Sample Sunday, “Tara Incognita”

Here is a sample from my short story “Tara Incognita” (sic) (that’s “sic” as in “Yes, I know that isn’t how the well-known term is supposed to be spelled”) from my short story collection THE KING OF CHEROKEE CREEK.

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“Whoa, Mom, that is really warped.” Even her seventeen-year-old, Cosmo, thought so, and Cosmo shaved his head and had a tattoo of a red and blue snake around his neck and a bar through his tongue. Every time she looked at him, she worried about all the other things she had never thought to forbid him to do. “Don’t ask, don’t get told no” was Cosmo’s motto.

Tara had stopped by Big Mart on the way home for a spiral-bound notebook and a pen. They had pens at home, but she wanted a special one for this. It was something she didn’t want to do, the way you don’t want to go to the dentist when you know you need a new filling; she might as well have some pleasure out of it. Shoot me some nitrous oxide and play the Beatles, Doc. She settled on a fine-line gel pen with black ink and a barrel that looked like blue abalone. Something she could clutch with pride while her palms sweated rivers.

Cosmo–given name, Alexander Paul Mitchell–dished up the angel hair pasta into two plates and topped it with microwaved canned chicken, chopped black olives, garlic-flavored olive oil, a sprinkle of seasoned salt, and fistfuls of pre-shredded mozzarella.

“So what are you supposed to do, walk up to a total stranger and say, ‘Hi. I’m crazy. Can I talk to you?'”

“Five total strangers. And I don’t have to use those words. Dr. Powell thinks I need to come out of myself by concentrating on other people. So I’m supposed to talk to five people. Ask them five questions about themselves.” Her hands trembled, just thinking about it.

Cosmo grunted, which could mean he was convinced it was a good idea, or wasn’t convinced it was a good idea, or it could just be the sound he made when he turned off his attention. He sat and shoveled food into his mouth until his plate was clean, got up and washed his dishes, and loped out of the room, all without another word. Without even looking at her again.

Tara picked at her pasta, managing to tuck it all away, though she didn’t taste it. She was surprised when she found her plate empty.

Cosmo popped back into the kitchen while she was washing her dishes. He had changed into black denim pants with holes in both knees and a silver mesh shirt. He had a brown canvas haversack slung over a shoulder and had painted his fingernails burgundy.

“Off to work.” Cosmo was–as he called it–“Java Boy” at a coffee house in a nearby college town. He pecked Tara on the cheek. “See you later, Crazy Lady.”

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Click here to read more excerpts from THE KING OF CHEROKEE CREEK.

WRITING PROMPT: Do Tara’s exercise. Strike up conversations with five random strangers and work in five questions about them. Great character study!



I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

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