Short Story: “Through-street”

This past weekend we had the pleasure of attending and performing at the first of what will no doubt be many Nerdcon: Stories events. Among the things both Paul and I did was give short presentations under the heading “Why Stories Matter”. Mine was a mostly humorous slideshow talk with the subtitle “A Scientific Explanation”.

A bunch of folks asked if the story I told at the end of my presentation was available anywhere. The answer is now YES; you’ll find it below. For those who weren’t at Nerdcon: Stories, the story was a “case study” of sorts that was run through an app that could allegedly determine a story’s value and assign it a numerical value of between 0-5.

This story stumped the app and caused my computer to crash.

One last bonus tidbit: the cover of the September 2015 issue of the American Journal of Totally Legitimate Science that appeared in the slideshow is here:


And now, please enjoy “Through-street”.



by Storm DiCostanzo

Doris Bennett lived for eighty-nine years, the last thirty as a clear-minded widow in her home on a quiet through-street in Chicago. Her only friend was her dog, Samson, a five-year-old Rottweiler the neighborhood kids called “Devil Dog,” mistaking his gruff demeanor for meanness.

And Samson was gruff, perhaps because he understood that Doris was alone in the world, and needed someone to help look out for her. When Doris ventured outside, Samson led the way with his double-barrel gaze, reserving a rumbling growl for the rowdier children.

“Hush, Samson,” Doris would say. “They’re just kids out here enjoying themselves, just like you and me.”

Apart from Doris Bennett, the only living creature that Samson couldn’t fool was a toffee-colored stray cat known as “Notch”, named for her battle-scarred left ear. Although Notch strictly avoided people, when Doris and Samson went strolling, she was rarely more than a trashcan’s width away. And when Notch’s eyes met Samson’s, he’d let out a Groof!, whose meaning they both well understood.

Of course canine and feline both knew that theirs was a love best savored from a discrete distance. But sometimes circumstance intercedes.

Doris Bennett didn’t think it unusual that Samson would be barking at the postal carrier as he came up her walkway, late one afternoon. And she didn’t notice that Samson’s eyes were trained across the street, and not at her front stoop.

Usually a single, sharp “HUSH” would back Samson away. But the moment Doris opened the door, Samson darted through, nearly knocking the letter carrier down.

Samson dodged one, two cars. A third grazed his hind quarters but didn’t slow his charge towards the shallow alley across the street, whose entryway was clogged with jeering children. Hands rose high, then swung down sharply like threshing blades. Some of the smaller kids fed stones into the hands of their taller peers. Others tried and failed to pull the rock throwers away. Doris couldn’t see their target—a small, toffee-colored cat—but Samson did.

None of Notch’s tormentors saw Samson coming, and the Rottweiler barreled through the forest of skinny legs, opening up a gap. Notch squirted free.

The gap closed, and Doris realized that Samson was now trapped in the alley. Arms rose high above anger-wrinkled faces, and swung down. Doris felt her cheeks flush with rage. She stepped through her front door, oblivious to the postman, to the five steps down her front stoop, to the fact that she hadn’t run a single pace in over two decades. And oblivious to the car rushing down her street.

Doris Bennett had not led an extravagant life. After her funeral expenses were paid, there was more than enough leftover for the veterinarians to patch up Samson, and to provide his new adoptive family with a stipend sufficient for him to live out the rest of his nine years in comfort. Which he did. More or less.

Doris Bennett had also been a thoughtful woman, and having no heirs or close friends, in her papers she’d specified that the remainder of her savings be used to improve the neighborhood where she’d spent most of her life. And one year to the day after being laid to rest next to her husband, the Alvin and Doris Bennett Memorial Playground was opened, for the benefit of the neighborhood children.

Tea Time at Downton Abbey



The following was received in the Paul and Storm inbox, and is published below in its entirety…

(…or as a viewable/downloadable Google Doc/pdf.)


Hello Storm –

You might not remember me, but I’m Emily, the girl from your neighborhood who sent my manuscript to share with the world. Well, I’m all grown up, but I haven’t stopped writing. In fact I’m much better at it now, and when I read “Emily and the Really Sexy Vampyre” now its a little embarrassing.

But I was just a girl then, and I’m completely a woman now. And I want to afford you the opportunity to publish my latest work, my first as truly an adult in this world. I do not expect any remuneration or other monetary gains, but if anyone is interested in making a movie or internet show based on this, I would very much appreciate it if you could help me out in that regard.

Unlike my Vampyre story, this one is truly “A fan fic,” which I understand is a totally normal and legal thing to do, these days. It was inspired by the most delicious teas I have ever had, which as it turns out were themselves inspired by “Downton Abbey,” which is an internet show from England. You’re an American guy and, no offense, a nerd, so you probably haven’t heard of it. But its enough to know that the award-winning TV series, Downton Abbey® has entranced millions of viewers and become a modern media sensation. Every episode is an explosion of drama, relationships and intrigue. Downton Abbey is home to the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants. The first two seasons follow their lives from the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 through the First World War while the later seasons follow them into the early 1920s. From the pen of Academy Award® winner Julian Fellowes, Downton Abbey is the most watched drama ever on PBS!

Without further pomp or adieu, please enjoy “Tea Time at Downton Abbey, by Emily Smith.” And I hope the world is as inspired by this show and these teas like I have been, truly.



by Emily Smith (a pen nom de plume)


It was pretty much an average day at Downton Abbey, in between when some very momentous things had happened, or were going to happen. The two living Grantham sisters sat in the super-fancy and very-historic Downton Abbey parlor. Which might seem crazy if you live in a boring house like most people, but to them it was no big deal. In the morning.

“What should we do to-day?” said Lady Edith, the younger and frumpier of the pair, but certainly of noble Grantham blood, for certain.

“I have an appointment this afternoon with a man,” said Lady Mary, who was the very picture of British pale-elegance. She wore a nice but not crazy-fancy day-gown, which was probably just the first thing she had grabbed for her from the closet, because everything she has to wear is beautiful, even when it was for just whatever.

“Well, aren’t you ever so popular?” said Lady Edith, twisting her lips up like two rubber bands. “Where’s our tea?”

“It’s on the way,” said Lady Mary, one elegant eyebrow lifting in anticipation of delicious tea. “But I’m not meeting the man as a social call. I think he can help us save Downton Abbey, our ancient and traditional home, which is totally worthy of being kept around.”

“Of course,” said Lady Edith. “But the man is a handsome and mysterious Prince, is he not?”

“Not a Prince, silly,” said Lady Mary. “He is Sir Wentworth Namesley, the Viscount of London and Baron-Earl of Westershire. But his titles are not important, nor his mystery or looks. It’s his money earned from the tea trade that concerns me.”

Before Lady Edith could retort, the very pretty and humble Anna entered the room, bearing a spotless silver tray, which itself bore a teapot, which bore two cups, next to it.

“Your tea, m’lady,” said Anna with a little smile. She poured the tea, and the two Grantham Ladys whiffed at the air, with elegance, which made them look even more regal.

“Thank you, Anna,” said Lady Mary. “It is our very favorite, is it not?”

“It’s English Rose!” chirped Lady Edith.

“It is indeed English Rose tea,” said Anna, with a dear little nod. “It is no wonder that you love it so, as it is so like yourselves! This vibrant, ruby-red infusion of rose, raspberry and hibiscus has fruity, floral notes and a touch of sweetness. Inspired by traditional British desserts, this caffeine-free, luscious tea is perfect as an afternoon treat. Enjoy hot or cooled over a tall glass of ice.”

Anna left them to their English Rose tea and important talking. Which they did for a while, in elegance.

“Oh, dear Mary,” said Lady Edith, who was allowed to call her by her first name because they were sisters. “I’m sorry if I was cross or jealous with you earlier. And I’m sorry you have to play these silly nobility games to help save our revered and solemn estate.”

“It’s okay, dear Edith,” said Lady Mary. “Ever was the price of being so very English.”


Back downstairs, Mr. Bates beamed as his beloved Anna returned to him. Only moments before he had been brooding over some secret, a very dangerous one, probably.

“I’ve brought you biscuits and sandwiches, my love,” said the plainly-adorned but very pretty Anna.

“You know me so well,” said Mr. Bates. “For you’ve also brought my favorite Brambleberry tea.”

“Yes! I know how you love Brambleberries, even if you would never confess it to anyone else,” said Anna.

“It is true, I am honorable but rugged,” said Mr. Bates. “But this tea reminds me of my carefree simple youth, when I would play amidst the Brambleberry patches near my humble home.”

“Yes,” said Anna. “It is a bold yet smooth premium black tea is perfectly coupled with a handful of summer fruit – blackberries, raspberries, strawberries and blueberries. A touch of sweetness to this cup will bring out the full, ripe flavor.”

“Your sweetness always brings out my full, ripe flavor!” said Mr. Bates, eyes gleaming.

“Mr. Bates!” said Anna, teasingly. “Not here in Downton Abbey! We do not want cause a scandal!”

“I don’t care what anyone thinks, because that’s how much I love you,” said Mr. Bates. “I would punch anyone in the world for you.”

“Oh, Mr. Bates!”


Later in the afternoon, the Downton staff was having a jolly good time, even though they did not have the advantages of their betters. Everyone except for Mr. and Mrs. Bates was crowded around the sturdy oaken wood kitchen table. On one end were Mrs. Patmore and Daisey, of the kitchen staff. On the other, Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes, being in charge of all the stuff.

“Mrs. Patmore’s Pudding Tea!” shouted Daisey. “Everyone loves it the best, so we should serve it with my cucumber sandwiches!”

“That is quite ENOUGH, Daisey!” scolded Mrs. Hughes. “We appreciate that you are loyal to Mrs. Patmore, but the Butler’s Pantry Blend will be expected.”

“To poppycock with expectations!” said Daisey. “Mrs. Patmore’s dessert tea has the homemade flavors of vanilla sponge cake drizzled with rich caramel sauce. The full-bodied base of premium black tea lends itself well to a splash of milk, making it a perfect afternoon tea to partner with puddings, scones and shortbread!”

“Well, I never!” huffed Mr. Carson, his face turning beat red. “I am in charge of this household! The Butler’s Pantry Blend has A base of robust black tea creates a standard that is softened with the essence of honey! This tea embodies both the strong, no-nonsense character of Mr. Carson and the sympathetic sweetness of Mrs. Hughes! Together, they create the harmonious balance needed to keep the manor in order!””

“Yes! Yes! Butler’s Pantry Blend!” shouted half of the servants around the table.

“No! No! Mrs. Patmore’s Pudding Tea!” shouted the other.

“Now, now,” said Mrs. Hughes. “We are fortunate to have so many delicious and distinguished teas to serve! We also have the Estate Blend, Earl Grey black tea has become one of the most enjoyed flavored teas in the world. This classic traditional British tea with bergamot orange oil has been paired with exotic vanilla for an intriguing finish. Enjoy this robust tea with or without milk and sugar or even over ice. Perfect for high tea or any time of day.”

“It’s true,” said Mrs. Patmore. “And don’t forget Organic Grantham Breakfast Blend.

Full-bodied, malty, organic Assam black tea is infused with the spicy flavor of organic ginger root. Try with a splash of warm milk and sweetener for a flavor reminiscent of sticky ginger pudding. This energizing tea is perfect for an early morning foxhunt or preparing for the dramas of the day.”

“ENOUGH,” thundered Mr. Carson. The room fell stupid-quiet. Everyone thought that everyone was going to get fired. Even Mrs. Hughes looked worried. “There is only one thing to do for it. Mrs. Patmore?”

“Y-yes?” said Mrs. Patmore, meekly.

“Prepare ALL the teas, lest Downton’s guests think we’re stingy,” said Mr. Carson.

“Hooray!” shouted everyone in the room, but a quick glare from Mr. Carson piped them down but quick.

Outside the kitchen right after, Mrs. Hughes patted Mr. Carson on the arm. “Don’t worry—everyone respects our Butler’s Pantry Blend Tea. And it’s wonderful that you’re not always such a grumbling fuddy-duddy.”

“Frussen muss-fuss!” said Mr. Carson.


Later that evening, after the day’s adieu and excitement, Earl and Cora Grantham were getting ready for bed. Cora leaned against her Tea Sampler Pillow, which is A perfect way to sample our Downton Abbey® Teas for yourself or a friend, each pillow contains a selection of our Citizens’ Favorite Downton Abbey® Teas.

Some servant or other came in with tea, and set it down. Cora thoughtfully admired the Flora and Fauna Teapot, A 12.5 oz Wedgwood teapot featuring sweet cuckoos and feminine blossoms for the most elegant afternoon tea setting. Inspired by pattern books from the early nineteenth century, this teapot is crafted from fine bone China and features burnished gold edge lines. Pairs with Flora and Fauna Tea Cup and Saucer. Infuser not included.

“Earl?” said Cora.

“Yes, my love?” said Earl, sipping from an English Rose Mug, in sophisticated style with this 16 oz quaint English Rose Mug. Pair with our Downton Abbey® English Rose tea for a delightful afternoon cuppa.

“Do you still like my tea?” asked Cora.

“Oh, my sweet!” said Earl. “I adore Lady Cora’s Evening Tea! This caffeine-free blend of chamomile and lemon balm will calm the mind and body. Relaxing botanicals create a cup of tranquility that helps ease the nerves. Nice before bedtime when a soothing cup is a welcome friend.”

“A friend?” said Cora.

“Well, yes,” said Earl. “My mother, the Dowager Countess, may not have approved of my love for you, but I assure you it is complete and enduring.”

“And mine yours, too, as such,” said Cora, eyes aglow. “And that wrinkled prune mother of yours has always been sour because she never had a tea named for her.”

“As usual, you’re probably right.”

And thus did night fall on Downton Abbey, and the teas of Downton Abbey.




Short Story: Cinnamon

Cinnamon-coverEver wonder what it feels like to animals when you pet them, particularly smaller ones whose whole bodies could be covered in one or two strokes, or held entirely? Of course you have! And if you haven’t, you’re probably thinking about it right now.

Either way, that simple idea was the inspiration for “Cinnamon”. And naturally it required space aliens to explore it. Then a bunch of other ideas decided they wanted in, too. Then it got weird.

You can all 3,600 words of “Cinnamon” here on Longer Thoughts (after the “More” below), or view or download it as a pdf (right-click and “Save as” to download.)

Special thanks to the All-Star Advance Readers, and also to Jonathan Coulton’s rodent friend, who kicked the ol’ imagination into gear. Trees and rocket ship used in the design to the right are from

Please enjoy “Cinnamon”.

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Mr. Gaithersburg’s Wingmen

It seems like the more birthdays I put behind me, the more they become an opportunity to reflect. Not that I don’t still enjoy a rousing game of pin the tail on the donkey, but after blowing out the conflagration atop the birthday cake, it seems appropriate to try and make sense of one’s life, in addition to noting the fact that you’re still living it.

As I review past accomplishments and tragedies with family and friends, one particular moment keeps coming to mind that, in hindsight, put me firmly on the track towards being a professional entertainer. So if you ever wonder why creative people choose to do what they do (performers in particular), consider this short recollection a data point.

As with most stories told decades after the fact, some of the details may be colored by time, and one or two names have been changed. But for a certainty, in high school I was not what you’d call a ladykiller. Although not completely inept around the opposite gender, if you took a poll of every girl I knew up until late in my junior year, 70% would have marked me down as “A Good Friend”, 18% “Like a Sister To Me”, and 10% “Kina Weird, But Okay, I Guess”. (The remaining 2%, “Completely Botched His Chance”, is a compendium for another time.) Although I was good at talking with girls about classes, favorite flavors of Bubble Yum, and why Matt won’t ask her out, I had little confidence or vocabulary for expressing my own romantic interests. No, that’s not unusual for a 16-year-old. And it probably didn’t help that my misguided sense of nonconformity led me to neglect my personal appearance and, more importantly, my personal hygiene.
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I Got Nothing

I knew this day would come. At the outset of Longer Thoughts, I pledged for my own betterment to write at least 250 words a day. And now as I sit on my couch, ill of mood and brooding, I have absolutely nothing positive of interest to say.

Yes, I did write over 250 words on a post for that will go live at midnight. But it doesn’t count: it’s not the kind of thing I’d post here. Entertaining as it may be, it’s really a pure promotional piece for a song release, and not an over-thought observation about something trivial, a story of any sort, or even bad advice. Even if it was, since it doesn’t go online until midnight, it could at best be counted as Tuesday’s post.

Only 129 words? Really? Okay; time to freeball a story…
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A Pretty Audience of One

Much to my surprise, it’s been well over a month since we launched Longer Thoughts, and in that time I’ve actually met my initial goal of writing at least 250 words every day Monday-Friday (not counting days on the road). Even more surprising is how much feedback I’m getting–thank you to everyone who has commented or written; it’s always been constructive, sometimes is instructive, and is most certainly a great source of motivation.

I’ve actually also surprised myself in regards to what I’ve been writing about. Granted I didn’t have a particular goal when I started, but I didn’t expect to do as much analytical writing as I have, such as the posts about the Geek/Nerd Universe Spectrum, and sidekick pets. (I’ve also become rather skilled at typing [target=”_blank”], but that’s more mechanical in nature.) Reaction to those types of esoteric romps has been particularly strong, and I’m glad that I’m finally putting my American Studies degree to practical use.

But the flip-side is that I haven’t done as much storytelling as I’d expected to. Yes, I’ve put a few short stories up, and every post is a story in its own way–but not in a true narrative sense. Maybe it’s because I don’t think people are interested in anecdotes from my personal life. Or more likely it’s because that kind of writing requires more personal risk, exposing real pieces of one’s psychological makeup (albeit carefully-chosen scraps). But storytelling was what first got me writing, way back in the 2nd grade.
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The Addition (short story)

I started writing this around midnight, after watching a mixed bag of Arrested Development, Doctor Who, and news coverage of the possible impending federal government shutdown. Originally it was just going to be a short apocryphal dialogue like Down and Out On Sesame Street, but it sorta took on a life of its own.

I finished it about three hours later, and finally had time to edit it down this afternoon. Skip the rest of this paragraph if you want to read it completely unprejudiced by MILD SPOILERS. Mild Spolier Alert 1: it’s about animals. Yaaaay! MSA2: it’s only occasionally funny. Boooo? MSA3: while I tried to end the story open to interpretation, I think only the sunniest person in the world could spin it as “uplifting”, so if you’re already in a dour mood, you might want to save it for another time.

If I had to categorize the story, and I also had to describe it in terms of food, I would call it a Paranoid Fable Loaf with Allegory Glaze, with a side of Lightly Frothed Horror. So if I haven’t scared you off, please do enjoy “The Addition”.


Click to download as a FREE pdf on

Farmhouse photo:
Hen photo:

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My Own Worst Enemy (short story)

More than anything, this tweet…

[S] Sometimes I’m my own worst enemy. But usually it’s Destrozzor, a 60-foot-tall robot who’s been trying to kill me since I was eleven.

…was the catalyst for launching Longer Thoughts. It wasn’t the first tweet of mine that sounded like a decent story premise, but it was the first one that I acted on. And it came out well enough that it seemed like a good excuse to launch the blog, whose URL we’d secured a few months before.

I wrote “My Own Worst Enemy” in little chunks of time I had over a span of two days, and I don’t think it’ll spoil the experience for you to know that it ended up going someplace that was very unexpected to me. It is fictional, but at times is honest almost to the point of being autobiographical. Thank you to Mrs. Storm for lending her considerable editing talents, and to Len Peralta and Paul for giving it a look and getting me past the “I suck” barrier.

I’ve uploaded a FREE pdf version to, for thems (like me) who don’t like to read stories off of web pages. I hope to make an ePub version available at some point, but the conversion process is rather fussy. But by all means feel free to read its 4,000+ words here.

Cover design is based on a photo by Flickr user KingDaveRa

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Down and Out On Sesame Street

I wouldn’t call myself a news junkie, but I probably follow current events more than the average bear. And being an avid NPR lister (one of the sponsoring “listeners like you”, in fact), I couldn’t help but notice the recent efforts to defund public television and radio funding. Now I’m hardly an expert, and I’ll leave it to more knowledgeable and established pundits to debate the proper role of government, or whether or not the federal government should be involved in broadcasting at all during this golden age of cable and internet.

My interest is much narrower and far more lighthearted: if the proposed cuts do go through, what will happen to all of the newly unemployed Sesame Street Muppets? The following takes place on a New York City street, in one possible not-too-distant future…
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