthia gave Phil the look that could end any conversation.

Phil rummaged in his pocket and handed a coin to her.

She pushed the coin into the slot and looked through the eyepiece. Phil watched at her smile as she scanned the horizon. He never grew tired of looking at that smile.

“I can see for miles and miles,” she said.

“That’s the idea.”

The telescope clicked, shutting off the view in anticipation of another coin.

Cynthia turned to Phil. “That was amazing. I never did get to play with one of these when I was a child.”

She dug her phone out of her handbag.

“What are you doing?” asked Phil.

“I’m tweeting about how vast the ocean is. I just saw that. I’ve never even thought about it before.”

What do you think? I’ve never thought about how vast the ocean is before.”

“That’s because you’re always looking at your phone.”

Cynthia didn’t hear him. She finished tapping her screen and looked up. “It’s so vast. It makes me think about how insignificant we really are. Have you ever thought about that?”

“I’ve never really needed to.”

Cynthia frowned. “What do you mean?”

“One night, I walked outside. I looked up.”

Cynthia was looking at her phone. That smile flashed back on to her face. “Hey, I’ve got three likes already.”

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Rationality in the Forest

(Tim Haynes [CC / Flickr])

(Tim Haynes [CC / Flickr])

Part of being a rational person is not putting too much stock in the shivers down my spine. That whisper was no more than a slight breeze touching the treetops on a still evening.

We’re pattern-recognising primates, us humans. Something we learned when we came of age on the East African savannah. Back then, a rustle in the grass might have been a breath of wind or it might have been the tribe from across the river on the prowl with sharp spears and genocidal hearts. Safest to back away from the rustle and if it was only the breeze, no harm done. If it was the mob from across the river, you live to back away another day.

Common sense.

This isn’t the Palaeolithic savannah. It’s an English woodland in the twenty-first century. No one’s going to be doing anything more genocidal than walking their dog. I can safely and rationally dismiss my conviction that what I heard was not a breeze but a whisper and continue my stroll.

I couldn’t even make out a coherent word in the sound, so it makes no sense to think it had any pattern or meaning at all.

Nor, now that my rational mind is engaged, do I see any falling leaves. Which I’d expect to see if a gust of wind blew through a forest in autumn.

It must be early in the season and the leaves aren’t ready to drop. Or perhaps all the leaves ready to drop have already dropped. There are two perfectly rational explanations.

Not one reason not to keep walking. No reason to turn back to my warm house for a cup of hot chocolate.

I’ll be back home soon enough, and I’ll appreciate the hot chocolate all the more for another half hour’s brisk walk.

There’s certainly no reason to pay attention when my mind insists that a quirk of the forest shadows is really someone standing under a tree, waiting for me to draw closer. The evening light often plays such tricks, as does that part of the mind that has never outgrown the ancestral savannah. That’s the problem with our hominid minds. We can’t rationalise an idea out of them once it’s taken hold. We can only over-rule the stubbornly irrational parts of them that are left over from our ancestors and keep walking toward what they’re trying to show us until they can no longer pretend there’s anything there.

See, it doesn’t even look human now I’m closer. Human-like perhaps, but then it wasn’t only the neighbouring human tribe that part of the mind had to watch out for. There was a whole menagerie of bipedal apes sharing the savannah with us back then, and it’s a safe bet that none of those hominids and australopithecines were exactly our friends. Perhaps that’s why that atavistic part of my mind is still insisting there’s something vaguely human there, even though it’s obviously too tall.

Too wide.

Too elongated.

My mind really is surpassing itself in the tricks it’s playing this evening. Not for much longer. A few more steps and there will be no more nonsense from whatever part of my neocortex it is that’s hallucinating some sort of… creature. There comes a point when the most stubborn delusion must give way to the evidence of the senses.

That’s the great thing about being a rational person.

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Never Happen to Me


(Blodeuwedd [CC / Flickr])

We’ve met before, you and me. Don’t you remember?


Fair play, I don’t think you’d have seen my face and you were drunk at the time.

Let’s see if I can jog your memory. I was in my sleeping bag under a pile of cardboard boxes folded flat in the Tesco car park. There used to be a blind spot in the cameras, between the street and the clothing bank bins. You could doss down there and security guards none the wiser – until they got wise and moved the bins, that is.

The catch was it was right up against the railings, so anyone walking down the street could see you, like you did when you came out of the pub across the road.

I remember looking up at you looking down at me from my nest of old boxes. Your polished shoes were at my eye level, so I looked up your day-job suit to your face with its more than stubble, less than beard that you must’ve spent half an hour a day servicing. You were a man who’d made it back then. A man with a look on his face that said he was ready to take a piss on the dosser under a pile of cardboard boxes.

You didn’t. You just spat on me.

Has a man ever told you he was happy you only spat on him before? Well, remember it. It’ll make sense to you before you’ve been out here much longer.

‘Cause you’re new to this, you are. You haven’t grown out what your men’s hairdresser spent hours sculpting on top of your head, and your face has got that what-the-hell-happened-to-me look that won’t leave you until you stop believing you belong in that bed you lost under the roof you lost with it.

No, don’t tell me why. We’ve all got our stories and even if some of them might be true, none of them matter. Save yours until you’ve heard a few of ours and you’ll know what I mean.

Is the penny beginning to drop now? A little murmur of memory stirring in the back of your mind? You’re looking worried, so I guess it is. Don’t be afraid. I won’t hurt you. I’m not carrying a knife and frankly, I can’t be bothered to punch you in the face.

You can doss under the same bridge as me if you want to. If anyone bothers you, it won’t be me or anyone like me. It’ll be someone like you – or someone like you used to be.

Now you remember the last time we met, do you remember what you said after you spat on me? You called me a sponger. Didn’t say who exactly I was sponging off, unless you meant Tesco. Perhaps you thought I should’ve been paying them rent for that scrap of car park they weren’t using. I didn’t ask.

Then you said, “That could never happen to me.”

I see you remember saying it. That’s good. Because like I said, I won’t hurt you. But I’ll never let you forget saying that.

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Posted in Saturday Hooptedoodle

Persephone Descendent


(Adrienne [CC / Flickr])

She woke.

She looked up at the tree trunks looming over her.

She rolled on to her side, crunching autumn leaves beneath her. Wrapped her arms around herself against the cold.

She rubbed her eyes, trying to wipe away the sleep that fogged her mind. Tried to remember how she came to this place. It wouldn’t come.

It didn’t matter.

What mattered was to get to where she belonged.

Which was where?

She stood and turned around. Tree trunks loomed as tall as when she was lying down. The low sun struck her face through a gap in the branches, making her blink.

The sun. If she walked toward the sun, she would be heading east or west depending on whether it was morning or evening.

Both east and west were directions. Either would take her somewhere.

She walked.

Leaves caressed her ankles and crumbled beneath her soles.

Some of the trees still had leaves. The end of a low branch brushed across her stomach and sprang free, leaving a yellowed leaf stuck to her hip. As she looked at it, it fell, floating down the length of her leg to the ground. It offered her no answers.

She walked.

The sun slid behind a trunk that was in her path. She stepped to her right to pass it, then stopped to look at it. From this close, it was not reaching up and over her but was a wall of bark and lichen. She reached forward to touch the intricate patterns of brown, green and yellow. Her fingers trailed from the harsh ridges of the bark across the velvet lichen.

No answers there either.

She walked.

The sun sank before her. It was evening, then. She was heading west.

A whisper of wind set the branches quivering across the sky above her. Leaves fell around her out of the gathering darkness. She snatched one from the air and held it in front of her. The day’s last sunlight stained the leaf red around the silhouettes of its veins.

No answer.

She let the leaf fall.

The sun was below the horizon now, leaving only a reddened cloud to mark its passing while the cold purple of night washed the lighter blue of the day from the sky. Yet the trunks ahead of her still framed an orange glow. A murmur of a sound she couldn’t recognise called to her from the same direction as the orange. Perhaps that was where she needed to be. Perhaps that was the sound of an answer.

The murmur grew louder as she walked toward it. She couldn’t hear the leaves on her feet now. It was no longer a murmur but a thunder that came not from the sky but from the ground.

The last trees fell behind her. She was no longer standing on leaves but on something cold and hard. Machines roared past her, some from one direction, some from the opposite. They blazed white as they flew toward her and burned red as they raced away.

She didn’t know how long she’d been watching them when something made her look to her right. A man stood, watching her with his mouth agape.

She looked to her left. A woman was backing away with each arm around a child.

She spread her hands in a question. Perhaps one of these people could give her the answer the forest had denied her.

“What are you doing here?” asked the man.

“Go back,” said the woman, “back to where you belong.”

And now she knew the answer with absolute conviction. She said, “I can’t.”

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Posted in Saturday Hooptedoodle

Another Man’s Picture Frames

AnotherMansPictureFramesA slight break from normality in this week’s Hooptedoodle: Steve Oliver at The Dark City Mystery Magazine has been kind enough to publish Another Man’s Picture Frames where it enjoys the company of four other noirish tales in volume 4 Issue 1:

White Powder Cowboys by Scott Bell

Backhand by Jay Nelson

Hello! Housekeeping! By Callum McSorley

Hired Help by Steve Oliver

If that link didn’t work, try copying and pasting this one:

Normality will be restored with a hooptedoodle on this page next Saturday. Until then, enjoy the dark city.

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Posted in Publishing news, Saturday Hooptedoodle

A Gun at a Knife Fight


(Ben Zvan [CC / Flickr])

Ryan was just beginning to appreciate his second beer when Jared said, “I got something to show you,” pulled a gun from under his jacket and held it under the table. “Look at it. Just look at it.”

“Jesus!” Ryan shifted his stool closer to the table to screen it from the rest of the bar. “All right. I’m impressed. Now will you top waving it around?”

He took a sip of his beer to cover his movement. Or rather, he meant to. He’d drained the glass before he put it down.

“I’m not waving it around, I’m just showing it to you,” said Jared. “She’s a thing of beauty, she is.”

“It’s a she now?” Ryan could just about make out the words ‘M9-Beretta’ etched on the black metal of the barrel. He hoped Jared wouldn’t ask him to hold it.

“Yeah, I should give her a name. She’s my wife now, innit? Till death us do part.”

“Right. Yeah.” Ryan wished Jared hadn’t mentioned death. “Is your wife loaded?”

“Yeah, course she is. No point in having a wife who don’t bang, is there?”

“Well take your finger away from the trigger, will you? You’re making me nervous.”

“You worry too much.” Jared slipped his forefinger inside the trigger guard and grinned at Ryan. “Relax, man. I ain’t gonna shoot no one unless they mess with me.”

“You never used to talk so street.” Jared had an inspiration. “Look, let’s get out of here. I’m hungry and there’s a MacDonald’s round the corner.”

“Yeah, all right.”

Ryan could always count on the idea of food to drive anything else out of Jared’s mind.

Jared slipped the gun back into the holster at his hip and stood up, one hand holding his leather jacket to make sure it hid the weapon from view. He was still grinning.

As he followed Jared out of the pub, Ryan noticed Jared’s back was straighter than he’d ever seen it before. It was as though Jared had gained six inches in height.

Ryan was still pondering the optical illusion when a pair of hands seized the front of his shirt and slammed him into the wall.

“Gimme your cash! Now!”

The voice thundered out of a face that was in Ryan’s. The face was mostly mouth, gaping wide as it flung demands from between teeth that could bite Ryan in half. Eyes, teeth, nose were compressed into a frame around that mouth of the giant that shook him so the back of Ryan’s head cracked into brickwork.


Ryan was vaguely aware that Jared was being flung around as easily as he was by this gang of giants that numbered five, ten, twenty, he couldn’t count.


There was a knife in front of his face. Or a sword. The blade was enormous, capable of gutting Ryan with a flick of the giant’s wrist, leaving him bleeding and mewling out his last agonising moments.


The teeth were surrounded by lips and hair. Patches of hair. The hair of a boy who had tried to grow a beard a couple of years too soon.

A boy giant. With a sword.

The mouth filled the world as Ryan’s hand scrabbled in his pocket and handed over the three tenners and a few coins he had in there. Best not to leave the coins. The giant wouldn’t like it if he thought Ryan was trying to hold something back.

“Take it,” said Ryan. “Please take it.”

Or maybe he didn’t say it. Maybe all he did was make word-shapes with his mouth. He didn’t know.

Fingers brushed Ryan’s as they snatched the notes. Surprisingly soft fingers. A giant’s fingers should be calloused to the texture of sandpaper.

The giant slammed Ryan against the wall one last time and let go.

Ryan breathed.

Two figures were ran away from him as if pursued by some demon. Not twenty. Not ten. Not five.


One of them folded a flick-knife blade with a thumb that was longer than the blade.

It occurred to Ryan that he’d been looking down while being swallowed by that mouth, so it didn’t belong to a giant.

Jared looked as dazed as Ryan felt.


“Did they get the gun?” asked Ryan.

“The what?” Jared looked as if Ryan was speaking to him in Polish. Then comprehension dawned.

“Yeah, The gun!” Jared pulled out the gun. His hand was shaking so much that it pointed all over the street. “Oi! You two! Come back here!”

Ryan couldn’t see either of them by now. “They’re gone.”

He put a hand on Jared’s wrist, pointing the gun at the ground. “They’re not gonna come running back so you can shoot them. Why didn’t you pull that out when they were mugging us?”

Jared’s eyes met Ryan’s. Jared’s brow was furrowed as if his own words made no sense to him. “I didn’t think of it.”

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Posted in Saturday Hooptedoodle
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