Claudia Barillas visits Once Upon a Time

(almost makes you wish you were carrying baggage…ah shucks…we ALL have baggage.  The difference among people is whether their stuff is folded inside a Gucci or crammed in a duffel bag)


I received this entry to our contest Once Upon a Time about a week ago, but I declined to post it until I had sorted out my relationship with that pesky and deceitful  DISQUS.  We broke up. Anyone who has ever broken up knows that breaking up is not an event, but a process. I gave Disqus every chance; we went to counseling. But Disqus just kept giving me mixed messages, sometimes completely functional, sometimes accusing me of browsing and inflicting severe retribution, like not letting others post comments, or scrambling the messages that they posted. I wanted an open relationship where anybody could post comments but that jealous Disqus would just not have it. I started loosing friends.  People stopped visiting because they could not post or read comments. So I have dumped Disqus, in favor of someone new. She is not perfect, but as Disqus will tell you, neither is moi. (I know… hard to believe). I have moved on…Does that make me a heartless, macho male?

I was ESPECIALLY concerned that I would post Claudia Barillas’ story and people would not be able to comment.  Claudia is one of the finest young writers I know, and I sincerely want people to be able to respond to her story entry and give her the feedback and encouragement she deserves.  She has been a finalist a number of times in past contests and eventually, maybe even this time around, I expect her to win. Some people write from the head, some from the heart, and some from the gut. Claudia is that rare, trifarious writer. Here is

Friends Like These

by Claudia Barillas

One, two, three, four. Two rolling suitcases full of clothes and personal items, the box with his new computer, and a trash bag carrying his bedclothes all sat by the door to the bedroom that Francisco had slept in. It wasn’t his bedroom. It was supposed to be, but it wasn’t. The only reason he had slept there the night before was that his grandfather was coming early to pick him up, and the older man was not supposed to know that the room did not belong to Francisco.

One, two, three, four. Though he could see that all of his luggage was in front of him, Francisco counted them, just to make sure one wasn’t missing, would not be forgotten. He would be gone a long time. Until mid December. He could not afford to leave anything behind. One, two, three, four. He patted the pocket of his khakis, once sturdy, but going thin from wear. He felt the bulge of his wallet there. Good. Definitely couldn’t afford to forget that.

One, two, three, four. It looked like everything was in order, then. All he needed was…. He looked around the room. Where was it? His stomach tightened slightly. He couldn’t leave without it. There was no way. He wouldn’t last the one-hour drive, much less the three-month academic quarter. He moved around the room in a near-panic pulling open drawers he had spent the night before organizing, peering behind the temporarily immaculate dresser, dropping onto his stomach on the floor to search under the carefully made bed. He was flushed now, from the anxiety and darting through the room like a trapped bird trying to find a way out, and his red camp shirt—the kind of shirt he preferred, but was too expensive to justify owning many when t-shirts were so cheap—was now wrinkled. He stood, pausing for a breather. With a sigh that he hoped would be calming, he grabbed the brim of his hat and lifted it off his head to run his fingers through his hair. Mid-gesture, he froze. Hand still on his head, fingers buried in the thick, dark mess of his hair, he glanced up and there it was in his other hand. His hat. He had been wearing his hat the whole time. His expression dropped into one of annoyance. Idiot. He shook his head. He had spent several minutes looking for his headwear; it was almost time for his grandfather to arrive.

One, two, three, four. Francisco carried all of his baggage out of his room and set it down by the front door, where he counted it once more. Still all there. From a pile of sheets on the couch there emanated a deep, loud snore. Francisco glanced over, his stomach tightening once more, though this time for different reasons. He was leaving soon, any minute now, and the man sprawled on the sofa could not even be bothered to wake up and say goodbye. A glance around the living room explained why; there were empty bottles all over the floor, evidence of his father’s late night with Lady Tequila and her uncultured friends. A wave of anger washed over Francisco, twisting his expression, and he threw out both hands towards the man’s sleeping form, middle fingers extended. Outside a car horn blared, startling Francisco enough to make him jump. Dropping the offending hands to his side, Francisco looked at his father, but the man did not stir. Exhaling deeply, Francisco put a hand to his chest. He turned to the door to open it for his grandfather, the owner of the horn.

One, two, three, four. Francisco and his grandfather made short work of loading the luggage into the truck—along with the printer the older man had bought his grandson—and securing them, particularly the bedclothes, which might not have the weight to hold themselves down. Francisco’s grandfather let out a heavy sigh with a shake of his head as he eyed the man asleep on the couch, but when he looked at Francisco he managed a smile before asking the boy if he was ready to go. He was. Patting his pocket again to feel for his wallet, Francisco locked the door behind himself before climbing into his grandfather’s truck and buckling up. He looked at his grandfather and forced a smile of his own.

One, two, three, four. The older man turned the truck around and drove down the driveway, past the other houses on the lot, all four just as tacky and rundown as the one the boy lived in, though none with a lawn as green and well-kept. Francisco suspected that wouldn’t last long, and he wondered how tall the grass would be when he returned three months from now, presuming it wasn’t dead. As the truck turned out onto the street Francisco checked his wallet once more. Still there. Mind at ease, or as at ease as it could be, considering the circumstances, Francisco gazed out the window at the familiar stores and houses. He would not be seeing them for a while, and he didn’t mind one bit.


To enter for a chance to win fame and fortune in our contest, here is the link




29 thoughts on “Claudia Barillas visits Once Upon a Time

  1. Monica Brinkman says:

    So sad for this is something many deal with every single day. Adore the ‘one,two,three,four paragraph starts, rather puts a rhythm to the writing.

    I do wish to read more and find out what shall become of Franciso and perhaps the grandfather.

  2. Mike Casper says:

    One, I loved it. – Two- I loved it because I’ve looked everywhere for my glasses and – Three – I found them perched on top of my head – Four – their resting place all the time.
    Nicely done, your story brought back my own leaving for college. I couldn’t wait to put distance between my family and my own new freedom. Well done.

    • Chuck Chuckerson says:

      I regularly check my pocket for my phone. Sometimes I do this while I’m on the phone. Sometimes I freak out.

  3. Sheri Strobaugh says:

    One, Two, Three, Four Star!!!! Very intriguing story. It makes you sad for Francisco but happy that he has a Grandfather to take him away. I would love to read more also…

  4. Parisianne Modert says:

    “Friends Like These” manages to express an unsettled expression of inner conflict about leaving the generation of his father with his grandfather towards schooling better suited to his known. There is a compulsive-obsessive repetition of “one, two, three, four” and of worrying that something will be left behind which is paramount to the resentment of needing to return in three months. This is not a story of the freedom of escape, but only a reprieve wondering what will transpire in three months time with a drunken father. There is a sense that the short time victory of discovering life is outweighed by the trap of the past. The door that is locked is waiting to be unlocked and the grass lawn knows the young man isn’t really going anywhere making this prologue bittersweet.

      • Michael Stang says:

        All I can tell you is to go to and create an account. I already had one, so my avitar was automatic (I guess). Hope this helps.

        • Parisianne Modert says:

          The key to getting my photo to appear was changing the rated setting from R (restricted) to G (all sites appropriate). Thank you Michael.

    • Chuck Chuckerson says:

      Thanks you Parisianne. You are correct that the relief is temporary, but he’s hoping that education will provide a more permanent fix.

  5. Michael Stang says:

    I, Claudia, feel that sweet talented vibe of yours. Who among us here can claim such a commitment to their art. I am still not over Disney, don’t want to be. This little number has cadence, interest, perspective. The MC has so much to learn, we already know a bunch about him. It’s like Barnes&Nobel tells me Barillas has written a new book, pre-sales are available. I can’t get to my nook fast enough.
    Oh, man, bring it!

    • Thornton says:

      Missed you too SAL! You have no idea the hoops we had to jump through to get the divorce from Disqus finalized, and I so hope that we will now see you entering our contests, bringing your friends to influence the judge by saying abundantly flattering things in great numbers about your entries and braving the waters themselves. Welcome back my friend, and the many others also frustrated by my dysfunction relationship with disqus. Help me be strong, should she plead for me to take her back!

  6. Diane Cresswell says:

    Chuck – I love it…one two three and four times and more. Beautifully written and such sadness within the story. Unfortunately this is all to familiar story and one can hope that changes can occur.

  7. Beverly Lucey says:

    The set up for all that can follow is absorbing. I care about this kid: his secrets, his turmoil, his avoidance of traps.

    The writing itself is very smooth and visual. The repetition/counting in each paragraph works well as a constant inventory.

    There are two things I’m stumbling on.

    1. It’s not really his bedroom? That’s confusing since when he thought his beloved hat went missing, he combed through bureaus and underneath everything, through the neatness he was leaving, in order to find that hat. Are we to assume that Grampa is not to know there’s no room for his grandson in his father’s house? Some kind of court ordered structure?

    2. This is a small thing. I need you to insert something that gets them from packing up the car back upstairs so the grandfather can see the mess his son calls a life.

    I really hope Francisco makes it. Feeling that invested is such a compliment to the writer.

    • Thornton says:

      Beverly! Hello from the Towers.
      This is exactly the kind of commentary that makes this site work and so engaging. You let the writer know what you like and offer suggestions that do not change a writer’s style but invites them to create clarity of thought and intent.
      I know we all appreciate this.

      Be on the lookout for our newsletter in the next day or two, and I will demonstrate remarkable maturity Thursday evening at 9 pm on It Matters Radio–thornton-sully-of-a-word-with-you-press

    • Chuck Chuckerson says:

      Thanks Beverly. I’ll keep those questions in mind ad try to answer them in the text, but for now…. Grandpa knows there’s only one bedroom in the house, but he thinks that Francisco is the one that sleeps there and that Dad takes the couch, when in reality the opposite is true. He’d give Dad an earful if he knew, so Dad let Francisco sleep there that night, knowing Grandpa would be by before he was ready to wake up. Francisco spent the night fixing up the room because he couldn’t sleep anyway, and that’s why he thought he lost the hat in the room. As for the other question, there aren’t any stairs involved. Just in and out of the house, with dad asleep on the couch right next to the front door. I guess describing the house better would fix that.

  8. Kristine Starr says:

    I think there’s a strong beginning here…the repetition, and the conflict that is already set up within the family dynamic sets the stage for a main character we will follow. I think that there’s some tightening of the language that can take place, but that might just be the editor in me. As a story starter, I’m looking forward to the rest of it!

  9. Tiffany Monique says:

    The alliteration is an awesome homing beacon. As each scene storyboards, the phrase refrains each change, while linking them together. A great book to read on a rainy night. Looking forward to it!

  10. Shawna A Smart says:

    Whew counting!

    I can relate to the anxiety and nerves, and the boy’s pathos certainly reach out and wrap the heart in empathetic anticipation for the protagonist. I see someone has already addressed the nits, so I will just say your talent is undeniable and you need to keep writing.

    This tangle of worry and restless thoughts is disturbingly familiar, and I think your audience will be rather large (large is good for revenue) if you maintain the discipline and keep writing it. it’s worth development for sure.

    Good work!

    Fond regards,


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