Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 13: Family

The prompt this week was to write a story that takes place on Thanksgiving Day. I thought I would share a story about one family.


Here we go again. Another Thanksgiving with the family. Getting together at Christmastime was never workable since we all live in areas that get a great deal of snow, so Thanksgiving became our family’s traditional annual jubilee for as far back as I can remember. I know what you’re thinking. What a wonderful opportunity that will be to visit with my relatives who live in other states that I don’t see but once a year. Well, let me clear up that delusion of yours right now. Getting together with my family, even once a year, is the most unpleasant experience you can imagine.

Aunt Sheryl spits when she speaks, and once it occurs to her you’re listening to one of her depressing stories about the old days, she’s on you like a bad penny. Uncle Sebastian has some medical condition that causes him to fall asleep anywhere, at any time, even if he’s in the middle of a sentence. His dinner is served on small plates that are placed on either side of him because there’s no telling when his head will drop down on the table in front of him. He’ll sleep for 10 minutes or so, then wake up and start picking at his food again. Talk about an appetite killer… My cousins Betsy and Delores, unmarried twin sisters in their 80s, live together in the house they grew up in. They are a pain in the ass to spend any time with because all they do is argue over some man they were both in love with 50 years ago who ran away with their best friend.

That’s only the tip of the iceberg. My mom’s third cousin, Suzanne and her husband Danny, do nothing but complain. Their house isn’t big enough and they can’t afford to remodel, their kids keep bad company and are turning into street thugs, his job doesn’t pay enough and if he asks for a raise he will be fired, and on and on. They never bring their kids with them to our Thanksgiving reunion, and for that, I’m grateful. Those two are bad enough. I don’t need to get mugged and carjacked in the driveway by their renegade offspring.

There are others who show up, but I have no idea who they are. They walk in, toss their coats on the guest room bed, grab a glass of cider and plant themselves in a corner. I’ve never made the effort to introduce myself. It’s all I can do to get through the day without having to deal with any of them for very long. If you’re thinking I’m a bastard because of my attitude, so be it. You spend a day surrounded by these oddball characters, and see what kind of an attitude you have by bedtime.

I’ve saved the best for last. Our hostess for the occasion is Gloria. I call her Aunt, but I’m not sure whether she is or not. She’s never taken issue with the title, so I go with it. Doesn’t matter much what I call her though; she never remembers who I am. It’s Aunt Gloria’s home in which we celebrate and eat turkey with all the fixings. I have no idea what goes on after because I make my exit right after the main meal. There’s always several desserts, but I never stay for them. I’ve already had enough of the complaining and being called by eight different names by people I barely know. I slug down one last cup of coffee for the drive home, and head out. By that time, half of them are asleep at the table and the others are busy talking to themselves. Gee. Can’t wait until next year to do it again.

Why do I subject myself to this nightmare year after year, you ask? I promised my mom when she was on her deathbed. My mom. The only normal person I have ever known. Growing up, I had asked her often if she was sure she wasn’t adopted, but she was firm in her assertion that this collection of miscreants she called family was biologically hers. Dad died when I was a baby, so I never knew him, and Mom was all I had. When she was dying, she made me promise I would attend the family’s Thanksgiving festivities without fail, even though some of them may seem peculiar at times. Family was important, she said. Keep them close. You never know how long they’ll be around.

So, here I am. I may be a bastard, but I keep my word. There wasn’t as much holiday traffic as I anticipated, so I was the first to arrive. Oh goody.

“Come in here, David,” Aunt Gloria pulled me into the house, yanked my coat off and threw it on the floor. “Grab some hot cider and have a seat. The rest should be arriving soon. Answer the door when they arrive, will you, Bobby? I’ll be in the kitchen finishing dinner.”

“Sure thing, Auntie,” I responded.

I picked up my coat and went to the guest room and put it on the chair. If I put it on the bed, it will end up on the bottom and it will take me longer to make my escape. By the way, for your information, my name is Stanley.

One by one, my family arrived. Funny what a difference one year can make. Last year, they looked the same as always, but this year, something just wasn’t right. Aunt Sheryl’s son Stuart arrived, but he came in alone.

“Hey, Stu, Happy Thanksgiving.” I’m a considerate bastard. “Where’s your mom?”

“Hi Stan. Happy Thanksgiving. Mom passed a few months ago. I’m sorry I didn’t let you know, but we didn’t have your number.”

Because I deliberately never gave it to you, Stu. Crap. I could have at least sent flowers or a card. She was my aunt, after all.

“Sorry, Stu, I thought I had. Let me give it to you now. Just in case you need to reach me. For anything. So, Stu, have you heard from Uncle Sebastian? He’ll be coming, won’t he?” All at once, I felt frightened, although I wasn’t sure what of.

“Not this year, Stan,” he said. “It was just too dangerous for him to remain at home, what with his narcolepsy. His sister, Marion, you remember her, don’t you? Well, she couldn’t care for him by herself anymore, so she placed him in a nursing home. He’s much safer there. She’s in her 90s and not well, so she won’t be coming this year either.”

“That’s probably best.” I said, thinking, why didn’t I ever notice he came with his sister? Then, the bigger question hit me. Why didn’t I know he even had a sister?

Betsy and Delores arrived. I found myself looking forward to hearing them bicker.

“Hi Betsy and Delores. Happy Holidays. I hope you’re both doing well.” Being polite is normally against my nature, but my fear was growing stronger.

“We’re fine, Jerry,” Betsy said, mopping the drool off her sister’s face with a stained handkerchief. Delores grinned while getting her face wiped, but didn’t speak. “Del had a stroke, and I sold mom and dad’s house so we could get a smaller place; you know, easier to take care of with Del the way she is now. How’s everything with you, Sammy?”

“Great, Betsy. Just great.” I had to get away from them. I went to get another cider. This was bad.

Suzanne came in. Alone. Now what? Damn. I wish I’d brought a bottle of Jim Beam instead of a fruitcake.

“Hi, Suzanne,” I said. “Is Danny parking the car?”

Suzanne screamed, burst into tears and ran into the bathroom. Aren’t I just Prince Charming and a half? What the Hell? Aunt Gloria came running into the living room.

“Was that Suzanne, Phil?” she asked me. “I hope you didn’t mention her husband. He left her. Ran away with his secretary, I think, and left her with those rotten kids. The girl’s knocked up and the boy’s in prison somewhere. She’s having a rough time. Make sure you don’t mention her husband.”

Now she tells me.

“Everyone,” Aunt Gloria announced, putting her arm around me. “Dinner’s ready. Everything’s on the table. Let’s eat because Johnny here has to leave. He’s got a long drive ahead. I’ll get Suzanne.”

Mom’s last words to me about family were coming back - loud and clear.

“Aunt Gloria, Please convince Suzanne to come out, I'll apologize to her. It's all my fault that she's upset. And you don’t have to rush. There’s no one waiting for me at home. I’ve got plenty of time, and I’m looking forward to trying all the desserts.”

A couple I didn’t recognize were making their way to the dining room. I walked over and extended my hand.

“Happy Thanksgiving. I’m Stanley, and you are?”

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 12: The Omen

The challenge this week was to write a story involving superstition. Sometimes, you just can’t be too careful.

“Thank you for being so understanding, Charles. I know this may all seem like silly superstition to you, but it’s just that following Madam Zena’s advice has helped me through the toughest times in my life.”

“It’s fine, my dear Vanessa. We’ll arrange to have our wedding in whatever way will please you.”

“Wonderful, darling. She said the ceremony must begin when both hands on the clock are pointing upward, so we can get married at either noon or midnight. That’s the only way we can guarantee that we will be happy. One thing though. Please don’t mention this to any of your friends or employees. People will make fun of me and I couldn’t stand that.”

“No, my pet. I won’t tell anyone. What’s important to you is important to me and I would never do anything to make you feel uncomfortable. No one will ever know about your personal beliefs.”

“Thank you, love, but one last thing. Please remember that no one can come to our wedding if they have dark hair, a dark beard and mustache. Madam Zena warned me a man like that would do me great harm.”

“I don’t even know anyone like that, dear heart. I’ll make sure to honor that request. I would never do anything to frighten you. Shall we work out the details for our wedding now?”

* * * * *

“Charles, you are the best husband in the world. I’m so excited about going on a world cruise, but Madam Zena said we have to make sure of one very important detail.”

“What is that, my sweet?”

“She said for our trip to go smoothly and for us to be totally safe, our ship’s name must not end with the letter ‘A’. If it does, then bad luck will follow us for the rest of our lives.”

“But, Vanessa, our trip is already arranged. We are scheduled to sail on the Aurora and you will love it. Anything you can imagine is available on the ship and we will be very comfortable.”

“Charles, I cannot set foot on that ship. You know how much I trust Madam Zena. She’s been my spiritual advisor for years and I’m not going to start doubting her now.”

“All right, sweetheart. I’ll have my secretary rebook us on another cruise line and make sure the ship’s name doesn’t end with ‘A’. I want you to be comfortable and happy.”

“Thank you, dear. Also, please make sure you don’t mention any of this to your friends and colleagues. I wouldn’t want them to make fun of me. Make sure that no man with dark hair, a dark beard and mustache comes near me on our cruise since great harm would be done to me.”

“No harm will ever come to you, my love. I will always keep you safe.”

* * * * *

“Charles, I’m glad you’re home early. Apparently, it didn’t take as long at the bank as you had thought it would.”

“No, Vanessa. It took no time at all to add your name to all my accounts, including the ones I have in the Islands. I also added your name to the house and my attorney updated my will. It took some time to get all the paperwork done because of my interest in my corporation, but it’s all been taken care of. I want to make sure that if anything ever happens to me, you would want for nothing.”

“You’re so good to me, Charles. Whatever I did to deserve you, I would do it again a hundred times. By the way, everything is set for our dinner party this evening, but I need to mention one thing. I checked with Madam Zena about our having people over and she said bells need to be hung inside all our doors. That needs to be done so no evil spirits enter along with our guests. It is a necessary precaution to protect us both. Please don’t tell any of your friends or colleagues about it since they would laugh at me. Thank you for making sure you didn’t invite anyone with dark hair, a dark beard and mustache so no harm would come to me.”

“Of course, honey. We’ll just tell them we love the sound of bells. The real reason for the bells will be our little secret. You must never worry, my Vanessa. I will always respect any of your wishes, and I don’t consider them silly at all.”

* * * * *

“Isn’t this a beautiful suite? Nothing like the Penthouse of a five-star hotel to help ease the pain. The Chief of Police arranged for me to stay here for a week while they finish collecting their evidence. They are also going to have people come in and clean up my house. I never knew there were companies that specialized in cleaning up after murders. Oh wait. This wasn’t exactly a murder, now, was it? This was a tragic accident. Right, Madam Zena?”

“Don’t call me that anymore, Van. It’s spooky. Are you sure the police are going to write this up as an accident?”

“I’m positive, Rochelle. Detective Schooner told me he was going to report it that way. I simply explained the situation to him. I told him Charles thought my beliefs were silly and was always trying to cure me of my superstitions, but this time, it all went horribly wrong. Charles knew I was terrified of a man with dark hair, dark beard and mustache because my advisor warned me a man like that would bring great harm to me. I said Charles should never have put on that disguise and snuck into the house. I told the Detective I guessed it was to try to show me that warning was nonsense. When I heard a noise and woke up to see the person I was warned about coming toward me, what could I do but try to defend myself. The police have to take my word for everything; after all, my side is the only one they’re going to get. Charles never mentioned you, or any of my beliefs, to his friends or anyone at his company as I requested.”

“Van, that man with the dark hair and beard story was brilliant. Was it hard to put the hairpieces on after you shot him?”

“Not at all. He fell on his back, so it was no problem. I turned out all the lights and sat on our bed holding the gun. It was so easy to convince Charles I’d seen someone hanging around the house on a couple of nights, so he gave me the gun. As soon as he stepped into the bedroom doorway and called my name, I shot him, put the wig, beard and mustache on him, and then I called the police. You should have seen me. I was inconsolable.

“Should we order room service? It’s on the city, after all. Charles did have a lot of friends in very high places. I didn’t eat any dinner because I wanted to make sure I would be ready whenever he came home. We should order some champagne to go with our meal so we can celebrate. He put my name on all his accounts and the house, so once all the blood has been mopped up, you can move in. I love you so much, Rochelle. Now we can be together every day. Too bad about Charles though. He was an okay guy, I guess, even though he was a Class A sucker.”

“I love you too, Van. Look, don’t start feeling sorry for the marks. It’ll mess you up for the next time. For now, let’s get rid of all this Madam Zena crap. These tarot cards and crystal balls give me the creeps. I feel like a nice thick steak. How about you?”

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 11: Old Habits

The prompt this week was about secrets. The challenge was to write a story that involved a secret.

Old Habits
I could hear the sirens for several minutes before the police arrived. There were three cars that responded, all with lights flashing and sirens blaring. One would think there was a crime in progress rather than a dead body. It wasn’t as if the perpetrator was still standing over her, admiring his work. Sometimes I wonder if real cops take their cues from police sitcoms. Not to sound uncaring, but the person was deceased, and the investigators showing up on scene like the Cavalry in an old black and white Western movie, isn’t going to get the case solved any the sooner.

I’m a newcomer to this apartment complex, and I was drawn to its charm, well maintained landscape, and friendly, yet seemingly nonintrusive, residents. Everyone minds their own. There are four units to each building, and I always make sure I introduce myself to all in my immediate proximity, in case an emergency should arise. That is, however, where my cordiality ends. I don’t ‘do coffee’, chat while retrieving the newspaper from my doorstep, or keep an eye on anyone’s children while they run to the market. I respect the privacy of others and expect the same consideration be shown to me.

The victim had lived on the ground floor, in the apartment across the hall from mine. Apparently, she had not arrived for her shift, or telephoned her manager to say she was ill. One of her co-workers was dispatched to find out if the girl planned to show up for work that day. When she received no response to her knocks and noticed what looked like blood coming from under the door, she contacted the Apartment Manager. On making entry and discovering a gruesome scene, they closed the door and phoned the police. The manager knocked on everyone’s door in the building and informed us all that one of our neighbors had been murdered and to prepare for the arrival of the authorities.

She had been a pretty little thing, bright red hair, blue eyes, and quite the chatterbox. I had met her on the day I moved in. I was still unloading my car when she approached me and introduced herself as Bunny. Her given name, she informed me, was Barbara; however, those closest to her called her Bunny. She stated she was on her way to work at a restaurant in the downtown area, and if I had time to stop in, she would provide me with a discount.

She welcomed me to the neighborhood, and proceeded to describe, in great detail, how her life had changed since leaving her parents’ home to strike out on her own. I was relieved when she bid me goodbye, got in her car and drove away. I made a mental note to learn her daily schedule so as to avoid any further chance tȇte-ά-tȇtes. There had been no accidental encounters since and now there definitely would not be. Again, not to sound cruel, but idle chatter was a waste of my valuable time.

There was a great deal of commotion in the parking lot in front of my building that interfered with my conference call, so I informed my client we would need to continue our discussion in the morning. I am a financial analyst and work from home. It pays extremely well, and leaves me free to handle my weekly errands. That had been my last call of the day, so I stepped outside to find out how much longer the disruption to my routine would continue. Evidently, the body had been removed, but the technicians were still going through Bunny’s apartment. The squad cars had departed and the evidence personnel were quietly performing their duties. So, who was making a fuss?

I noticed a woman going through the crowd, informing anyone who would listen that she knew the victim well, that they were very close, and that she knew what happened to her, but it had to remain a secret. There were factors involved that were so treacherous, mums the word. I heard someone tell her she needed to notify the police as soon as possible so they could catch her killer. She dismissed that advice and insisted this was bigger than anyone realized. Perhaps at a later date, if she was assured of her own safety, she might share her information with the authorities, but for now, she was going to keep her own counsel.

I made my way through the crowd that had gathered outside to an elderly lady who lived in the next building. I had seen her at the mail boxes on a couple of occasions and she’s clued me in on who I can say ‘Good Morning’ to and who I should avoid like the plague. The woman with the secret however, was someone whose status she had not shared with me.

“Mrs. Hopper,” I said. “Do you know who that is and what she’s going on about? It sounds as if she witnessed the murder or at least knows who committed it.”

“That one is full of it,” she responded. “All the recent murders in the city have got her all fired up. Each time they’ve found a body, she’s said she knew the victim, they were close, she knows what happened, but she needs to keep it secret. It’s all bull, you know. She does that just to get attention. Good thing I ran into you so I can warn you about her.

“Her name’s Sissy, and if she comes anywhere near you, make tracks the other way. She’s a Nosy Nellie if I’ve ever met one. She’ll bother you at all hours, and try to find out everything about you. Once she leeches onto you, there’ll be no avoiding her, so nip it in the bud.”

“She should be careful and not spread it around that she knows who committed a murder,” I offered. “Doesn’t she realize she’s putting herself in danger?”

“Hon, no one takes her seriously. Everybody around here knows she’s just trying to make herself look special. Oh, no. She’s coming this way. I’m going back inside and I’d advise you to do the same. Take care, Robert.”

The crowd was dispersing, and it looked as though Sissy no longer had an audience. Our eyes met, but before she could approach me for one last declaration of her inside knowledge of the crime, I went back to my apartment to prepare to run a necessary errand later that evening.

Before she went back into her apartment, Sissy informed the neighborhood she was going out to pick up some dinner. I’m not sure why she felt the need to share that information, but evidently, her need to stand out was not exclusive to being a witness. I saw her leave at 7. When she returned at around 9, she was surprised to find me waiting for her in her living room.

“Who are you? Why are…”

I put my hand over her mouth, told her to be quiet and pushed her down on the couch. Tears were running down her cheeks, and I spoke softly to her to keep her calm. It’s true that I was going to kill her, but I didn’t like it when they got all agitated. Everything got messy. I didn’t like messy.

“Answer me. Do you know something about the redhead’s murder?  Well?”

“I…but why…did you…”

“Yes or no.” I didn’t have all night. It was getting late and I had calls to make in the morning.

“No. I…no.”

“What is it then that you are keeping secret? Answer me.”

“There’s no secret. I…I’m sorry. I don’t know anything. I just said that because…I don’t know why I say things like that. I’m sorry. I won’t… I don’t know anything. Did you…no. Don’t tell me. I’m sorry.”

She started crying again, but at least she was calm.

I leaned in and whispered to her.

“So, there’s no secret?”

“There’s no secret, she said, sniffling. “Not really. I just made that up.”

“Shouldn’t have done that,” I said. “I have one though, and I know you won’t tell.”

I moved behind her, pulled her head up by her hair and ran my knife across her throat. No mess on me.

I locked her door on my way out. I had gloves on, of course. I never leave fingerprints. No one saw me leave her apartment and go past the couple of buildings back to mine. That’s what I love about these apartments. Everyone minds their own.

This month, it was redheads. I choose a type and kill one a week. It’s a habit I picked up years ago from my Pops. Unusual, but fulfilling. I make it a rule to avoid those close to home, but with Bunny, I took exception. She was almost as annoying as Sissy would have become. Sissy, by the way, was a brunette. I guess rules are meant to be broken.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 10: The Look

To commemorate the start of NaNoWriMo, this week’s prompt was words. We were to write a story incorporating the following five words: Tunnel, Measure, Eyebrow, Corporation and Cuff.

The Look

I knew I would get The Look when I gave Hermione the news. Hermione is my wife, and has been for the last 18 years. The Look is her own unique expression of complete condemnation. While her icy stare is burning a flaming hole through the middle of your soul, her left eyebrow forms into a perfect upside-down ‘V’. I’ve never been able to figure out how she accomplishes that. I went so far as to use a ruler to measure her eyebrow while she slept one night, but that didn’t solve the mystery. It wasn’t nearly long enough to come to a sharp point and yet still remain parallel to her eye on both sides. I considered suggesting she contact the World Record Book people with that feat since that surely would earn a mention, but decided against it since she does also lack an overall sense of humor.

When my boss informed me this morning that I no longer had a job, I agonized about telling Hermione. Even though the elimination of my position was due to my Corporation merging with another, I feared she would believe it was my fault. On the train ride home, I realized I wasn’t giving my wife enough credit. She would realize that I had no control over this particular situation. The merger resulted in a number of people being terminated since a complete restructuring of both company’s executive levels was planned. Besides, I was given an excellent recommendation and quite a handsome severance package, so it wasn’t like we’d have any financial problems until I obtained another job. She would understand. Right?

Wrong. True to form, she pounced on me as soon as I made the announcement.

“You never should have stayed with that company for so long,” she said, glaring at me with that eyebrow at its highest peak. “That’s why they let you go. You were nothing but dead weight after all those years.”

“But, dear, I wasn’t the only…”

“I’ll bet you didn’t even stand up for yourself, did you? I’ll bet you just walked out and didn’t take the time to give them what for, did you? Of course you didn’t. Now what are we supposed to do?”

The eyebrow remained frozen in place.

“But, dear, they gave me a very gener…”

“I’m going to bed. I didn’t have a headache all day, but now I feel like I’m going to faint from the pain. I hope you realize how lucky you are to have me. I scrimp and I save and I’ll make sure every penny of that last check they gave you goes into our savings. That way, we won’t be out on the street if you can’t find another job quickly enough. There’s dinner in the oven. You have yours – I can’t possibly eat right now. Eat all your vegetables and don’t add any salt. Go to bed after you eat so you get a good night’s sleep before you go out job hunting.”

And she was gone. She turned out all the lights on her way to the bedroom, with the exception of the kitchen lights. As I stood in the dark hallway, hungry, jobless and feeling like a total failure at life itself, I knew there was only one way out of this deep hole I was in. I had to kill Hermione.

I know what you’re thinking. Why get rid of her? I’ll tell you why. No matter what adversity occurs in either of our lives, it’s always my fault. She’d blame me if the sun came up late one morning. No, I’m not exaggerating. I spend my life under a dark cloud that always carries a thunderstorm and its name is Hermione. Throughout our entire marriage, I’ve been nagged, criticized, and blamed six ways to Sunday. Losing the only job I’ve ever had that made me feel proud and fulfilled actually hurt me deeply, big fat severance check notwithstanding. If only just this one time she would have tried to be supportive and offered me a bit of sympathy. If only. But, no. Not even once. Well, this is the last straw.


It took me a couple of days to figure out how to do it. While I was out doing interviews, I did a couple of run-throughs at the fancy hotel downtown and my plan is foolproof. I’ll take her to dinner there tomorrow night to make up for whatever mistake I’ll probably make and to apologize for not having found a new job yet, since that’s most likely my fault too. I’ll park in their underground lot and we’ll walk through the tunnel up to the lobby. It’s dimly lit and very few people go that way. It isn’t dangerous, but it is cold and damp, and mostly used by staff coming to and going from their shifts; although it is open to the general public as well.

On our way back to the car, after I make sure no one else is in there, I’ll hit her from behind to knock her out. Then, I’ll put a plastic bag over her head until she’s dead. I’ve researched that and it doesn’t take as long as you might think. I’ll get in my car and go home. When the cops notify me of her demise, I’ll tell them I don’t know how she ended up back there. I’ll say we went to dinner and had a fight. She said she was going to a girlfriend’s house, so I went home alone. Foolproof.


It worked perfectly. Just as I thought, hardly any cars were parked in the underground lot and no one was near either end of the tunnel. I knocked her out cold with the wrench I had in my pocket and pulled out the large baggie I had stashed under the cuff of my shirt. As I looked down at her laying there, I envisioned what my life would be like without the stone around my neck she had been.

There would be no one to nag me first thing every morning telling me to put on clean socks and underwear in case I was in an accident.

There would be no one to order me to eat every bite of the shredded wheat cereal that I despised because it helped to keep my digestive system working properly.

There would be no one to line up my blood pressure pills, cholesterol pills, and twelve vitamin supplements next to my orange juice, and refuse to let me get dressed until each one was taken.

There would be no one to make the God-awful meatloaf, dry mashed potatoes and spinach salad with no dressing that was served to me every Wednesday for dinner to balance out my weekly protein and starch intake.

There would be no one to turn the television off at 9:59pm when the news was over, since commercials were a waste of time and cut into the necessary eight hours of sleep time.

There would be no one to…

There would be no one.

I would be alone.



“Herbert? Herbert, what’s wrong? Can’t you hear me? Did you hit your head too?”

I waited too long. She’s come to. The Look appeared.

“Help me up, Herbert. We aren’t parking down here anymore and walking through this tunnel. There’s something sticking out of the wall in here and I hit my head on it. Why didn’t you answer me? Did you hit your head too? Did you have a stroke? I told you not to salt that potato. I’ll call the doctor in the morning so he can check you out. Do you need me to help you to the car?”

Who is this caring woman, and what have you done with my wife?

“No, dear, I’m all right. What are you going on about? You’re acting like you’re worried about me.”

“I always worry about you, Herbert. Why do you think I nag you about everything? I know I pester you day and night about every little thing you do, but that’s just because I love you. I know I don’t always say it, but you know I’m not one of those gushy women. You know I love you, Herbert, don’t you? Well, don’t you?”

Did I hit her on the head too hard?

“Yes, dear, I know. I really do know. I love you too. Let me help you up. I’m okay. I just got scared when you fell down. I was worried about you too. Maybe you should see the doctor tomorrow for that bump on your head. I’ll call the manager in the morning and tell him you hit your head on something so they can fix it. Next time, we’ll park in the other lot. Come on, honey, let’s go home and watch the 9 o’clock news…together.”

You know, that thing she does with her eyebrow really is kinda cute…

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 9: Miracle Cure

This week, the prompt was to write a story about having to face your greatest fear. The genre was horror. To me, horror does not necessarily have to include the supernatural. There are plenty of experiences that do not involve things that go bump in the night that would fill me with terror. Here is one.

Miracle Cure

What was in that drink? My head feels like it’s going to explode. Who knew an herbal cocktail from a shrink would be that potent? I don’t remember the rest of the session, much less leaving his office and driving home. How did I end up in my own be…

Wait a minute. What the Hell is going on here? Why can’t I sit up? Oh my God. I’m in some sort of a box. It’s dark and damp. That jerk is going to pay. By the time I get through with him in court, he won’t be able to practice anywhere on Earth.

Calm down, Jeannie Holcomb. Close your eyes and just reach up and push off the lid. Once you get out of this contraption, you’ll be able to take a deep breath of fresh air. When you open your eyes, you’ll see sunshine and blue skies. Okay. Push.

I can’t get the lid off. He’s probably got something on top of it. Screw the courts. I’m going to knock that bastard out and stuff him in this box. I need to get out of here. I can’t breathe right. I can’t think straight. I can’t…  Please…  Don’t let me…


“Miss Holcomb. I’m so glad you’ve come to see me. My views on therapy are considered controversial by some, but I’ve helped many conquer their fears. My recommendations may seem unusual, but I assure you, with your cooperation, it won’t be long before you will be free of the demons that haunt you.”

“Dr. Sullivan, I appreciate your seeing me on such short notice, but I can’t take this anymore. My friend at work, Susie, recommended you a few months ago. You were helping her with her fear of drowning. She must have moved because she doesn’t work there anymore, but when I last saw her, she seemed to be better at dealing with her fear. I didn’t think I needed therapy until I met this fella, and he was really terrific. I could see our relationship going somewhere; that is, until the other night. All was well until it was time for us to fall asleep. He turned out the lights and kissed me gently. Everything was fine until he started to move on top of me. I freaked. I could feel myself literally being smothered.

“He couldn’t take me home fast enough and I’m sure he’ll never call me again. I acted like a lunatic - crying and begging. I tried to tell myself I was being ridiculous, but I was so scared. It happens all the time when I’m covered with something and the lights are off.”

“Why don’t you sit back and try to relax. So, what you’re telling me is that you are claustrophobic – afraid of tight spaces?”

“Oh, no, doctor. You don’t understand. What I’m afraid of is that I’ll be buried alive.”

“I don’t see how…”

“Let me tell you how this all started. When I was little, my brother came in my room when I was sleeping. He took this huge Teddy Bear my dad had given me and pushed it on top of me and woke me up telling me that’s how it felt to be buried alive. He kept pushing it on my face over and over and I couldn’t breathe. He laughed and laughed, and told me that happened all the time. People were just sleeping very soundly or they weren’t well, but doctors thought they were dead and buried them. When they woke up in their coffins, they clawed and clawed, but they were underground so no one could hear them and they died.

“I told him no one was going to bury me alive, and he’d better get that bear off me because I was going to tell Mom and Daddy on him. Good luck going to the Skate Park next Saturday once they find out what he did to me. He told me if I told, next time they went out and left us at home, he would hit me on the head and then bury me in the back yard for real. I never told. But it didn’t end there. Every now and then, he would pull the same stunt, and not just with the bear. Sometimes he would use a pillow, but he would always put something on me or sit on me himself so I couldn’t move.”

“My, my, how terrible. Surely you realize that was just a cruel joke played by a sibling? Tell me how this has affected you.”

“Well, first, my Mom died a few years later. She had been very ill and died in the hospital. At her funeral, they wouldn’t open the coffin for me because they said that shouldn’t be my last memory of her. But I told them I had to make sure she was really dead. What if she woke up and clawed and clawed and no one could hear her? They said I was being disrespectful and no way were they going to violate her that way.

“When my father died, they wouldn’t open his either since he had been in an accident. My brother kept telling me neither of them were really dead and I would hear them clawing late at night. I do, you know, even with all the sleeping pills. When my brother died last month though, alcohol poisoning, I never asked for his coffin to be opened. I hoped he clawed his fingers raw.

“Now, I can’t stand to be in the dark even with blankets on me. You have to help me doctor. I need to get over this somehow.”

“I can help you, Miss Holcomb. As I’ve said, my suggestions may seem odd, but the only way to conquer a fear is to face it head on. When you go home tonight, I want you to turn out all the lights and sleep under your bed. This will simulate a kind of burial, and when you awake in the morning, you will see there was nothing to fear.”

“What? I’m not going to sleep under my bed. That’s not odd, that’s crazy. There must be some other way.”

“Alright, what about spending the night in the trunk of your car safely locked in your garage? Make sure before you close it that you know where the release lever is.”

“That’s even more insane. What kind of therapy is that? I understand trying to face my fear, but setting myself up for a nervous breakdown isn’t what I was looking for.”

“Miss Holcomb, you need to trust me. These are unconventional to be sure, but they do work. Your co-worker Susie, for example. She faced her fear and is now very comfortable being in the water. My methods do work. Perhaps with you, we need to take a different approach. I’m going to give you an herbal drink. This will help you to relax, and we’ll talk further.”


A different approach? Sure was. He drugged me, then sealed me in a box and buried me. I have to try to calm down. Need to keep my eyes closed, and not get agitated. I can do this. It is getting harder to breathe though. Why would he…

“Miss Holcomb? This is Dr. Sullivan. I hear you breathing very heavily so I assume you are awake and have realized your setting. Let me explain. You are locked inside a coffin 12 feet underground below a building on one of the properties I own. I have many, and I use them for what I like to call extreme therapy. I could see this was necessary for you, as it was for your friend Susie and a few others. When a patient refuses to follow my recommendations, I must use the ‘tough love’ method. If you won’t do it on your own, I will do it for you.

“I placed Susie in the cistern on my property used for water phobias and after a few days, she no longer felt fear of any kind. I arranged for her final resting place to be Halpern Lake. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. It is lovely there, and so peaceful. Quite fitting for her, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

“I’ll be back in a week for you. You’ll be surprised how smoothly and quickly the time will pass for you. If you breathe slowly and don’t panic, it will be much easier and you’ll have more time to realize how silly your fear really was. I’ll try to arrange a plot for you close to your family. Try not to worry. I cure my patients no matter what.”

Doctor, listen. I’m okay now. Really. Can you hear me? Oh God. Doctor? Please…

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 8: The Invitation

The prompt this week was promises, broken ones, that is. We were to make someone a promise, break it, and share what happens. The genre was open.

The Invitation

Growing up, I used to dream about being related to rich people. Pop died in a fire at his job right after I was born, and Mom would never tell me anything about his or her family. I would pretend their marriage displeased her father so he cut her out of his will, and that accounted for our financial struggles. When she died a year ago, I thought I was alone. Out of nowhere, I got a letter from Phillip Johnstone, an attorney, in some country I’d never heard of, informing me that I’m the long lost relative of a widow, Mrs. Carlysle. Apparently, she’d been searching for surviving family since her son, the only heir to her estate, died in a car accident a few months ago. That’s where I come in. Evidently, I’m the fifth cousin, three times removed, of one of my mother’s second aunts, or some such nonsense. I don’t understand all that, but it doesn’t matter. All I know is, removed or not, I’m now her heir.

The letter stated my aunt was ill and planning to try a controversial treatment. There was a chance she may not survive the procedure, and she wanted to get to know me before she left for the clinic. I was invited to stay at her home for the weekend. Along with the letter, the lawyer sent a plane ticket and instructions on how to get to her home. Not to sound like a vulture; I mean, I’m sorry about her being ill, but I got fired from my job and my landlord won’t wait any longer for the rent.

I took a flight to JFK. A man, with a letter of introduction signed by my aunt’s lawyer, drove me to an airstrip miles from the city, where I boarded a private jet. When we arrived at another private airstrip, it was early evening two days later. How many time zones we flew through I have no idea, and cared even less. My life was going to change forever and I was going to enjoy every glorious second of it. A limo was waiting for me and took me to the house. It was the size of several football fields. The driver took my suitcase and asked me to follow him in. The entry was huge, with staircases on both sides leading to the upper levels, marbled floors, crystal chandeliers, and more priceless stuff than my neighborhood pawnbroker could handle in three lifetimes.

I was led into a large room on the right where my new favorite relative and her lawyer waited. She was in a wheelchair, and small - probably no more than 5 feet tall, about 120 pounds, and ghastly pale. Her lawyer was a real hottie though – early 30’s, 6 feet tall, dark hair and eyes, and a leading man smile. Maybe something could be worked out between us after the reading of her will. Who knows what my future could bring…

“Come in, Annie, if I may address you in that familiar way. I’m Phillip Johnstone. I’m glad my letter found you well and that you were able to come on such short notice.”

Sugar, you can address me any way you’d like. Frankly, I’d even let you undress me any way you’d like.

“I was happy to find out I had family. After my mother died, I was under the impression there was no one left but me.”

The old hag’s cough startled me. Don’t croak yet, dearie. I need some cash to catch up on my rent and my car needs a new engine. She reached out for me and I took her frail hand in mine.

“Promise,” she whispered. “Please.”

“We must be on our way, Annie. Mrs. Carlysle grows weaker. But, there is one important matter we must discuss first. We will be gone 7 days. While we are away, you’ll have the run of the house, and staff to attend to your needs. Your aunt asks only one thing. You may explore the house and the grounds, but you must never go into the room on the top floor. It is forbidden. We must have your promise – your word of honor.”

Promise not to go into a room at the top? It’s forbidden? I couldn’t wait for their car to pull away so I could run up there. She’s probably got jewelry or some other rich stuff in there.

“I promise,” I said.

“Promise what?” my aunt asked.

Rich people and their quirks.

“I promise not to go into the room on the top floor. You have my word of honor,” I responded. I’m surprised they didn’t ask me to swear on a stack of Bibles.

The old lady started coughing again, and I let go of her hand. A man, I assumed he was the butler, carried their suitcases to the car and Darling Phillip wheeled her out the front door. This sure was a meaningful reunion, all five minutes of it. Oh well. I’ve got the house all to myself. I’ll tell whatever staff is still here to take the rest of the night off. Then, up to the attic to explore. I know I promised; I even gave my word of honor. But, people promise stuff all the time and no one really takes that seriously anymore, do they? Maybe a hundred years ago before contracts and corporations when everything was finalized with a handshake. I won’t mess anything up. No one will know I went in, so it’s no big deal, right?

The butler, he was introduced to me as Ronald, had been the only staff in the house, so I sent him on his way. He told me that he, the maid and the cook would be back at dawn. Good riddance. I went up the four flights to the top level and at the end of a long hallway, there was the forbidden door, unlocked. Trusting bunch, weren’t they? The door was heavy, and the door frame had a second door within it. You could close one door and then another on top of it. I couldn’t wait to see what goodies were in there.

The room was dark. I stepped inside and while I was feeling around for a light switch, I heard something slam behind me and a light came on. The room was windowless and empty. I turned around and saw what the second door was that had closed. It was metal bars, like a jail cell door. I tried to slide it back into the frame, but it was latched onto the frame on the other side. There was a slit in the middle, like where guards slide the food trays to the inmates on the television shows. On the other side stood Phillip and a young woman.

“What the hell is going on? Who are you people - really?” I was in no position to make demands, but I had to give it a shot.

“I’m your old sickly aunt,” the woman said. “You probably don’t recognize me without the costume. My name is Belinda Carlysle, and his name really is Phillip, but it’s Carlysle, not Johnstone. He’s my husband. We brought you here for one of our special dinner parties. You and I are not related, obviously. With the Internet, these days it’s easy to find people with no family and few friends. Add in the inheritance angle, and no one thinks twice about boarding a plane to who knows where.

“Normally, we drug a cocktail and put the subject in the room you’re in. We thought we’d try something different to make it interesting and turn it into a challenge, and you failed miserably. We never left; we drove around and came in the back way. We’ve been in a hidden room on this floor waiting to see if you’d break your promise. It took you less than ten minutes. No wonder the world is going to Hell. Integrity these days is in short supply.”

“What would you have done if I had kept my word?” I wasn’t sure where this was going, so I tried to stall.

“We’d have let you return home with a substantial check and simply found another main cour...subject,” Phillip said. “We’ll be leaving you now. We must make the arrangements for our soirée. A week from today will be plenty of time for you to be ready. Once our friends arrive, they’ll be popping up to take a look at you. They always like to check out who they’ll be having for din…um…I mean, who will be our dinner…guest.

As the outer door was closed and I heard the locks engage, Belinda called out to me.

“Annie, when Ronald brings your meals, make sure you eat hearty…”

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 7: Ten Items or Less

This week, we were writers looking for a career-making story, who have been consistently rejected in the past. An editor includes a note on our latest rejection that suggests we observe people more closely, implying that may assist us with creating more three-dimensional characters. We decide to take that advice and head for a local store to scope out the shoppers. We observe someone with unusual items in their cart and decide to do a bit of surveillance--all in search of the perfect story. We were to share what the items were and what we found when we followed that person. The genre was mystery. 

Ten Items or Less
Little did I know that when I opened a letter of rejection from yet another publisher, my life would be changed forever. The responses I usually received were all the same. They amounted to a form letter addressed to ‘Dear Sir’, with one sentence that read: ‘We appreciate your submission, but it does not fall within the parameters of our current publication plans going forward.’ What the Hell does that even mean? Okay, so the letter I received in yesterday’s mail was the same; but, with one glaring exception. The editor had taken the time to write a brief note. Addressing me by name, it read: ‘Evie, Your story has potential, but your characters are flat. They have no substance, nothing a reader can identify with. I suggest you observe people more closely, and get inside their heads; then build a story around them. I look forward to reviewing more of your work.’

I have to admit I was stunned. Someone actually liked my story idea. The appraisal of my characters was harsh, but right on the money. I don’t include too many personal details about my characters because of word count restrictions. I lean toward lavish descriptions of settings and events instead, but apparently, I’ve been heading in the wrong direction. It’s the characters my focus needs to be on, and their thoughts and feelings should fill the pages and drive the story.

I’ve done sci-fi, romance, historical fiction and horror and bombed every time. Since I was now going to become a voyeur, in a legal sense of course, I decided my next project would be a mystery. I would find an odd someone with an air of mystery about them and add my own finishing touches. Where would I find an odd someone? The answer to that was crystal clear. I would cruise the aisles of Dave’s Discount Domain. I’ve only been in there a couple of times, but believe me, there’s enough odd someones in every aisle to fill a volume with stories. I would begin my quest in the morning, as soon as Dave’s opened. By the end of the day, I should have a story that sizzles.

When the doors opened at 9am, I was the first one in, notebook and pen at the ready. I made my way to the home improvement section where my search for next primary character would begin. I was glad they didn’t open when it was still dark because the morning paper carried a very ominous headline. We didn’t usually have much in the way of violent crime in this one-horse town; murders, assaults and robberies were popular activities in the city 40 miles to the south. Recently however, several women had been abducted and found days later in pieces a couple of miles north of town by the lake. Parts of another body had been found last night. My mission to find the perfect man to lead my story would be confined to daylight hours.

The idea for a story about a fictional serial murderer was swirling around in my head. Whoever I fixated on would be the killer, and the purchases he made and actions I observed would define his persona. I was already anxious to receive the editor’s comments on my new style, with all the depth and insight into the murderer’s psyche I would provide. Roaming through the store, I wondered if the strange folks I had seen in the past were an aberration. Today, I knew everyone by name that I passed in each aisle. They were all neighbors, and were about as thrilling as a pan of warm dishwater. No sense wasting the morning when there were other stores I could visit.

I grabbed a pack of dishcloths and headed for the ten-items-or-less Express Lane. It was backed up because the checker, Connie, was glancing back and forth at the bag boy a couple of registers down. Out of boredom, I glanced into the cart of the elderly man who was before me in line. A loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, a half-gallon of milk, a box of large size latex gloves, a power saw, a shovel, and a large tarp. Seven. Perfect. He followed the rules. But, wait. I looked over his items and my mind screamed THIS IS HIM! I’d never seen him before and this combination of food and some instruments of torture intrigued me. I made up my mind to follow him and watch what he did and craft my story accordingly. He’d never know so no harm done, right? He put his bags in the cart and headed for the exit. I reached across the counter and scanned my dishcloths myself, hit the total button, grabbed a bag and stuffed them in, handed a $10 bill to Connie, told her to keep the change and hurried to keep up with the old man.

Our cars were a row apart. I got in my car as he put his bags in his trunk, got in his car and headed for the highway. I followed. We drove north into a residential area, and he pulled into the driveway of a large house in the subdivision where all the homes had a lakeshore backyard and private docks. I passed his house and parked on the side of a vacant house a couple of blocks from his. In my notebook I listed the items my killer purchased and described the drive to his lair where a young woman, no doubt, waited in fear. I got out of my car and crept carefully through the adjoining yards until I could clearly see his. I watched him carry his purchases into his house—I wrote he would prepare a sandwich and glass of milk for his victim, to add another layer of confusion for the medical examiner should her remains ever be found. Evil personified, to be sure.

After a few minutes, he came out to the backyard, shovel in hand, and flowers in small pots on a rolling cart. He began to dig small holes and place each bloom in and pack the dirt around the stems. I wrote he wheeled out a cart containing pots filled with various body parts of his previous victims. His plan was to bury each one in his garden of death, and sit there in a lawn chair in the evenings and relive his crimes in his mind. He finished planting the flowers and went back into the house. I wrote that my killer went to make sure his victim had finished her last meal so he could remind her that the end was near.

When he came back to the yard, in one hand he held a peanut butter sandwich and in the other, a glass of milk. He sat on the porch, ate the sandwich in a couple of bites, gulped the milk down and went back inside. I wrote that his victim was already dead. He’d strangled her while wearing the gloves so as not to leave any DNA on the body. He put her on the tarp, and he was so cold and remorseless, he decided to have a snack before he used the saw to dismember her. This was really good stuff. I couldn’t wait to get home and flesh this out, type it up and send it to my new editor friend. I had enough material now for one of their monthly crime features. I jotted a note to remind myself to make sure to incorporate how he disposed of this new one, and put my notebook in my pocket. When I turned to go back to my car, the old man was in front of me with his empty cart.

“Why are you spying on me and my son?” he asked.

There’s a son?

“I’m sorry,” I said. “You see, I’m a writer, and I noticed you bought an unusual combination of items. I thought if I followed you and observed you that maybe there would be a story in it. Please accept my apology.”

“You followed me because of what I bought so you could write a story? What kind of story?”

I offered him my notebook, and he smiled as he glanced through it.

“You’re good,” he said. “Too bad no one else will read this.”

Yeah, right, old man. Go back to your flowers.

“Give me my notebook.”

I reached for it, but was grabbed from behind and a cloth was placed over my nose and mouth. As everything around me began to go black, I heard the old man one last time.

“Put her on the cart, son. You see, Miss, the gloves, tarp and saw were for him. This new saw is more powerful and slices through bone like butter. He usually has to hunt for victims; so nice to have one deliver herself. My boy’s a real cut up with the ladies…”