Thursday, April 28, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 35: The Wish

The challenge this week was to write a horror story that included the following words: Cafeteria, keyboard, segment, washing machine, and chandelier. My story shows we need to be careful what we wish for…

The Wish

“Ricky, I am sick of eating in that cafeteria down the street. There’s enough food here to feed a small city, but I’m not allowed to eat any of it. My aunt said her protector told her no one was permitted to consume the food except her, although I may partake of a segment of a dessert item. Partake of a segment? Who talks like that? I’m telling you, she gets nuttier by the minute. I can’t wait for that stupid nurse of hers to leave so I can get rid of that old biddy once and for all.”

“Her protector? She has a bodyguard?”

“No. Her protector is some spirit thing she conjured up. It gives her advice and protects her.”

“That’s wild. Why is her nurse leaving?”

“She found some dope to marry her, so she’ll be moving out. Besides, Aunt Lucy can get around better now since her surgery, and won’t need a full-time nurse anymore. She told me she was glad I came to live with her after mom and pop died in the accident. Fool thinks I’m going to take care of her.”

“Jen, she never suspected you had anything to do with your parents’ death even though she knew you hated them?”

“Of course not. No one ever suspected I was the one who cut their brake lines. I cried so convincingly when they notified me that their car couldn’t stop and went over the cliff. The cops are still investigating my old man’s business partner.”

“Don’t you think they’d look at you when they find out your wealthy aunt is dead?”

“Don’t worry about that. She’s old and nutty as a fruitcake. No one is going to suspect anything if she takes a tumble down that staircase in her house. Besides, I’ll just turn on the tears again. I’ll wait a day or two after her nurse leaves, and then good old Auntie Lucy is going to have a terrible accident. Once she’s in the ground, you can move in. Then, we’ll just wait for her lawyer to hand over the bank accounts to me.

“I should probably hang up now. Her nurse will be down soon to make Aunt Lucy’s dinner. I’ll call you when it’s over. You know, sometimes I wish I could get inside her skin to fool everyone and cash a check and get my hands on some money now. Wouldn’t that be a kick?”

“If only. But, I’d want you to get back into your own skin right after. I wouldn’t want to have to put my hands on that dried up body of your aunt’s!”

“Good one, Ricky. I’m going to head over to Kenny’s Kafeteria. The special tonight is meatloaf. Lucky me. Bye for…what the Hell was that?”

“What’s wrong?

“I heard something behind me. Ever since I got here, I’ve felt like someone’s always looking over my shoulder. Then there’s a cold wind that passes by me here and there, even though the heat’s blasting on high. One time, I could actually feel hot breath on my neck, but when I turned around, there was nothing there. It’s not Aunt Lucy. She’s still spends most of her time in bed, and her nurse is always with her.”

“It’s your imagination. Those old houses can get creepy.”

“I’m sure you’re right. Bye, Ricky.”

“Bye, doll. Be careful though. You wouldn’t want to piss off your aunt’s protector!”

###

“Aunt Lucy, I need to wash some clothes, but your washing machine is broken. You need to call somebody to come and fix it.”

‘Oh no, dear. My protector told me I should close off that part of the house. Going down those steps into the basement is how I broke my hip, and he said I shouldn’t risk my safety. Bundle up your clothes and I’ll call the cleaners. They’ll come pick them up and bring them back when they’re done. By the way, Jen, I called and had the computer service disconnected today.”

“Why would you do that? The internet is my only contact with the outside world.”

“Honey, the keyboard was missing some keys and my protector told me not to replace it. He said anything I needed I could get over the phone. I didn’t know how to use that thing anyway. I only bought it so my nurse could keep in touch with her friends and family while she was living here.”

“Screw your protector. I’m going out to eat. You can fix your own meals from now on because I’m not your servant.”

“Why are you speaking to me this way, Jen? My protector doesn’t like it when anyone raises their voice to me.”

“I’ll talk to you any way I please. You’d better be in bed when I get home, old lady, if you know what’s good for you.”

###

“Why is the house all dark? The old crone never turns all the lights out. Where the switch? Oh, here it is. Great. So now the chandelier doesn’t work? I can’t reach that thing to put new bulbs in. Maybe Ricky can fix it when he gets here. Can you hear me, Aunt Lucy? My boyfriend’s coming to live here with me. Just me, because you won’t be here. Know why? You’ll be dead. You hear me? Dead. I’m on my way up now and we’re going to take a quick stroll down the stairs. Well, not we. You’re actually going to take a quick fall down the stairs. What was that? Lucy? Are you down here? Did you say something?”

Jen felt the room turn icy cold and something sharp dig into her shoulder. When she turned around, standing in front her was a creature straight out of a nightmare. It stood upright on two legs, and Jen estimated its height at about 9 feet. It had two arms and hands, and each hand had five fingers, each with sharp claws on the tip. One of its hands rested on her shoulder. Its skin was scaly, and it had a muscular build. Its large face resembled that of a wolf, with deep set black eyes, and saliva dripped from its fangs as it spoke.

“The lady of the house is dead. She passed on in her sleep while you were out.”

“Who…what the Hell are you?”

“I was Miss Lucy’s protector.”

“You’re real? I thought she…”

“I know what you thought. I know all about you, and what you had planned for her.”

“What are you talking about? I wasn’t going to do anything to her. Not really. It was all just talk. Please don’t hurt me. Please just let me leave.”

“It is my plan to grant your wish.”

“My wish? What did I wish for?”

###

“She was so young. First, Miss Lucy passes in her sleep, then her niece suffers a massive heart attack. Terrible tragedy."

“It truly is. I stopped by that evening to check on her because no one was answering the phone. That’s when I found them both. I do have to say, Mr. Harper, I’ve never seen an expression on a dead body like the one I saw on the face of that young woman. Even in death, the look of abject terror remained. With Lucy’s only living relative now deceased, what will happen to her home?”

“As her attorney, I can tell you she recently changed her will and left everything to a group of ladies she was close to, who call themselves Friends of the Other World. They conduct séances and are fascinated with ghosts and that sort of thing. Miss Lucy told me she had been advised to cut her niece out of her will. She wouldn’t say by whom though.”

“Interesting. Let’s go pay our final respects to Miss Lucy and her niece.”

###

“Lucy really looks at peace, doesn’t she, Doctor?”

“She does indeed, sir. Do you have to get back to your office? May I buy you a cup of coffee?”

“I would appreciate it.”

###

“Where is everybody? Is someone there? You’ve got to help me. Please. Can’t you hear me? I’m not dead. Not exactly. My body might be, but I’m in here. I’m in Aunt Lucy’s body. I don’t know what’s going on. The thing – her protector, it heard me wish to be in her skin, and now I am. Forever. No. Please don’t close the coffin. You can’t put me in the ground with her. Listen. For the love of God. Why can’t you hear…”

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 34: First, Do No Harm...

The prompt this week was to write a story that is set in a hospital. My story is about a doctor who tries to do the right thing.

First, Do No Harm…

What a week this has been. There’s no telling how my weekend will turn out though. It all began with me being assigned to the hospital’s research department. I would be reviewing studies that have been done here. None were currently on-going, but clinical research has always interested me, and I was grateful to be able to review the records. I was hoping information would be available showing whether the drugs had received FDA approval, and if we were utilizing any of them.

Mossville Memorial Hospital is a small institution, but Dr. Martin Harcourt, Chief of Medical Staff, still contacted pharmaceutical companies and volunteered to be Principal Investigator on drug trials that would require a small group of participants. There were usually no more than 50 patients in this hospital on any given day, but their diagnoses and medical histories varied greatly, so occasionally, clinical trials fit in nicely with the population.

I was born and raised in Mossville, and Dr. Harcourt had always taken care of everyone in town. When I was a boy, the closest hospital had been 75 miles away in Brownfield, and Dr. Harcourt was always talking about how some of his patients’ lives could have been saved had a hospital been closer. Through his efforts obtaining state funding and using some of his own finances, Mossville Memorial was built and became fully operational within a few short years.

Perhaps we didn’t have all the modern equipment hospitals in large cities had, but patients could be treated and sent on their way, or if necessary, stabilized and prepared for the trip to whichever big-city hospital was appropriate for their emergent situation. Dr. Harcourt’s level of caring was what being a small town physician was all about, and what inspired me to want to complete my residency, and open my own private practice, here.

The study files were stored in the basement. I discovered a box under some pipes that contained a protocol about an investigational drug to treat respiratory infections, and notes confirming patients had been enrolled, but no records. I decided to check with Marie Shumbert, an R.N., who had been working here since the hospital opened. If anything did, or did not, happen at Mossville Memorial, Marie knew about it.

“That one was a disaster,” Marie said. “Dr. Harcourt worked on studies by himself, so he would have to give you the details. He enrolled four people, but before long, one by one, they had a stroke at home that left them unable to move or speak.

“Dr. Harcourt said it had nothing to do with the study drug. He said it had helped with their breathing. But, since everyone in the study had been admitted to the hospital, he couldn’t continue. He told me to box it up and put it in storage.”

That made no sense. The protocol said it was a Phase I trial, which is done only to determine safe dosage levels – not treat the condition. There were no consent documents or patient records. What had he been doing to these people? Since Marie was loyal to her boss, I decided to tread lightly.

“Marie, do you remember their names? I’d like to contact their friends or family to get their current status.”

“I can give you their names, but that’s as far as you can go. After they were admitted, they all developed an infection no antibiotic could tackle. They lapsed into coma, their organs failed, and they all died. It was upsetting that the same thing happened to them all.”

Upsetting? What’s upsetting, Miss Marie, is that no one questioned Harcourt’s findings. What I found even more disturbing was the identity of the participants. One was Harcourt’s ex-wife, Jeanine. Even though they weren’t married at the time, it didn’t seem ethical to enroll her in a trial he was conducting. The other woman and the two men in the study were hospital employees. Sally Vanderlin was a Lab Assistant, Jack Sterling, a Pharmacist, and Thomas Coulter worked in Maintenance. I decided to do a bit more digging about the strokes and untreatable infections that affected only those four before I confronted the man about his questionable recruitment practices.

I began with ex-Mrs. Harcourt’s sister, who had lived next door to the Harcourts, and who was more than willing to speak ill of the dead.

“Jeanine was a whore. She was lucky to be married to a doctor and what did she do? Fooled around with the Hospital’s Pharmacist. She told me she didn’t start up with him while she was married, but she was lying, and I told Dr. H all about it.

“It didn’t take long for her to catch something from that man she was whoring with. Dr. H left after visiting her on a Tuesday morning, and I found her that afternoon on her back, staring into space. Same thing happened to her boyfriend the next day. Within a week, they were both dead. Serves them right.”

I thanked her for her candor and quickly made my exit. Dark and terrifying puzzle pieces were beginning to fit together all too well. Was Jack Mrs. Harcourt’s lover? Was it possible the doctor cooked up some killer bug in the Lab under the guise of research with Sally’s help? If so, why did she have to die too? How did Thomas fit into all this? Was he cleaning up one night and saw or overheard something he shouldn’t have? Did the physician I’ve looked up to all my life make these people ill at home, and then finish them off in the hospital? I had to get back to those files.

Reading through the protocol of Dr. Harcourt’s ill-fated drug trial confirmed my suspicions. That’s why there were no consents or charts. The protocol was phony. Some of the language seemed legitimate, but overall, it made no sense. It read as if parts of it had been copied from other protocols he found online. He made up the story about the study in case someone saw him near his victims’ homes. That was where he administered the drug to bring on the stroke-like symptoms. I tried not to think of the pain and fear they must have felt while their bodies were being ravaged by infection and their organs were unable to continue functioning until mercifully, brain death occurred, and their self-appointed executioner pulled the plugs.

“My God,” I said. “Harcourt, you monster.”

 I felt the needle stick in the back of my neck. I turned to see Dr. Harcourt standing behind me holding a syringe, as the room began fading to black.

“Just relax,” he said. “It will all be over soon.”

When I opened my eyes and tried to look around, I couldn’t turn my head. I knew I was lying down, and judging by all the white that surrounded me, I knew I was in a room at the hospital.

“The machine is breathing for you,” Dr. Harcourt said. “I’ve given you a little cocktail I dreamed up that immobilized you, but you will be able to see, hear, and feel. Too bad you had to be so curious; although, I always told my students to keep asking until they found the truth. By the way, the truth is that I did kill them all. I had to. If people in town found out my wife was having an affair with someone in my hospital, they would have laughed at me.

“At first, Sally thought we were developing a harmless sedative, but she figured out the solution was deadly, and threatened to expose me. I used the same drugs on her that I just gave you, and took her home. I knew her roommate would find her. Later, the janitor said he saw me inject her and wanted money to keep quiet. I told him I’d bring the cash to his apartment. I’m sure you know what I brought instead. My ex and her boyfriend were the easiest – an at-home visit for my drug study.

“I’m going to inject the virus now, as I did with the four of them. I’ll be back later with morphine which should ease some of your pain. It wouldn’t give me pleasure to see you suffer. Sorry it had to come to this. You had such a bright future ahead of you.”

He emptied the syringe with the deadly virus into the IV line he’d set up next to my bed. I assumed he left when the deed was done. Why hang around? The bacteria was capable of killing me all on its own.

So, here we are, right back where we began. I can’t push the call button or scream. Being the physician of record, Harcourt can write whatever he wants on my death certificate. Neat and clean. Free and clear. All I can do now is wait. Wait, and pray for a miracle, or morphine…

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 33: Never Forget

The prompt this week was to write a story about someone with a thirst for revenge. Is seeking revenge wrong? I guess it depends on your perspective...

Never Forget

“You don’t understand Officer, he did it. Maybe I didn’t see him destroy my son’s bicycle, but I know he’s responsible. He threatened me and my son. Why can’t you arrest him?”

“Mrs. Cooper, I can’t arrest someone without any evidence that they committed a crime. You say he threatened you and your son. What kind of threats did he make?”

“My son and I were in the yard. That horrid man started yelling over the fence that my son was a criminal and should be sent to prison. He called me filthy names and said I was a poor excuse for a mother. He said he came home from the store and found his flowers trampled and knew my son had done it. Then he said the only way to teach a punk like him a lesson would be to destroy something that was important to him.

“An hour or so later, I took him to his baseball practice. When we got home, we found his bike in the driveway and the tires were slashed and the handlebars were all bent up. Officer, my son is 7 years old. Aren’t there laws to protect a child from people like that?”

“Yes, there are, but I can’t arrest him without proof. If you could catch him in the act or get him on video, we’d be able to arrest him then. In the meantime, if he causes you any more problems, you give us a call, all right?”

“I’ll call if he bothers us again. I wish you could just take him away. Ever since he moved in next door, he’s done nothing but harass us.”

“Some folks are like that ma’am. It’s like they think the whole world is against them.”

*         *         *         *         *

That bitch next door called the police on me. She’s the one with the pint-sized hoodlum of a son and she’s got the nerve to report me to the cops? I’ll get her for this. I already got even with her creep of a kid. She loves that lawn set on her patio that was just delivered. I wonder how much she’ll love it after I douse it with gasoline and toss a lit match on it. She thinks it’s perfectly all right for that boy of hers to wait until I go into town and then come into my yard and jump up and down on all my freshly-planted flowers.

I knew this would happen again. People are so jealous of the nice things I have, so they send over their rotten kids to make a mess and destroy my property. But, I fix them. I always fix them, the little bastards. I poured motor oil all over that swing and slide set the boy across the street played on every day. That little beast threw a rock through my bedroom window in the back of the house.

That nasty little girl next door on the other side tried to sell me cookies, and when I told her to get lost, she came back at night and broke my porch light. When I went out to get my morning paper, I cut my foot on the broken glass. I fixed her good though. I slashed all the tires on that buggy she pushes her doll around in and cut up the face on that stupid looking doll too.

Why is it that no matter where I live, people are out to make my life miserable? Well, it doesn’t matter who they are or what they do. They will never get the best of me because I will always fix them first. I don’t have to see them do these things either – I just know. I can tell by the way they look at me in the stores or in the diners in town. When I come home and find something broken or messed up, I know exactly who did it because I remember the look. They can’t fool me. No one has ever been able to fool me. No matter what anybody does to me, I always fix them for it. Always.

*         *         *         *         *

“Wake up, Walter. Wake up.”

What’s going on? I hurt everywhere. Why is my face bandaged? I can’t move. What is this place? It looks like an operating room. What am I doing in a hospital?

“You’re not going to be able to talk, Walter, but you can listen, so listen carefully, and I will explain everything. You are in a make-shift operating room and have had extensive surgery performed. Don’t worry though. It was all done by a friend of mine who is a licensed physician. Once I’m finished with you, I will notify the authorities where you are so you can complete your recovery, but I’ll be long gone. You’ll never be as you were, but that is as it should be. You see, both your hands, your feet and your tongue have been removed.

“Stop making all that noise, Walter. I have much to tell you. Take a good look. Do you recognize me? It’s been a long time. We were in fifth grade together. That’s right, Walter. I’m Daniel Hastings. Do you also remember my sister, Leona? You know, the one whose life you destroyed? I’m sure you remember everything that happened. I’ve never forgotten a single second of it.

“Someone told our teacher you cheated on a test, and planted a note in your desk with the answers written on it that you supposedly got from a student in the sixth grade. Your parents were notified and they wouldn’t let you go on the class trip. Word went around that you couldn’t be trusted and the next three years at school were Hell for you. The teachers didn’t like you and the other kids didn’t want to be caught talking to you so they wouldn’t be accused of cheating. That girl who liked you, Mattie, told you Leona did it and you believed her.

“You launched a campaign of terror against my sister after that. You never asked around or checked further, you just believed what Mattie told you. Well, guess what, Walter. Leona didn’t do it – Mattie did. She saw you helping my sister with her lessons and wanted to hurt you both. She planted the test answers in your desk, left an anonymous note on the teacher’s desk accusing you and told you Leona was responsible for all of it. I believe that’s when your lifelong desire to seek revenge against any and all began. But you see, Walter, it was all based on a lie. You ended up marrying Mattie years later, and it was she who had wronged you all along.

“Leona killed herself, Walter. She couldn’t take your following her around, pushing her down, leaving notes in her locker telling her she was ugly and that everyone hated her, and all the other terrible things you did to her. One evening when our parents and I were asleep, Leona left the house and walked down to the station and waited for the 11:00pm freight train. When it was close, she jumped onto the tracks. You wore her down. She was ten years old, Walter. She was ten years old.

“It’s been me all these years, you see, throwing rocks through your windows, smashing your porch lights, pulling up your flowers. I’ve followed you wherever you’ve gone and waited. I waited for you to investigate or call the police or install a camera, or do something other than automatically blame whoever was around. If you had done any of that, I would have walked away from all this and let you be because for the first time, you would have done what a normal person would do. But you couldn’t do something normal, could you, Walter? You blamed the children and took your anger out on them, even though they never did anything to you. Just like what you did to my sister. Just like you did to Leona.

“Are those tears running down your cheeks, Walter? It’s a bit late for that, don’t you think? All the pain you’ve caused to so many people over the years and for what? So you could get revenge on them for what you think they had done? We all have things go wrong in our lives, but we move on – we get past it. You never learned how to do that, did you, Walter?

“Now, you won’t be able to step on and break any more toys, or scream profanities at any more toddlers, or throw bricks through anyone else’s picture windows. Your crusade for revenge against the world is finished, Walter, and I am finished with you. Rest in peace, Leona, because now you can.”


Thursday, April 7, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 32: A New World

The prompt this week was to write a science fiction story using one of the listed sentences to start our story. The sentence I chose is highlighted. Please enjoy.

A New World

I crouched behind the counter trying not to make a sound. I had already stockpiled a lot of canned goods, but I decided to try to find more cans of soup. I expected some of my neighbors might still be seeking provisions, but saw no one. I found a case of cans of chicken noodle soup by the loading dock at Gabby’s Grocery. Suddenly, I heard them coming. Those carts they rode around in were noisy as hell. I ran back to the front and ducked down in the Customer Service area. They didn’t seem to be able to see through walls, so I knew if I was quiet, they would move on and look elsewhere for stragglers. It would be tough getting that soup back to my hideout without being seen, but I had to try. If I was going to survive until they were gone, I needed all the supplies I could gather.

Just because people in my town believed their lies and lined up to board their spaceships like lambs to the slaughter, that didn’t mean I was stupid enough to join in. I had told my friends and neighbors about the episode on The Twilight Zone called To Serve Man. The aliens intended to serve man all right – for dinner. I didn’t say our current visitors planned to do the same, but I tried to point out how hokey their story sounded. They said they came across the vast expanse of space to save us from this wasteland of our own making and to relocate us to a new world where we could again thrive. Ridiculous, right? Well, people I had believed were rational beings fell for it hook, line and sinker.

They’ve been here almost a month, and are loading people up all over the world every day.  I have to admit they look like us, which is probably why they’re able to fool so many. If they were 12 feet tall, had three heads, claws and a tail, we’d probably have tried to blow them up as soon as they landed. Everyone in my subdivision saw the lights in the sky and one after the other setting down. It was just like the movie War of the Worlds when the aliens landed in groups. Their ships are huge, and while I’m not sure how many people each one can hold, everyone in my town went inside one, and they were still going around in their carts looking in the neighboring towns for more to fill it.

When they first arrived, they announced that we all should gather in the town square. It was there they informed us about their mission. They said they monitored inhabited planets, and when its natural resources were nearly depleted, they relocated the residents to another planet for a fresh start. According to the Friends of the Universe - that’s what they called themselves, this is a role they had chosen for themselves. Their world was rich in natural resources that they valued and maintained. Unfortunately, other civilizations wasted and destroyed, and in doing so, destroyed themselves.

That’s where they came in. If they could get to the inhabitants in time, they’d launch a rescue effort. Depending on the size of the planet’s population, as many transports as needed were deployed, and all were loaded up and moved to another suitable planet. Provisions and temporary shelter were provided until the new residents got on their feet. Then they were left to flourish, or fail again, on their own, and the cycle continued. As touching and inspirational as that sounded, I knew it was a bunch of crap. We’ve been on Earth for millions of years and screwed up plenty, but they show up out of nowhere now?

I have to admit we’re in pretty bad shape at the moment. We’ve had some wars that really hurt Mother Earth. There are a few areas where the air is not breathable, the ground is barren, and the water is polluted beyond repair. But, we’ve been through hard times before and have always been able to clean up after ourselves. I can’t accept that there’s no hope for me and my fellow man, other than to desert our world and allow it to be used as a place for punishment. That’s the other reason they’re evacuating us, by the way. Earth will be turned into a prison.

We were told dying planets are often used to house those banished from their home planet due to violation of the local law. Others remove the elderly and infirm from their homes and resettle them, so to speak, on a distant star. Planets that are unable to sustain any form of life are used solely as landfills. However, any planet that has at least tolerable air and water, and the use of either or both would not result in immediate death, would be deemed appropriate for criminals and the aged. And I had always believed admitting a family member into a nursing home was cruel.

I managed to dodge their patrols and made it safely back to my refuge. The residents of the house I was hiding in had gone willingly with our self-proclaimed saviors, so I decided to move in. I kept the curtains drawn, the doors and windows locked, except for a few small upstairs windows to let some air in, polluted that it was. I knew they’d make their exit soon since they informed us their time here was limited by the alignment of various stars. A month of our time was all the time they had to clear our world of human life. At least Noah took along two of each member of the animal kingdom in his Ark. These new friends of ours were leaving behind land and sea creatures alike. Bastards.

Once all their ships took off, I’d be free to move about in the open and begin my life anew. The world outside wasn’t very welcoming, but I would be on my own and not spending the rest of my life in some cage waiting to be dissected or placed in a pot with carrots and potatoes. Even if what they said about other creatures being dumped off here to serve time was true, I was a man – the superior species, and I would triumph. I would be King and they would be my subjects. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. I knew I had to get the upper hand right from the start, but I could handle some old whatever they were with my hands tied behind my back. And criminals? I had access to all the guns and weapons this world had to offer. No one was going to get the better of me.

My fantasy about making the world mine was shattered when I heard their announcement right outside where I was hiding. They knew where I had been, but deliberately avoided confronting me until now. How decent of them.

“Daniel,” one of them said. “A moment of your time, if you please.”

We’re on a first name basis now. How civil. I looked through the living room window, and there were six of them on the front lawn, all sitting in their transports. I’d had enough of these cat and mouse games. It was time to make my stand. I stepped out onto the front porch.

“If I please? Stop all this pretending. Why don’t you just kill me and get it over with.”

“We didn’t come here to harm anyone, Daniel. Everything we’ve told the people of your world was true. Earth can no longer sustain life for so many. Your fellow creatures are happy in their new world. Please come with us now. We can no longer delay. You are the last.”

“No. Go ahead and take off, you liars.”

“Understand that once we leave, we cannot return. This world will be the property of the new owners and they…”

He received a message through his headset I couldn’t hear.

“I’m sorry for you, Daniel. We must leave now.”

Sorry for me? That was rich. They rode away toward the north end of town. A few minutes later, I saw the flashes of light as their last ship took off. I had called their bluff. The whole world was now mine for the taking.

Two days later, the new owners arrived and began setting up buildings to house their prisoners. So, our Friends of the Universe had been telling the truth after all. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but Earth’s new landlords were 12 feet tall, had three heads, claws and a tail. When I walked over to a group of them to introduce myself as the King of Earth, one of them grabbed me, dragged me into one of the buildings they had constructed, and dropped me into a large pot with carrots and potatoes. Damn.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 31: Home

The prompt this week was to write a fantasy story, and to include the following words: Spring, egg, bloom, season, and bunny.

My story is about a fella who found real magic.

Home

I knew he was coming before he stepped through the doorway. I could feel his presence, there in the void, as he completed his journey from his world into mine. My powers have grown significantly weaker over time, but Galdemar is my friend, and the heart can sense when a friend draws near. I knew also his purpose for taking this potentially deadly risk passing through the portal. He did it for me – to save me, and it distressed me greatly since I had no desire to be liberated.

A bright light appeared a few feet from me and began to take shape. I prayed his entry would be smooth and painless. I looked into my neighbor’s yard, hoping he was out running his usual Saturday afternoon errands. It would not do for him to witness a warrior from an alternate world materializing seemingly from out of nowhere in the middle of my backyard. He was almost fully visible, and an ache filled my being. The joy of reuniting with my one true friend was overshadowed by fear, knowing I would break his heart.

“Galdemar,” I called to him.

He stood before me now, tall and strong, in full battle attire.

“There are no enemies here, my friend.” I tried to reassure him, but knew he journeyed nowhere unless fully armed.

“What is this place, Wrayeth? Large boxes with windows on blankets of coarse green material, and each small area surrounded by walls no higher than my knees? How can these protect you from the outsiders?”

I smiled. I had forgotten how foreign everything on this side seemed to me when I first crossed.

“Oh my dear friend, I have so much to tell you. To begin, I am called William here, Galdemar. The one who called himself Wrayeth is no longer. These large boxes are called houses. The people here live in them. This one behind us is mine. The blanket of green is called grass, and it is a living thing. When provided with water and sunlight, it grows strong. A troubled soul finds enjoyment when foot coverings are removed and one walks, or runs, through it on a warm summer day. Have I completely confused you yet?”

“It all sounds quite barbaric. What about the diminutive walls? How long will we remain safe before they come?”

“There are no enemies coming, as I have told you, Galdemar. These are not walls. They are called fences, and they mark the lines of ownership. All within my fence belongs to me, all within my neighbor’s fence to him, and so on around the area. It is different here, my friend, very different. All does not belong to all, as in Burra Hollow. Here in the Earth realm, each has his own.”

Galdemar shook his head. He never wanted to cross over to search here for other forms of life that may be compatible with us. There is nothing in that world of any value, he always said. If only he had accompanied me on my last quest, he would have found out just how wrong he had been.

“Let me take you in and show you my home. There are several rooms, each with their own pur…”

“What is that, Wrayeth? It has not moved since I arrived. Is it dangerous?” He placed his hand on the hilt of his sword.

This was turning out to be much more challenging than I had anticipated.

“Let me try to explain it this way, Galdemar. There are seasons here, four of them. There is spring, which it is now, then summer, then autumn, and finally winter. Once winter is over, the cycle begins again. Some seasons are warm and sunny, others are cold and full of ice and snow. Where we come from, it is always the same – always. There is no night; I mean, no darkness. It is always warm and sunny and light. But on this side, things change. Do you understand?”

The look on his face spoke volumes. No. He did not understand.

“I know it may seem unusual, but I quite enjoy the changes. I have ever since I arrived. It doesn’t take long to get used to all the differences. Anyway, back to it. There is a day of celebration that occurs here during springtime known as Easter. It is a day on which some rejoice since their Higher Power has risen and ascended into the Heavens, and others celebrate with egg hunts and chocolate bunnies. That is what this is. It is a chocolate bunny. Its shape is that of a rabbit, one of their animals, and it is made from sugar and milk and cocoa, which are sweet treats for the young.”

“Its shape is that of an animal and the young consume it? Disgusting. What is this egg hunt you speak of?”

This is becoming more difficult with each passing moment. Too, my wife and son should be returning home soon. How could I possibly explain Galdemar to them?

“It is a game, Galdemar. One fills eggs with sweet treats and hides them. Then, the children are sent out to find them. When they do, they may consume the treats inside. It fills them with happiness.”

“You are talking nonsense, Wrayeth. You have remained on this side too long. It is time to go home. The High Doaken saw you had not returned from your quest, and I volunteered to accompany you across. I barely was able to locate you since your powers are greatly diminished. We must go quickly. The portal will remain open only so long. Together, we can pass through safely.”

“Galdemar, my friend, I’m not going back. I have found contentment here. I have a wife and a son, and have fashioned a good life for myself. I know you will never understand, but you must trust me. This is my home now, and will remain so.”

“Why would you want to remain, Wrayeth? Soon, all your powers will be gone. As it is, you cannot cross on your own; you haven’t the strength. Staying here would result in your aging and eventual death. Is this the future you are choosing for yourself?”

“What I am choosing, Galdemar, is to live. You said the High Doaken saw that I had not returned. I had been gone for centuries in Burra Hollow time and he saw that I had not returned.”

“Your point being?”

“I was not missed, my friend. I was not missed. That is my point. It is also my reason for staying here, I am missed when I am away. I am missed and I am loved. I feel, here, Galdemar. In what you call home, there are no feelings. We go on and on and want for nothing. Wishes come true, and there is no loss or sadness. It is a wondrous place, where roses are forever in bloom, and since we do not age, there is no end.

“I have found there can be no real happiness without despair, no peace without discord, and no fulfillment without emptiness. It is right for you and the others and I wish them all well, but I cannot go back and simply exist. My wish is to remain here so that I may live.”

“If I go through alone, Wrayeth, it will be for the last time. The portal will be closed to you forever.”

In my heart, I knew my decision was the right one. Still, at this moment, I regretted some of these feelings I have come to know. I would never see Galdemar again.

“I know, but I have made my choice. Be safe.”

“Thank you, Wraye…William. Always know, my friend, that I shall miss you.”

He stood brave and proud, saluted me, and the light began to surround him as he prepared to cross. I could hear my wife and son calling me as they made their way to the backyard. The light diminished and was gone. Galdemar was gone.

“What was that, dear? Was that lightening in the yard? I don’t understand. The sky is so blue.”

“No, Catherine, it was just a reflection from somewhere. Maybe a plane went over. Nothing to be concerned about. How was the party? Joseph, did you have a good time with your friends?”

“Yes, Daddy, I had lots of fun and got lots of prizes.”

“I’m glad, son. You know it’s time for your nap.”

“Okay, but will you tell me a story before my nap? You know, the one about that other world?”

“All right. Come sit with me and I’ll tell you all about it. There are two suns, one green and one blue, and they shine all the time because there is no night. The children play among the flowers, and there is magic in the air. And friends? They are forever.”

“That world sounds like fun, Daddy, but I love this one best.”

“Me too, son. Me too.”

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 30: Meeting the Parents

You found the one – the one with whom you were destined to spend the rest of your life. You had only known him/her briefly, but it truly was love at first sight, and you threw caution to the wind and eloped.

Now that your honeymoon trip is over, you need to settle down in your day-to-day lives. First, however, you are reminded that you still have not met your new in-laws. You have been assured they are not angry about not being invited to the ceremony, but it is very important that they meet you as soon as possible.

You are really looking forward to meeting them. It should all go very smoothly, right?

Prompt: Tell us about meeting your new in-laws.

My story is about a young man who married the girl of his dreams, and a few months later, goes to meet her parents. He hopes the weekend with her family will go well and that her parents like him. I don’t think he has anything to worry about, do you?

Meeting the Parents

“I really hope your parents like me, Cassandra. I know my parents would have adored you.”

“I’m so sorry you spent most of your life in foster homes, dearest. Since you were only a year and a half old when your parents were killed in that crash, you never really knew them, did you?”

“No, but I was always very fortunate. All the families I lived with treated me very well. The only reason I was relocated was because some were only able to care for infants, and others only certain age groups. But I do consider each and every one of them my real family and as you know, I still correspond with them quite frequently – at least, the ones that are still with us.”

“It’s wonderful that you remain close to them, Jack. It’s not often orphaned children end up being cared for so well. My parents and I have always been very close. They have always been very devoted to me, as well as to each other. I have also been blessed with being able to spend a great deal of time with both sets of grandparents. You won’t be meeting any of them, I’m sorry to say. You would really have liked them too.”

“Are they away on a vacation or something, Cass?”

“Or something, my darling.”

Cassandra, my bride of 3 months, smiled when she responded – a smile that lit my world now just as it had the first time I saw her. It had been a particularly stressful day at the office and I decided to step out for a cocktail. I normally despise having a drink in bars since all those around me seem to be engaged in an attempt to secure a quick pickup for a one night stand. A shallow encounter like that was something I had never been interested in. I chose a quiet tavern around the corner from my apartment since whenever I’ve gone past, I never heard any loud music blaring from their jukebox, and the police have never been called to break up a disagreement there. It was, in my opinion, the perfect place to relax and let the world slip away. I was as wrong as I could be.

I sat at a table near the back with my scotch and soda so I could keep an eye on who was coming and going. At the first sign of anything that hinted at becoming disagreeable, I planned to make a quick exit. I had just been assigned four new accounts at the agency and my contacts at each of those firms were obnoxious and condescending. I had months of work ahead of me designing campaigns for companies whose employees were rude and totally unprofessional. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy with my boss that day. I was on the verge of sinking into a potentially year-long depression when she walked in, looked around, and smiled at me. At that moment, I knew my life would forever change.

Cassandra Higgins came to my table and asked if she could join me. She told me bars made her uncomfortable because she didn’t want anyone coming on to her, but today had been a stressful one at her job and she stopped in only for a cocktail before heading home. She said she approached me because it appeared I was there for the same reason and sitting with me would make her feel safe. It was at that very moment I knew I was hopelessly in love with her and that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.

We saw each other every day for a week and on the seventh evening, I proposed. I was terrified that I might make her angry or scare her off, but to my surprise and delight, she accepted. We were married three days later, and my life has been Heaven on Earth ever since. Three months have passed and Cassandra suggested we take a drive to the coast so I could meet her parents. She had told them all about me and they knew we were married, but they jokingly told her they wanted to get to know their new son-in-law before we celebrated our first anniversary. They weren’t upset or angry at not being invited to our wedding, and were looking forward to having us spend a weekend at their estate.

It didn’t matter to me that my wife’s family was wealthy. I made a very good living and could provide well for her. Cassandra said they weren’t concerned about how I made my living. As long as their little girl was happy, that was all that mattered to them. I hoped they were going to like me as much as I already liked them.

We arrived on Saturday just before lunch, and my wish for a comfortable introduction came true and then some. Her mother and father hugged me and welcomed me into their home and more importantly, into their family. What incredible people they were. Her mother was the definition of glamor, her father the epitome of elegance. Even though Cassandra’s father’s net worth most likely ran in the billions, he and his wife both were warm and loving people who put on no airs, and were as easy to sit and chat with as the man who ran the newsstand in the lobby of my building. This weekend was turning out to be absolutely perfect.

We ate sumptuous meals prepared by their live-in cook, swam in their Olympic-size swimming pool which was on one side of the house, enjoyed several games of croquet set up on the other side of the house, and relaxed in the evening after dinner in their huge hot tub situated on a large patio overlooking the back yard. Holiday visits with my in-laws would be vacations to die for. Saturday evening ended with cocktails in her father’s study.

I knew I would be tired from both the long drive there and all the day’s activities, but I found myself nodding off in the middle of a sentence. Her mom and dad were so gracious and assured me no embarrassment was warranted. Cass wanted to stay up for a bit and chat with her parents, so I bid them all goodnight and headed upstairs to bed. I was happy and content, and knew that tonight, I would sleep as I never have before.

* * * * * * * * * *

“Cassandra, my pet, are you? I mean, are really 100% certain?”

“Yes, Mommy, I am, and isn’t it glorious? I wanted to wait to bring my husband here until I was absolutely positive I was pregnant. There was no way I was going to take any chances.”

“Now, you’re certain that no one will be looking for him or contact the authorities to report his disappearance?”

“Oh no, Daddy. His parents died when he was very young and the foster parents he lived with who are still around are old and forgetful. Besides, I’ll send them a card at Christmas and sign his name. That will satisfy them. I wrote a resignation letter to his boss too, Daddy, just like you told me to. His boss called a few days later and wanted to talk about it, but Jack was napping and I took the call. I made it very clear that my husband had no interest in continuing his career with that company. I said Jack had already joined my father’s firm, and told him never to call us again. He apologized and hung up.”

“That’s my girl. You handled that perfectly. I’m happy that your young man has fulfilled his purpose in time to celebrate your grandparents’ anniversary. He is exactly what we’ll need for the party tomorrow, being so young and fit. Your grandparents will be arriving around noon. By the time we pick them up at the airport, drive home, and get them settled in, it will be time for a nice early dinner.

“Jack will need to marinate for several hours, and the drugs we put in his cocktail should keep him out at least until it’s time to remove his organs and stuff him. His time in the oven will cook out any residue from the medication, although if there’s any left in his tissues, it’s never bothered any of us before.”

“I’m so excited, Mommy and Daddy. Both of my grandmothers and grandfathers will be here soon, and I can’t wait to tell them about the baby. Jack had been so worried about whether my family would like him or not. I told him that was silly. Of course they’ll all like you, I said. My family all have good taste.”

Am I dreaming, or did I just hear Cass and her parents laughing? Such a wonderful sound. I can’t believe how sleepy I am. Soon I’ll be dead to the world…

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Chosen - Part 3

This is Part 3 of my ongoing story called Chosen. If you missed Part 1, you can find it here. You can find Part 2 here. Hope to see you back here next Thursday for Part 4. Links will be posted on my Facebook Author's page and my regular Facebook page.

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Chosen - Part 3

Several cups of coffee, and three pieces of pie, later, I had a few more answers, but way more questions. One thing I knew for certain was what my next stop would be. Lina reminded me that Bertha in Dr. Holcolm’s office believed that if you share folks’ medical status with their friends and neighbors, it promotes healing. The fact that doing it without the patient’s consent was a violation of ethics and the law didn’t concern her. All she cared about were her patients’ well-being. She was one resource I definitely needed to tap as soon as possible. I thanked Lina for all her input and told her I would make sure she received an autographed copy of my novel after it was published. I also mentioned that I planned to dedicate the book to her. She hugged me and went off to wait on some new customers who had come in. Seeing the happiness and pride in her face made me realize what a complete jerk I was being – lying to her about all this. Maybe when all was said and done, I would actually write that novel. Something to consider anyway.
                                                                  
Our one and only town doctor was away at a seminar, and anyone needing medical care was referred to the county clinic that was roughly 40 minutes away. Of course, any emergency could be handled with a call to the county hospital, and a chopper would be dispatched if it became necessary. That’s one thing about this town. It may be small and some may consider it too rural for their taste, but we had great shops, a terrific restaurant, and dependable medical care. Even though the doctor was not in, I knew Bertha was in. She was always in. She was an RN who took care of most of the patients herself in one of the treatment rooms. Serious cases were always taken in to see Doc Holcolm, but most days, she would triage and treat 95% of people who walked in the door. I hoped Bertha’s propensity to share medical information included discussing the dead.

“Hi, Bertha,” I said, entering the office. “I was wondering if you had a bit of time to chat.”

She was sitting at her desk in the front filing papers in charts. Here was a woman I adored. She was in her late 50s, huge, and always wore the most engaging smile. Before anyone left the doctor’s office, she hugged them and wished them well. They usually couldn’t breathe for a second or two after one of her powerful hugs, but it didn’t matter. Everyone left with a smile on their face, and that was totally because of her.

“Any time, Cass,” she said. “You feeling poorly? Is there something I can get for you? Doc won’t be back until Wednesday, but I can fix whatever ails you.”

“I know you could, Bertha, but actually, I’m feeling very well today. I was wondering if you could give me some information. I’m doing research for a story I plan to write and I’m using what happened to the little Sumner girl as inspiration. I know it’s not a pleasant subject, but I want my story to be as accurate as possible, so I’m piecing details from that case together. All names will be changed in my story as it’s going to be a fictional one, but I need some facts from a real case to write around. I hope that makes sense because I…”

“Of course it does, dear,” she responded. “I know exactly what you’re talking about. Even stories that are completely made up have some truth in there somewhere. It’s perfectly fine. What kind of information do you need? I remember that case so very well. Doc Holcolm treated the girl’s mother for her problems, gave the little girl her vaccinations, and even treated the dad after the mother shot herself and the child disappeared. Lord almighty. That poor family’s troubles began long before they moved here and once they did, trouble came and finished them all off. Terrible thing.”

Doc Holcolm treated the mother for her problems? I had to get to the bottom of that statement.

“Mrs. Sumner had problems, Bertha? I had heard that there were issues in the city where they had lived and that’s why they moved out here.”

“Issues? Oh yes, honey, there were issues. That poor woman had been put through Hell and then some. You see, the mister used to travel a lot with his job. He had been some kind of consultant and worked with companies in different parts of the world. There were times when he had been gone for weeks at a time. He told me all this the first time he brought his wife in so I would understand her background. He wanted Doc and I to know what had happened to her and what was going to happen going forward. Broke my heart, it did. Just broke my heart.”

He wanted her to know what was going to happen? What was going to happen?

“He had been away in one of those South American countries for a week or so and he was due back in a couple of days. She was all alone in the great big townhouse that they had been living in. He told me that he would never have left her unguarded, especially in the busy area where they lived. Shops and restaurants were open all day and all night, traffic just as heavy at midnight as at noon, folks walking up and down the sidewalks in front of their house, and taxis on every corner 24 hours a day. He worried for her since she was on the frail side, so he had all these high-tech alarms put in all over the place. It wouldn’t take much to bring the National Guard over there once those alarm got to sounding.

“There was just one small problem with all those systems her had set up, and it turned out to cause the biggest problem in their lives. The company he bought that stuff from and that was setting the system up didn’t have one critical part and were going to come back after the part came in to finish the installation. Problem was, they forgot to let the mister and missus know about it. The whole system ran off electricity, which was fine, but in the event of a power outage, it was supposed to be connected to a special backup generator in their basement. People in the house would have to light candles and use flashlights to make their way around because it didn’t backup the power in the house, but the alarms would be backed up and stay working.

“The workers came and installed the system, but didn’t have the generator. They assumed the sales rep told Mr. Sumner they were waiting for the part and the sales rep assumed the workers told him. Well, as it turns out, no one told him or his wife. Mind you, everything was working fine until there was a real bad storm on a particular night; you know, when I told you he was in South America and due back in a couple of days. Anyway, this storm was a real nasty one and one of the transformers got damaged and the power cut out for twelve square blocks. Poor Mrs. Sumner, all alone in that great big house, was smack dab in the middle of all that darkness.

“Since it was a transformer, it took a couple of days to get it fixed. By the time Mr. Sumner got back home, the power was back on, but he noticed when he tried to deactivate the alarm at the front door, it was already off and he couldn’t get the panel to come back on. What happened was that when the power cut with no generator, the system went down and had to be rebooted once the power came back on. Thing is, Mrs. Sumner didn’t know the alarm cut out and she couldn’t have rebooted it anyway because she was down in their basement all beat up and hurt after those thugs broke in and sexually assaulted her.”

Thugs broke in and what? Oh my God.

“All because the alarm company forgot to mention there was no generator?”

“Yes. Exactly. He told me that had he known the alarms could possibly go out, he would have postponed his trip until after that part came in and was installed. That way, his wife would have been protected no matter what happened. Just like in any big city, there was this gang that went from area to area causing trouble, beating people up and robbing them. This time though, with the power out in such a large area, they decided to have a field day. Lots of homes were broken into and they stole from everyone. The police were doing the best they could, but there was just too much going on all at the same time.

“They broke into the Sumner’s place and found her alone and decided to be extra disgusting. They tore the place up, took her jewelry and some electronic things to pawn and as if that wasn’t enough, they decided to brutalize Mrs. Sumner too. They beat her up something terrible and then took turns assaulting her. The mister told me she said there were five of them in the house and they all did awful things to her. The poor thing was in the hospital for weeks recovering from that and when she got out, he sold their house and moved her out here to the country.

“There was no way she could set foot back into that house without having a nervous breakdown and he didn’t want to traumatize her any further. Besides, his company told him he could do his consulting from home on a computer from then on, so he could stay with her all the time. She seemed to adjust well to being here, but Doc had to give her lots of tranquilizers to help her sleep and different medications to help her even get through the day. She ended up just staying in the house, sitting and staring. After she had the baby girl, things only got worse.

“He could never leave her alone with the girl; I mean, she was so full of hatred for her being the result of the assault and all.”

What?

“You’re saying the baby wasn’t his and he knew it?”

“Of course. She was pregnant when he brought her in the first time and wanted us to know he still wanted the child, but she didn’t. He said he’d keep an eye on her at home so she wouldn’t hurt herself to get rid of it, and he asked us to make sure she didn’t get hold of anything here that might hurt the baby. You see, he knew all along, but adored that child still. When the missus looked at her, she remembered all the pain and fear and tried to kill her, which is why he carried that baby everywhere. Drugged up that she was, she still tried to smother her, poison her bottle and lots of other things. The mister couldn’t turn his back on her or the baby. He sued the alarm company for all they had once it all came out and they ended up closing down. It didn’t help his wife any, but since they had been so careless, maybe he saved someone else’s wife from going through the same thing.”

“Did they ever catch the men who did that to her?”

“No, they sure didn’t. After they were done with her, they moved on to tear up the rest of the neighborhood. Other folks were robbed and beaten and they stole tons of stuff that ended up in pawn shops all over the city, but Mrs. Sumner was the only woman they assaulted – the bastards. She was never the same after, so it was really not much of a surprise when she shot herself. I guess the memories were just too much for her to stand.

“But, you have to understand that Mr. Sumner did really love that little girl. Elyssa, he named her. Beautiful child. Looked just like her mother, thank God. He didn’t treat her different knowing some criminal was her real father. He was Elyssa’s daddy and that’s all there was to it. Naturally, when somebody took the girl, it crushed him and he just lost the will to go on. They never did find her, you know. They looked and looked, but she never turned up. I wonder whatever happened to her.”

I didn’t know what happened to her either, but I wasn’t going to stop until I found out.

So, Mrs. Sumner had been attacked in the city and that’s why they relocated. She despised the baby since the pregnancy resulted from an assault. Her husband knew she got pregnant and he knew the child wasn’t his, but he obviously cherished her anyway. Since they never caught the ones who attacked Mrs. Sumner, the likelihood of Elyssa’s real father coming to town to kidnap her and claim her as his own was zero. Cross that off my list of possibilities. Mr. Sumner’s fierce protection of the girl eliminated him as a suspect in her disappearance for me as it had for the Sheriff. There’s no way he paid someone to dispose of the child, and then allowed himself to waste away from the loss.

Hmmm. Time to go home now, sort through my notes, and decide where to go from here.

(To Be Continued)