online magazine for short, good writing

Category: Brief Encounters

Brief Encounter: McGovern’s Motors

by Treehouse Editors

David S. Osgood

The vehicles returned to the dealership in furious fashion; some were even on fire when they reached the service entrance. Peter watched, horrified, as irate customers he had shook hands with days before were exiting cars and SUVs and minivans with the intent of ruining him. He had given each of them his word that these were the best of the fleet, that McGovern’s was the most reputable dealership in the county, and that he would never sell anything he wouldn’t drive off the lot himself. He visually ransacked the sales floor; it was barren. The angry mob descended upon him with crumpled bills of sale and eyes so wide they could swallow the earth.

He had to think fast. Mr. McGovern was probably in Belize by now, starting up a car dealership with a fleet of new lemons disguised as mangoes. Seeing as Peter was recently appointed General Manager, he was the fall guy. The crowd would need answers. They will demand their money back. They will kick and fight and have his head. His accountability training screamed at him in glorious irony.

He came outside with his hands up. The tumultuous sea of new car owners, surrounded by faulty steel and glass, rose to a quiet which halted the wind.

“Everyone, please listen closely. You all have been the result of a test group. You will be handsomely rewarded for your participation. Our control group is happily driving around in McGovern’s best-made vehicles, while you, unfortunately, were chosen to test the limits of customer satisfaction. It’s cruel, I know, but you will gain in monumental recompense. If you will please follow me into the showroom, slowly and without pushing, I will set each of you up with a new car of your choice and a big fat check for your troubles. You did it, brave souls, you survived and you have won!”

Some balked and guffawed. Others ran quietly to the showroom doors and shuffled in against the windows. After some coaxing, every disgruntled customer sardined into the shiny showroom with the expertly waxed floors to await payout. Peter closed the door behind the last rejecter and locked it tight. He mouthed “I’m sorry” to them and ran frantically to his vehicle. He jumped in, locked the doors, and put the keys in the ignition.

The car wouldn’t start. It was a McGovern.

David S. Osgood is a short story writer. He resides in Holly Springs, North Carolina, where rural and suburban collide among crepe myrtles. David has a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing from the University of Southern California and a Master’s from Babson College.

Brief Encounter: Keeping Mum

by Treehouse Editors

Karan Parrack

The summer my husband and I moved to the Texas Hill Country and bought
a house on two sloping, rocky acres west of Austin, we had just added to our
family an astonishingly large yellow lab puppy named Mason. Unfortunately, the acreage was not fenced. While Mason bounded and romped across the spacious land, chasing but never quite catching the rabbits and deer that roamed freely, we had to tether him to a stake in the side yard whenever we left the house. It wasn’t a perfect solution, but it worked for the time.

By mid-October, the weather turned to more fall-like temperatures and the Hill Country became absolutely gorgeous. Our house had a fantastic wooden front porch with five steps leading up to it. I pictured how beautiful my country home would look with colorful pots of mums arranged artfully on the steps, much like some picture out of Southern Living. I bought multiple pots and placed them along the front steps. However, the neighbors had warned me about the futility of planting any flowers due to the large deer population. They ate almost anything that bloomed, that year in particular due to a severe drought. It dawned on me that I could use Mason, by now a strapping, lanky ten-month old, to scare away any deer that dared to approach the flowers. I planned to move his tether to the shady area at the base of the porch, and if any deer came near, Mason’s exuberant barking and jumping would scare them away. The next morning, with total confidence, I left Mason by the porch while I went to work.

Late in the afternoon I arrived back home. As I drove up the winding driveway, I peered past the trees to enjoy the beauty of fall flowers lining my front steps. To my dismay, I couldn’t make out any spots of color. Running to the front porch, I discovered that Mason, the guard dog, had proceeded to eat and destroy the flowers himself! Slobbery pots indented with teeth marks lay fallen in the dirt, and the flowers themselves had been shaken and shredded. A few limp bits of greenery remained littered around the steps, and as for Mason, his nose was crusted with dirt. I sank down on a step and shared a good laugh with Mason, clueless and contented, over how my plan had backfired.

Karan Parrack is a native Texan who has taught high school English and English as a Second Language for more than 30 years.

New Brief Encounters Prompt: When Life Gives You Lemons…

by Treehouse Editors

We’re excited to announce that Brief Encounters submissions are back open, and our newest prompt is: When Life Gives You Lemons…

Do you make lemonade, or lemon dill potatoes? Do you light the lemons on fire and hurl them through life’s windows to let it know that you’re not to be screwed with? Can you make lemonade without sugar and water? Send us your most creative and unexpected stories of making the best of a bad situation, whether they be poetry or prose (as long as they’re 400 words or fewer, of course).

We can’t wait to see what you guys come up with!

Brief Encounter: I’ll Tremble If You Like

by Treehouse Editors

Timothy Stewart Johnson

Mitchell stands before the fireplace spinning the cylinder in his father’s revolver. Mark and I sit before him on the sofa trying to telepathically communicate a plan to save ourselves, but fear blocks our brainwaves and we sit quietly, waiting to die.

“I’ve decided not to become a composer. I’ve decided to be a murderer, and I have someone picked out.” He keeps us pinned with the gun.

“Tim, you’re not trembling. I bet you’d tremble if I shot Mark.” I will tremble if you like, I say, lying. He cocks the hammer and points the gun at Mark’s face. We see the little gray bullets in their cylinders.


He blows imaginary smoke off the barrel. “The old empty chamber routine,” he says, smiling broadly. Still I don’t tremble.

We hear the crunch of tires in the driveway. Mitchell puts the gun in his pocket and he and Mark walk out the front door. They smile and say, “Hi, Mom and Dad.” Everyone calls my folks Mom and Dad, and they have no idea they are being patronized. I help unload the station wagon. Later, Mark comes back alone. “He was just fucking with us,” he says.

As the bus passes the school the next morning, I see Mitchell standing by a side door, hand inside his coat, waiting anxiously to kill Terry Payne, for she has decided not to be his girlfriend. I run from the bus to the parking lot to tell someone, but no one cares. Joints are being passed around, and I end up getting stoned.

An hour later, I come out of gym class and see a parade of police cars rolling down the street in slow motion. From the back of the last one, Mitchell flashes me the peace sign.

I am called to the office and asked what I knew and when I knew it. No one ever asks me why I didn’t tell anyone. I think they know. It’s because they are grownups and they are not to be trusted. We handle our business, they handle theirs.

The hives and the diarrhea keep me out of school for two weeks. Mark discovers heroin, and Mitchell is placed in an institution to be cured. Still I do not tremble, for it is not my way.

Timothy Stewart Johnson survived the 1960s with little more than some minor cuts and bruises and now works as a writer and designer in corporate marketing.

Brief Encounter: The Treachery of Text Messages

by Treehouse Editors

Brian Erickson

there is (or was)
a fine line between being
“available” and “too available”

made finer by the filter
of text
labored over, smirked at, refined
and made finer;

outcomes thought out,
predictions resigned,
no response needed;

but if one comes, in time?

unheeded you write back
to where

Bored and raised in New Jersey, Brian Erickson began making films in high school and continued his studies at NYU, where he focused on writing and directing, thus sparing the world from his “acting.” Recently, ideas that aren’t quite stories or screenplays have sprung to mind, so he has begun writing them, rekindling his fondness for poetry. You can view some of his work on Vimeo (

Brief Encounter: Silently

by Treehouse Editors

Doug Hoekstra

Last time a homeless man asked me for money, it was by the St Francis Hotel in San Francisco, where Fatty Arbuckle’s career ended. Buster Keaton stayed true to his friend, and I thought of Buster as I folded a Franklin and dropped it into the man’s upturned pork pie hat. The bill landed softly over scattered change, covering it like a newspaper blanket. The man quietly nodded his thanks.

“That was a bit much,” my cousin said, as we continued walking. “What if he spends it on drugs? Or worse?” he added, snapping his words like chewing gum.

My cousin had never given me a gift that he didn’t follow up on, asking if I’d played it, read it, or wore it, dependent.

“What if he does?” I said. “It was a gift, he can do whatever he likes. Maybe it’s what he needs right now.”

I wondered what “worse” could be, as we turned the corner and passed the storefront where Tippi Hedren met Rod Taylor at the pet store in The Birds. Something apocalyptic? Seemed like the man was already in a state of worse.

“That’s funny coming from you,” he added, eager to emphasize the fact that I was a teetotaler, since he was not. My cousin was a bricklayer, I taught schoolchildren; he hunted venison, I was a vegetarian; he wore MAGA hats while I raged against the machine. For him, it was always competition.

As we passed the Bay Area Mindfulness Center, the sun shimmered over the China Basin, just past where we were about to take in a Giants game, the last remaining link to our childhood. I thought of Buster again and the baseball scene in The Camerman. No words, just action. Pure genius. The silent movies were the best.

Doug Hoekstra is a Chicago-bred, Nashville-based writer. His first book, Bothering the Coffee Drinkers, appeared on the Canopic Publishing (TN) imprint in April 2006 and earned an Independent Publisher Award (IPPY) for Best Short Fiction (Bronze Medal). Several of the selections in the book appeared in other publications, and one story, “The Blarney Stone,” was nominated for a 2006 Pushcart Prize. Other stories and poems of his have appeared in numerous online and print literary journals and a second book of prose, The Tenth Inning, was released independently in 2015.

Brief Encounter: I Could Never Do a Cartwheel

by Treehouse Editors

Katie Miller

I imagine it feels like this: a single step off a ledge, a free fall so fast you forget to hold your breath.


I’m not saying that doing a cartwheel is the same thing as making a bad decision, but I am saying that I’ve never been able to do either, and I just think that maybe the two deficiencies are not unrelated.

As a kid, I’d watch my friends’ bodies slice through the air, all ease and stretched-out limbs. You just sort of—well, you just sort of kick your feet over your head, they’d tell me, brushing the dirt off their palms as they landed back on their feet as though seconds before they hadn’t been upside down, head inches from the ground. You just kick, let your body follow. Let go.

My body swollen with a pent-up energy that I’m only now beginning to recognize as a lifetime’s worth of accumulated indecision, I’d start the lunge. I’d fold myself sideways, tentatively palm the warm grass, repeat to myself: just kick just kick don’t think everyone can do a cartwheel you can do a cartwheel just let go. Before I could even plant my second hand on the ground, though, the inevitable self-conscious hesitation—potent, physical, this hesitation would seep through my body, settle into my stomach and weigh down my arms and legs like lead until I crumpled to the lawn, motionless.


Maybe it’s no surprise, then, that I’ve never made a real bad decision—one of those willed, eyes-squeezed-shut-to-the-inevitable-fallout risks that you might talk about only years later, in a dimly-lit dive bar, maybe, head bowed over a beer as you tell a stranger about this one time, when. Because if I could never trust myself enough to let go for a cartwheel—the simple one-two kick, a rotation guaranteed to deliver me back to solid ground—there is certainly no chance that I could risk a fall with no bottom, a somersault through the air sure to deliver me, battered, to some different reality. A reality in which I’m left aching, sore for the assurance of solid ground.


But still, I close my eyes sometimes and imagine I can hear wind whistling through my ears. I imagine that for just a moment, I don’t think about the bruises that will line my shins when I hit the ground: I’m here, suspended, weightless.

Katie Miller lives and works in Tucson, Arizona.