Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 23: All that Glitters...

The prompt this week was about moving in to the home of our dreams that’s located in a picture-perfect neighborhood. The catch is, we have a nosy neighbor. Well, here’s my side of the story. I learned the hard way that appearances can be deceiving.

All That Glitters…

Whoever said that if something looks too good to be true, then it probably isn’t. Maybe I don’t have all the words right, but you get the idea. When I bought this house, it wasn’t just the house I was buying – it was the neighborhood and especially, the neighbors. On the corner of my new street is a lovely two-story home with a well-kept yard. Its occupant is a 74 year old widow who wanders the subdivision chatting to herself. She bothers no one though, and after a couple of trips around the block, goes back into her house. On the other side of me is another charming dwelling, with a large vegetable garden in the back. That house’s resident is a 72 year old widow who still drives herself to and from town, tends her garden and maintains her own grounds. The lady also runs a Bed and Breakfast to bring in some extra cash to supplement her Social Security.

How do I know all this? I do my research. I need to know who might come knocking on my door in the dead of night should the neighborhood’s power cut out in a storm. I’m living between two elderly ladies who are capable of taking care of themselves, so my days should be uneventful and my nights calm and restful. Right? Remember what I said about something looking too good to be true? Well, I’m living proof that that’s a fact.

From the minute I moved in, the 72 year old, a Mrs. Delaney, watched me like a hawk. She opens her curtains wide and there she stands, binoculars fixed on my property. If she was out weeding or picking veggies, every so often, she’d raise her binoculars and train them in my direction. She watched me leave, she watched me come home, she watched me mow my lawn, and she watched me get my mail. I felt like the headliner in one of those reality shows, only I wasn’t getting a dime for my trouble. I had blinds installed on all my windows and heavy curtains over them and kept them shut 24 hours a day, but it didn’t help my nerves. I knew she was standing there at her window, binoculars up, watching and waiting. But, for what?

At first, I figured perhaps I resembled a grown son who had moved away or maybe I even looked like her dead husband when they had first met and fallen in love. While that’s all very sweet and sentimental, she still creeped the Hell out of me. I want to point out that I’m no kidnapper or Satan worshipper. I have no skeletons in my closet, real or rhetorical. I’m a copy editor, who used to live in the city and worked for one of the biggest newspapers in the state. Even though I’m nowhere near retirement age, I got tired of all the rushing and the rudeness of big city life. I sold my condo, bought a house in this quiet little town, and got a job with the local press. My savings, investments, and IRAs helped to supplement my salary and I was looking forward to noise- and crime-free living.

Well, my house is perfect, the area is beautiful, and several ladies from town brought me casseroles and pies on the day I moved in, so my dream for a peaceful way of life came true, except for one thing. In addition to all the above, I also have my own personal stalker. Yep. Mrs. Delaney was not just a peeper. When I turn around in the grocery, there she is at the end of the aisle. Sitting at a table in the park to have my lunch, she’s three tables away having hers. Watching. Always watching. I decided something had to be done, and soon. Today.

Last night, I noticed a man checked in to her Bed and Breakfast. I slept in this morning to give him time to have his morning meal, call a taxi and continue on. By noon, Mrs. Delaney should be alone and ready for me to burst in and confront her. I was determined to find out why she was so obsessed with me and more to the point, what were her intentions? Was I to be invited over for coffee and cake that was drugged with sedatives to render me helpless so she could carve me up add my feet to her stew pot along with her homegrown carrots and onions? Okay. Maybe not that, but still. There was something she wanted from me or to do to me and I had to find out the truth. I felt like an animal caught in a trap, but this creature was not going down without a fight.

I snuck around the back, thinking I would climb in one of her basement windows, sneak up the stairs and startle the daylights out of her while she sat in her kitchen. When taking on the enemy, best to do it by surprise – you know, so you have the upper hand and all that. But, when I knelt down and looked through the window, her basement light was on and it appeared as if she was dragging a body down the stairs. What the…? I went around the front and tried her front door. It was unlocked and I let myself in. I made my way to the door to the basement and called down to her.

“Mrs. Delaney, it’s me, Robert. Robert Janson, from next door. Is everything all right? Do you need some help?”

Her response startled the daylights out of me.

“Yes, hon, could you give me a hand? I need to get Mr. Horace into the acid before he starts to smell. He’s been dead since early morning and he’s beginning to ripen. Grab hold of his feet and help me get him down the stairs, will you?”

For 72, this lady had some muscles on her.

So. It was Mr. Horace’s feet that were going to end up in her… Did she say acid? Oh God. I grabbed the man’s feet and helped her carry him down the stairs. When I saw his face, I recognized him as last night’s Bed and Breakfast guest.

“What happened to him? Did he have a heart attack?”

“Oh, no, hon. It was the poison in his cocoa. A couple sips and he was gone. I cleaned out his wallet and now I need to get him out of my way. I’ve got a lady coming to stay this evening. Help me get him to the cellar door. I’ve got a vat down there filled with acid and that’s where I put them. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly they disappear in there.”

“Who ‘they’?” I had to know.

“Why, my guests, hon.” Her tone was calm and even like she was forecasting a clear and sunny day on the Channel 13 news.

“Mr. Delaney didn’t leave much insurance, so I have my guests come and stay the night. If I have enough to cover my bills for the month, I just let them go on their way. If I’m short, I mix some poison in their morning cocoa and take their cash and Traveler’s Checks. No one comes looking for them and even if they did, no one’s going to look in an old lady’s cellar, are they?”

Is this what she planned for me too?

“Is that why you watch me and follow me around? Are you planning to stash me in your cellar vat too?”

When she smiled, a cold chill ran down my spine.

“Hon, this is a small town. We’re bound to run into each other here and there. Besides, I wasn’t watching you. I was watching Lydia, the lady who lives on the corner. My eyesight isn’t what it used to be and that’s why I use my binoculars. I know she steals tomatoes from my garden and I’m determined to catch her. That’s why I watch her day and night. Could you keep an eye out too and let me know if you see her in my garden? She wanders around at all hours and if I’m asleep and you see her taking some from my garden, will you call me and let me know? When I catch her, I am going to give her what for.”

I’ll just bet you will, lady.

“Um, sure.” I didn’t know where to go from there. After all, I’d just helped her dump a body into a vat of acid.

“I guess I’ll be going now, unless you need help with something else.”

“No, hon. I’m fine now. Enjoy your Saturday.

“Yes, ma’am. You too.”

My house in Little-Old-Lady-Land goes on the market first thing Monday morning. This small town peaceful life is way overrated.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 22: Dear Diary

The prompt this week was to choose a fairy tale (or nursery rhyme) and tell the tale behind the tale. Reveal who these fairy tale people really are, and share their backstories. I decided to post the personal thoughts of one of Fairyland’s characters that was offered quite a challenging role.

Dear Diary

Dear Diary, Bella here. Today, I was in quite a quandary. The choice should have been a simple one for me, but before my final decision was made whether to remain in a role all the way to print, I decided to seek the advice of one of my closest friends. I made my way over the river and through the woods to Little G’s, one of Fairyland's five-star restaurants. Gretel was there, as always, hosting and making sure all were pleased with their meals. Hansel, as always, was off on one of his marketing tours

You know, Dear Diary, that situation never changes. Ever since they were booked into that gig with the witch, Hansel still can’t remain anywhere in, or near, an eatery for any length of time. Gretel handled it remarkably well, and once it all went to print, she moved on and opened the restaurant. She runs it amazingly well on her own, and her brother does handle the business side of it with great success. Poor Hansel though. He orders all his meals to go.

Why is it that there are always those who feel the need to disrupt the harmony of the lives of others? When I arrived at the front door, I had to make my way through the picket line of witches. One thing Hansel insisted on, and Gretel readily agreed to, was to post a sign that witches would be refused service. It’s completely understandable since during the enactment of their tale, once it ended, the witch playing the role of the witch tried to shove them in the oven and cook them for real. Perhaps she was just an aberration, but you have to admit, Dear Diary, that does make one hesitant to turn one’s back on their kind. No one likes witches in their businesses anyway. You hand them a bill and they cast a spell on you. But, I digress…

I did take the path through the woods on my way to see Gretel. There’s no danger anymore now that Goldi’s moved in with the Bears. Oh, excuse me, I mean Goldilocks. Yeah, right. As if those blonde curls of hers were ever natural. Apparently, Goldi-Brown-Roots didn’t flow as a title. I know I’m being snarky now, Dear Diary, but that was a cool story and I had my eye on that role from the start. I couldn’t even get in for an audition. It probably worked out for the best though, since Goldi’s getting on in years and gigs in tales are few and far between. She cooks, cleans and tutors the cub, and has a safe roof over her head. The Bears benefit too since Mama and Papa can both work now that they have live-in help. All’s well that ends well, I suppose.

I got to Little G’s and spoke with Gretel about my problem. She reminded me that sometimes compromises need to be made and frankly, beggars can’t be choosers. It did hurt that she considered me in the beggar category at this stage of my career, but I appreciated her candor. Time to face reality, Dear Diary. When I look in my mirror, I see a child with golden hair and a perfect smile. To the story recruiters however, I am a grown woman with a droopy top lip; not an elderly grandmother type who sits in a rocking chair, but not a little girl skipping happily down the road either. Distasteful as some roles may be, work unfortunately, is work.

I explained to Gretel what would be required of me for this latest offer, and she pointed out that for once, I would no longer be ‘woman in the crowd’, but I would be getting top billing. Yes, a small sacrifice would have to be made, but once it went to print, my legacy would be a glorious one. Once the gig was a wrap, I would have no trouble getting additional work and I wouldn’t have to simply settle. Did I want to end up having to take a role out of desperation like the chick who took the gig with the frog prince? What a nightmare that one was. After that one went to print, that poor girl went through Compound W by the case.

Here was a chance to be a headliner, but I would have to make a concession. I would have to agree to change my name. Thing is, with name changes, Dear Diary, they are forever. I would no longer be Bella. Gretel reminded me that when all was said and done, I would be a princess and end up married to a handsome prince, who had never been a frog. Was a name really such a big deal? I’d still be Bella inside, and always Bella to my friends. I had to admit it probably wouldn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things. It’s just that dropping the ‘B’ and putting ‘Cinder’ in front of ‘Ella’ hit me kind of hard. I was going to be forever called Cinderella.

Rather than let this slip away and end up being an unnamed woman in the crowd forever, I’ve decided to grab this one. Gretel’s right. This role would give me security in Fairyland and higher class roles would come my way as I aged. I mean, once a princess… I have to confess though, Dear Diary, once I get past the name issue, there are still two other things about this gig I’m not too crazy about.

One problem I have is with the glass slippers. You know how sensitive I am about my hammer toes, and there’s no way I’m going to slide them into any slipper, much less a glass one. Hopefully, I can get away with wearing dark stockings or tights at the ball under my gown. When I was offered the role, I didn’t have to remove my shoes to try them on. I was just asked my size and was told the slippers would be made to order. Gretel recommended I not mention it to anyone; just wear stockings to hide them. I won’t have to have them on until the scene that goes to print, and I’m certain they won’t stop the shoot to fuss about my socks.

I’m not sure what to do about my other problem since that’s a truly critical one – even more so than the name issue. It’s the supporting cast they booked in for the gig. I realize that when we’re playing a role, we need to really play the role, but from time to time, some really can get a bit carried away. My Fairy Godmother in the tale is really sweet and a pleasure to work with, but the stepmother and stepsisters? Bitches, all – before, during, and after our rehearsals. Even when I did ‘woman in the crowd’, the other cast members invited me for coffee and Danish when the printer was off. But these three? Whoa!

Dear Diary, the rehearsals are really wearing on my nerves. The stepmother and the two stepsisters rotate their complaining that the scene just wasn’t right so they can stall production and force a re-do. I think the Director is just as fed up as I am, and I’m hoping that soon he’ll just tell them to keep it moving so we can go to print. It’s always the same scene too – the one where I’m scrubbing the floor. Stepmother, or one of the stepsisters (whoever’s turn it is to throw a monkey wrench in the works) complains toward the end of the scene that I missed a spot. Let me tell you, Dear Diary, one more of those cracks and they’ll all be picking their teeth up from that spot I missed.

Gretel took my hands in hers and reminded me that Evil Stepmother and Evil Stepsisters were the only roles they would ever get and their names would never change. I have to admit that did make me feel better. I’ll just grin and bear it. I mean, how much longer can they drag this out? There are so many tales out there that need to get made so they can go to print. Cinderella needs to wrap, and soon.

Talking all this out with my best friend, Gretel, and you too, Dearest Diary, has made me feel so much better. I’m actually looking forward to the next rehearsal, which I’m hoping will be the last. I want to go to print as this plain young woman, victimized by her step-family members, magically transformed into a glamorous lady by a Fairy Godmother, who is sought, found, and loved forever by a charming and handsome Prince. Cinderella, it will be. Cinderella, I will be. Hammer toes and all…

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 21: Big Blue

This week's prompt was to write a story using the Old West as the setting. Even way back then, some families had skeletons in their closets, and secrets sometimes were revealed in unusual ways.

Big Blue

There’s a herd moving in just outside of town. The cowboys are getting set to bed down for the night. Most of them will come in to Rosie’s for a whiskey and some supper before heading out for a sleep under the stars. Ma used to tell me about those cowboys. She said her Pa had been one, and moved lots of herds out West. She said he died on the trail halfway across the county one day and she and her Ma got the word a couple of months later. She knew he died happy though, so neither of them cried too long about it. My Ma said when I growed up, I could be one of them cowboys and ride all over creation. I dreamed about it every night; that is, until the morning I woke up and she was gone. She ran off with one of the ranch hands, Pa said, and he told me not to make a fuss. She was never no good, he told me, so good riddance. I didn’t dream about being no cowboy ever again.
Pa’s been confined to his bed for months now and Doc says he hasn’t got much longer. He doesn’t know what ails him, but he does know it’s bad. He gives Pa this powder that takes some of his pain away and makes him sleep awhile. That’s when I go into town and make believe I’m free. Pa says I owe him and can’t go on my own until he’s dead and buried. Doc comes by every couple of days and the Sheriff’s Missus brings us both lunch and supper every day. She’s a good woman, and I’d be lucky one day to find a wife just like her. But it’s been hard these past months being around Pa and his sickness. Real hard.

My Pa’s always been on the mean side, but when he can’t get up or do nothing for himself, he’s gotten a lot meaner than he used to be. That’s why, after we’ve had supper and the powder makes him sleep, I put on his guns and ride into town. I talk to folks and have a whiskey or two, but I never tell Pa. He don’t want me wearing his guns or drinking whiskey. But, I’m not a boy anymore and have a right. Lately, I’ve had that dream again of being a cowboy, and whenever a herd comes close, I head into town so I can talk to some of them about joining up even though I know I can’t.

Pa fell asleep quick tonight and I headed to Rosie’s. One of them cowboys came right to my table, sat down, and said he’d buy me a whiskey if I could give him some information. He said his name was Jack and he talked to me respectful and all. I told him my name was Billy, and that I’d help him if I could and he didn’t even need to buy me the whiskey. He told me he was looking for a man folks called ‘Big Blue’. He said he’d been going from town to town trying to find him. I asked him why he wanted to kill Big Blue and he asked me how I knew. I told him I could see it on him like a shadow. He said I was preceptive, or something like that, and told me what had happened.

He had a small piece of land outside a town called Breezy Gulch. One day, he was in the house with his wife who was ailing. Three men came in with their guns drawn and Jack thought they were there to rob him, but they didn’t want money. Two of them held Jack down and made him watch while the third forced himself on Jack’s wife. He was a big man, and wore a blue silk scarf around the brim of his hat. When he was done, he told the other two to help themselves to the woman, but they refused. They said they wanted to leave, and one of them called that man Big Blue. Big Blue then shot the two men and the woman, and before Jack could get to his rifle, he shot him too, and then left.

Jack told me Big Blue must have believed he was dead because he never looked back. A neighbor came by to bring Jack’s wife supper, found him shot and brought the doctor. After he got back on his feet, he decided to hunt down this Big Blue if it took the rest of his life and make him pay for what he had done to his wife. He asked me if I knew anyone called by that name and I told him I did not. He thanked me and left Rosie’s. If he asked folks in town about Big Blue, they wouldn’t know who he was. I knew that because after Pa and I moved away from Breezy Gulch, he took that blue scarf off his hat and packed it away. Now I knew why. My Pa was Big Blue.

* * * * *

I sat with the gun pointed at Pa’s face until he woke up.

“What are you doing, boy? Put them guns away.” Pa was trying to sound hard to scare me, but no more. No more.

“I’m going to put a bullet in you, old man,” I said. “Or, should I call you ‘Big Blue’? Isn’t that what your two buddies called you the day you violated and killed that woman and them too near Breezy Gulch? I know all about it. Her husband is in town gunning for you.”

He looked like I’d knocked all the wind out of him.

“Can’t be,” he gasped. “I left him for…”

“’Dead’, right?” I said. “Well, he didn’t die, but you’re going to. But, not for that woman – for my Ma. I remember now what happened the night before you said she left. You thought I was asleep, but I heard the two of you. Ma told you she wasn’t keeping your secret no more and she was fixin’ to take me and leave in the morning. It got real quiet after that and I fell asleep. I asked you what secret there was the next morning and you told me I was dreaming and that Ma ran off with some man. She didn’t run off with anyone, did she? You killed her so she wouldn’t take me and tell what you did. That’s why I’m going to kill you myself.”

“Put the gun down, Billy,” Jack said.

He had followed me from town and was standing behind me in the doorway.

“The minute I saw you, I knew you was Big Blue’s son, so I followed you. I heard all you said, and I’m sorry about your mother.”

“You don’t talk about his mother,” Pa tried to sit up. “Billy, this man’s woman was a squaw, so don’t you see, it didn’t matter what I done to her. But your Ma was going to up and go and take you with her and tell everybody what I done. I couldn’t let her do that. Who would care for the land and the chickens if you were gone? And what would folks in town think of me then? I had to stop her. It wasn’t on purpose. I pushed her and she hit her head. I buried her out behind the house and moved us here. You see how it was, right? It wasn’t my fault.”

“I’ve searched a long time for you so I could put a bullet between your eyes,” Jack said. “But now, that I’ve caught up with you, I can see what a poor excuse for a man you are and have always been. If I kill you, I’ll hang. Taking your pathetic life isn’t worth losing mine. He’s not worth losing yours either, Billy. Holster up that gun and come drive the herd with me. I need to let the past be and stop looking for revenge. Seeing you with that gun in your hand made me realize there’s been enough killing. Get what you can carry and let’s go.”

I put some clothes in a bag and headed for the door. I couldn’t wait to hear Pa’s last words to me.

“You can’t leave, boy,” he said. “Who will fetch me my pain powder and whiskey to wash it down?”

“Doc will check on you and the Sheriff’s Missus will bring your meals. It’ll do you good to feel some of that pain. That way, you’ll know what it’s been like for all of us around you. Goodbye, Big Blue.”

“Don’t go, boy,” he started to cry. “You owe me.”

“You’re right about that, Pa,” I said, as Jack and I walked out. “And payback begins now.”

I am so looking forward to sleeping under the stars tonight.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 20: The Role of a Lifetime

This week, we’re touring the Night Gallery. The prompt was to select one of the displayed paintings and base our story on the image. The genre was supernatural horror. The one I selected is shown below, and I hope my story captures the true horror it offers.

The Role of a Lifetime

I’m an idiot, and soon, I’ll be a dead idiot. This is what I get for trusting my so-called best friend and my so-called best wife. If they wanted to get rid of me, there are more humane methods. I’m probably partly responsible for the elaborate ruse they concocted to lure me to this island though. I am, if nothing else, predictable.

I’m a hospital orderly, and deal with the dead. It’s not a bad job and the money’s good. What I see all day long are white walls, white gowns, white floors, and the occasional blue tint on the lips of those who have passed on. As stimulating as this all sounds, it’s boring. That is why I seek my adventure in role playing activities.

I’m not talking about video games; although on occasion, I may dabble. What I love to do is role play as a re-enactor. I’m sure you’ve heard of those who re-enact the Civil War, or some other event from history. It’s great fun and very exciting. You get to dress up in period costumes and speak the language of the time, and all the while tourists mill around you, take your picture, and ask what your part was during the event.

My wife, Madge, thinks it’s a foolish waste of time and money, but as long as I’m able to send her to Florida every few months, she doesn’t complain too strenuously. To my surprise, she encouraged me to participate this time. Madge said Emery had told her of an event coming up, and she and Emery knew this would be an experience I would never forget. She was right as rain about that one.

“Dale,” Emery had approached me in the break room yesterday morning. “I’ve got a surprise for you. I’ve made all the arrangements. I spoke with Madge and she said you had no plans for this weekend while she’s off to Miami. There’s an island most have never heard of, that’s a couple of hours off the coast. Every month, they re-enact when an English sea captain was shipwrecked there and ended up bringing prosperity to their people when his countrymen rescued him. I don’t remember the whole story, but you’ll love it. During this month’s re-enactment, you will be their star performer.

“I have a friend who’ll fly you there in his private plane and drop you off on one of the beaches. You’ll make your way to the center of the island, find their village, and pretend to be shipwrecked. They’ll be cautious, but you’ll convince them you are a friend, and blah, blah, blah. There’s no script for this – you’ll just wing it. All the while, tourists will be watching from seats on a hillside. You’ll love it.”

I have to admit, the circumstances sounded rather unusual, but who knows? I’d be the headliner of this particular show, and that sat right with me. I couldn’t find that island on any map and wondered how Emery knew about this re-enactment activity. I made a mental note to ask him about that later. Madge took a taxi to the airport and Emery drove me to his friend’s airstrip. He had even brought a costume for me to change into before the flight, such that an English sea captain from a couple hundred years ago might have worn. Such a considerate bastard.

We took off right away, and during the flight, Emery’s friend informed me that I would have to jump from the plane onto the shore. After almost three hours, I saw the island and we flew in very low. The pilot opened a door on the side, lowered a ladder and told me to get out. He got as close as he could to the shore and told me to jump or he’d push me. At the time, I supposed it was better than being tossed overboard from a power boat.

I was grateful I didn’t sprain my ankle when I hit the ground. I ran into the water briefly so I would look to the tourists as if I’d crawled out of the ocean onto the shore after my ship sank. They love it when you keep it as realistic as possible. I didn’t see anywhere tourists could be observing from, and I figured maybe cameras were set up in some of the trees to capture it all. I made my way through the jungle trying to get to the village. Along the way, I practiced my British accent. I’d become quite adept at accents since my first re-enact event. I wondered what accent the natives would be using.

About a half hour in, I came to the edge of the village. I still saw no tourist seating. They keep them hidden from the action well. Some natives were cooking over a fire and others were weaving vines. How quaint. I ran into the center of it all and collapsed in front of the fire.

“Thank goodness I’ve found you,” I said, using my most royal-sounding dialect. “My ship sank, and all my crew lost. My Queen will send a ship after me and you receive a great reward for assisting me.”

Several of them ran over to me, pushed me to the ground and began kicking me. Emery said they would be cautious, not physically abusive. When do I get to explain that I’ve come in peace? They pulled me to my feet and dragged me to the front of the largest hut. A man I perceived to be the Chief came out. He really looked authentic with the great costume and all that makeup. His English was good though with not much of an accent. I guess some aren’t as into living their roles as I was.

“Another intruder,” he shouted. “Our homes will not be defiled by the unholy. Others have trespassed on our sacred land, and you will join them in the Cave of the Dark One. He will enter your soul and rid you of your evil and you will know his name forever.”

“No, wait,” I begged. They were twisting my arms painfully behind me. “I’m the shipwrecked captain. You’re supposed to save me. I…”

Leaves were stuffed into my mouth. They dragged me away from the village to the opening of a cave. A huge rock blocked it. Several of the natives moved it to the side and they pushed me in and quickly rolled the rock back. This was too much. I yelled for them to let me out, but the rock never moved. Something was very wrong. I was injured, and had scratches all over from being dragged. Emery and Madge wouldn’t have tricked me into coming here, would they? Is it possible this was really happening? Oh God.

The Chief said there had been others, and I can see several of them now. Mother of God, what happened to them? They’re no longer human, not in the sense that I still am. They are shaped as they were in life – a head, two arms, torso, two legs – the same, except they are no longer covered with skin. They are covered with a transparent shell, inside which fire burns. Their eyes are black hollows and their mouths locked forever in a silent scream. Please. Please don’t let them touch me. This wasn’t my idea. I never meant to desecrate your homes. If you let me go, I won’t come back. Plea…

What is that? There is a black mist making its way toward me. There is no wind here and yet, it is as if it is being driven by some force in my direction. This vile air is reshaping itself into a snake as it approaches. God, the smell. I am familiar with the scent of death and this goes far beyond. I stop screaming and close my mouth so I don’t taste the odor, but the mist comes over me and fills my nostrils. The pain is unbearable. I open my mouth to scream and it pushes its way in.

I back away against a wall and can go no further. I try to push it away, but my hands simply move through it. I can feel it making its way down my throat. How can this be? I can feel small fingers with sharp nails within this cloud of air grasping and pulling it through my mouth, down my throat, and into my body. It has become dark and I can no longer see. The flames have begun to consume me from the inside. I have become like the others.

This is my punishment. This is my Hell. I can no longer reason. I can only feel. The pain. The burning. Everywhere. Why? I’m not evil. I didn’t know. It was Emery and it was Madge. It wasn’t me. I was set up. Please listen. I’m sorry. So sorry. Merciful God, why…

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 19: The New World

The prompt this week was to write a weird (dark, bizarre, etc.) story using one of the starter sentences. The one I chose is highlighted. The genre could be horror or science fiction or a combination of both. Mine is in the realm of sci-fi and hopefully, is twisted enough to quality as weird. Take a journey with me to The New World.

The New World

He hoped he would be able to outrun them this time. He felt safe for the moment, and was relieved to have found this deserted shack at the edge of the river. The temperature was dropping and the rain showed no signs of letting up. If he could stay inside for a day or two, his clothes would dry and he would stand a better chance of survival. There was no food to be found, but there were jugs of fresh water that would get him through a couple of days. Had he covered his tracks well enough to delay being discovered while he briefly rested? How had his mission gone so horribly wrong? He thought back to how it had begun.

Jack Schiller was a Commander, and had already been on three interstellar missions. In the past, he had always had a full crew. On this latest one, however, he would be traveling solo. The logic behind that decision was that it would be safer for all concerned. A spacecraft landing with a full crew on an alien planet could be perceived as a threat. A lone occupant, however, who announces his point of origin, rank, and purpose of visit, would be viewed with less suspicion. At least, that had been the hope. The President himself had requested Jack make this journey for the good of his own family and for all of mankind.

“Commander Schiller,” the President had said. “I know you realize the importance of your mission. We were warned many times over by our ecologists and scientists that misuse and waste of our resources would one day result in their critical depletion. We have been warned of the dangers of deadly diseases and have been urged to direct more funding toward research to facilitate their elimination. We’ve used up all we have, Jack, and have learned the error of our ways too late. We need a new world to which we can relocate our people, and our scientists believe they have found the perfect one.”

Jack had been briefed by more agencies than he knew had existed. This new planet was within a solar system still within the Milky Way Galaxy, and that was the biggest plus. If his entire planet’s residents were going to be transported to this new world, risking travel to an outlying galaxy could have deadly consequences. From telescopic observation and scientific investigation, the planet appeared to be a parallel world. The air was mildly polluted, but breathable unlike that on his planet. This planet had a moon as did his that orbited and functioned in a like manner. The inhabitants were very much like his own people, both in appearance and use of language. There were minor skirmishes between some, but nothing near as catastrophic as those in his own world. We will all be able to live together, Jack thought. We can share knowledge with each other and build a new world stronger than either had before.

His flight went smoothly, and he maintained communication with Control until he entered the foreign planet’s atmosphere when all contact with his home planet was lost. He planned to meet with the rulers of the various nations and explain the purpose of his visit. They would, of course, make technology available to him to contact his planet so the transport of all its residents could begin. He began transmitting his identity and intent as he made his descent, filled with hope and anticipation. In less than five minutes, his spacecraft had been shot down and crashed into one of their large bodies of water.

What went wrong? He had been told the inhabitants spoke his language. Why did they not understand that his intent was to bond and ask for their assistance in saving his world and his people? When the seal was broken on his ship, soldiers entered, and they were heavily armed. They pulled him out and onto one of their water vehicles. His hands were bound behind his back and he was pushed into a small dark room. He was told, in his own language, to remain quiet or he would be shot. The door was then locked and he waited.

A short time later, the door opened and two of them came in carrying a tray with what Jack assumed was some type of food and a couple of bottles of water. They released his hands from the metal rings that held them together and told him to eat. Since there were two of them, he decided to comply. The chance for escape would come again, he hoped, and he would take it. When they returned to retrieve the tray, they left his hands free, but quickly closed and locked the door. He wondered where they were taking him and what would be done to him there. He hadn’t spoken a word yet, and felt conversation would be best conducted with someone of higher authority than these military men.

He had almost dozed off when the door opened again. They pulled him from the room and he was again instructed to remain silent or face death. Why were such threats being made? What harm did they perceive he intended? How he wished his crew had come with him. It was a poor decision to send him alone. He had no support here and was completely at the mercy of this savage race. He was transported in a motorized vehicle to a large white building. He was dragged down a long hallway and pushed into a room. He was lifted and placed on a long table and straps were fastened around his legs and chest. His hands were secured by smaller belts on each side. What were they going to do to him now?

“Please,” he said. “I am Commander Schiller. I am not your enemy. Can you direct me to your President or one of his subordinates?”

He knew he was talking very fast, but didn’t feel there was time to lead into it all. Better to get it out quickly.

“I was sent here at the direction of my President. My world is dying and yours is suitable for our existence and I am here to find out if it is acceptable to you if we relocate our…”

Tape was placed over his mouth. They were obviously not interested in anything he had to say. One of his arms was freed and his sleeve was rolled up. Tubing was being wrapped around it. Jack pushed the man with the tubing away as hard as he could and quickly began loosening the straps binding him to the table. He kicked the man on the other side, slid off the table and headed for the door. He had no idea where he was going; he knew he had to get out of there. There were machines with flashing lights, test tubes and trays full of needles. He surmised he was in some sort of medical facility and knew it would be disastrous for him to remain. They had no intention of talking to, or with, him. They were going to experiment on their unknown visitor or worse – perhaps dissect him. He couldn’t chance it.

He ran down a long hallway and two of them came out of nowhere and pinned him down. He pushed and pulled, but could not free himself from their grasp. They brought him back to the room with the table and two of them held him down while a third one in a long white coat came toward him with a syringe filled with a blue liquid. I can’t let them drug me, he thought. If they drug me, I will die. It was now or never. He kicked and punched literally for his life and made it back into the hallway where he ran as he had never run before. As he encountered the occasional staff member, he shoved them up against walls or pushed them to the floor and kept going until he came to a door to the outside. The building he had been brought to was in an area surrounded by trees. He fought his way through them and the brush, and saw he had not been followed. At least, not yet.

Now, in this temporary sanctuary, he prayed that one day soon he would be rescued and be able to return home to his family and his dying world. Better to perish with one’s loved ones than on this barbaric sphere. The scientists in his world believed this world was parallel to his. How could they have been so wrong? These people were filled with so much fear and hatred they would rather destroy than try to communicate or understand. This new world was obviously a Hell rather than a Haven. He wished he had never come here. To this third planet from their sun. To this place called Earth.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 18: The Right Thing

The prompt this week was to spend New Year’s Eve in the same way we always do. When the clock strikes midnight, we make the same wish we make every New Year’s Eve, and then retire for the night. This year, however, when we wake up, we find out our wish has been granted. We were to share what happens. Sometimes, we really need to be careful what we wish for…

The Right Thing

 “Are you sure you won’t go with me, Phil? We’re going to have cider, play canasta, and welcome in the new year.”

“Ethel, there’s no way I’m going to sit around with your friends so they can all look down on me. You know what it’s been like these past two years since my wife left me. I can’t find a decent job and I’m not taking just anything. You go on. You know I’d rather spend New Year’s Eve alone.”
“No one looks down on you, Phil. But, if you’re sure you’d rather stay home, I’ll be on my way, and I’ll be back after midnight. Happy New Year.”

“Yeah. Happy.”

Ethel’s my sister and lets me stay with her rent-free. She cooks me breakfast and gives me orange juice so I get my Vitamin C. She’s also the only one who understands my situation. One of her friends, Bill Jansen, who owns a market downtown, is always offering me a job stocking his shelves. He does it out of pity, so he can shove his goody-two-shoes attitude. I don’t need his charity.

What I need is for people to stop thinking they’re better than me. This world would be a better place if everyone was the same. Men and women still, of course, but everyone having the same stuff, the same job, etc. All equal. I wish I could live in a world like that. One other thing I need is another drink to help me ring in the new year. Another year. Big whoop. Well, it’s midnight; one last drink then pass out. I’ve already made my usual New Year’s Eve wish.

*   *   *   *   *

When I woke up, my room was dark, which was unusual since the morning sun shines directly through the window next to my bed. I reached out to pull the blinds up, but the cord wasn’t there. I sat up to find it and discovered the window wasn’t there either. What the Hell…

I got out of bed and flipped the light switch by the door. When the ceiling light came on and I looked around, I felt like screaming. This was not my bedroom. The walls were white, as were the sheets, pillowcase, and blanket on the small bed. There was also a white four-drawer bureau. What happened to the window that looked out on Ethel’s vegetable garden? Where was the full size bed with the walnut headboard and frame she purchased so I would have something more comfortable to sleep on than her couch? Where…

I opened the closet door and stifled another scream. All that hung there were several white sweatshirts and sweatpants. I’ve had some hangovers in my day, but this one beat them all. I decided the only way to shake myself out of this was to go along until I woke up. I hoped it would be soon. I was not amused.

I put on one of the outfits along with some white shoes I found in the closet. I opened the door, expecting to see Ethel hard at work by the stove. What I saw instead was a long hallway with men and women, dressed exactly as I was, moving zombie-like in both directions. One of the men approached me. The scream was pulling itself up my throat.

“Is the alarm in your room nonfunctional? I shall report it. Obtain your Number One Meal, then take your place on the line.”

When I didn’t move, he pointed to a doorway a short way down on the right.

“Obtain your Number One Meal in Room 12, but be on the line by 0900 hours. Are you unwell? Do you need reintegration?”

Reinte…what? I didn’t want to cause a commotion so I nodded and walked to Room 12 to get breakfast. Maybe that was the patients’ dining room. Ethel obviously had me committed on a 24 hour hold for my drinking. I never thought she’d stab me in the back like this, but maybe I acted out once too many times after a New Year’s Eve binge.

There were more of my fellow kooks in there, all with trays with bowls of mush and cups filled with a cloudy liquid. I was certain it was a cocktail comprised of anti-psychotics to keep us all quiet. There was a chute at the back and when one of them stood in front of it, a tray slid down. I got mine, sat down at one of the tables and dug in. The mush tasted like oatmeal and wasn’t too bad and the liquid tasted a bit like cherry soda. After I finished, I disposed of my tray down another chute and followed the others out into the hallway. Maybe it’s time for recreational therapy - making beaded necklaces. This place didn’t really seem that bad, but 24 hours of this would be my limit.

We ended up in a large room with several assembly lines. The others took their places on the line and I joined in. It wasn’t a very complicated task. All we had to do was take a small round piece of metal from a container in front of us and place it into the holder that went by on the conveyor. Job training, huh? I told Ethel time and again I wasn’t going to settle for some minimum wage job where everybody laughs at you and thinks you’re too stupid to get a better one. I decided to check myself out of this nightmare.

‘Where’s the checkout desk?” I tried to sound calm so no one would plunge a needle full of sedatives into my arm.

No one paid me any attention, until a man dressed in a dark suit grabbed my arm and ushered me back out to the hallway.

“Phil, my name’s Ralph. Let’s go back to your room and I’ll explain.”

We went in and Ralph shut the door.

“You wished for a world where everyone was the same, and I granted it. When I crossed over, I got some wings, but they won’t let me in. The guard, you might know him as St. Peter, told me I’d be able to grant wishes, but they wouldn’t let me through the gates until I did the right thing. I’ve been granting wishes all over the place, but the gates stay closed.”

I don’t know how or why, but I knew in my gut this was no drunken vision. This was real and I was scared.

“I thought it would be better if everyone was the same so nobody would look down on me, but this is worse.” Tears welled in my eyes. “Nobody cares about anyone else. This isn’t living.”

“Go back to bed and sleep, Phil,” Ralph advised. “Trust me. I think I figured out what I need to do.”

I couldn’t remember how to pray, so I just thought ‘Please’.

*   *   *   *   *

When I woke up, I was back in my room – my real room. I flung open the door and there was Ethel, humming, scrambling and telling me to drink my OJ. I ran to her, threw my arms around her and kissed her cheek.

“Happy New Year to you too, Phil,” she said, smiling. “You’re up early. Where were you yesterday? I made your breakfast and went to wake you up, but you weren’t here and your bed hadn’t been slept in.”

You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.

“Oh, no place special.”

Not special at all.

“I’m going to get the paper, Ethel.”

When I opened the front door, Ralph was there and handed me the paper. He was smiling from ear to ear.

“I got in, Phil,” he said. “In life, I went through a lot of the things you’re going through, and after I granted your wish, I sensed I should stick around to make sure you were okay. I never did that before. You were miserable, and realized your life with Ethel was what you really wanted, so I un-granted it to help you, and apparently, that was the right thing. I’m no angel yet, but doing the right thing sure felt good.”

“Thanks, Ralph. I’m going to be all right now.”

Ralph winked at me, spread his wings and took off. I knew he’d reach the rank of angel very soon.

“Who were you talking to, Phil?” Ethel asked. “It sounded like old Mr. Harper, but I didn’t think he was up and around yet after his operation.”

“Just thinking out loud, Sis,” I said. “By the way, is Bill Janson still looking for someone to stock the shelves in his market? If I’m going to help out around here, I need a job.”

“Yes, he is, and he’s always said the job’s yours if you want it. What changed your mind, Phil?”

“A night’s sleep and a favor from a friend, Ethel. A real friend who did right thing.”

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 17: Crunch Week

The prompt this week was to share the journal/diary entries of one of Santa’s Elves during the week before Christmas up to, and including, Christmas Eve. My Elf’s name is Ephraimelf and the week before Christmas is certainly a busy one for him!

Crunch Week

18 December

Dear Diary, Ephraimelf here.

It’s the week before Christmas. This time of year shows what awful planners people are. This is when people start making out their wish lists. Yes, I said ‘start’. They couldn’t do it in July. Oh no. Nothing like waiting until the last minute. Since children follow the example of their parents, the kids are figuring out this week what they want too. While we’ll be getting plenty of overtime, it sure would make life a lot easier if lists could be finished by today. What can you do though. People won’t change.

Stevenelf assigned our duties today via a PowerPoint spreadsheet, and got an extra cookie for dessert after dinner for his presentation. Show-off.

I’m in the dolls heads room. It’s creepy since none of the heads have eyes yet, but at least it’s quiet. Mrs. C decided Jeffreyelf’s and Kennethelf’s room needed repainting, and while the walls dry, those two will be sleeping elsewhere. My roomie Malcolmelf and I got Jeffreyelf. That elf snores louder than one of the children’s freight trains. It doesn’t bother Malcolmelf; he could sleep through a North Pole snowstorm, and they are noisy sons of guns, what with the ice rain and the howling winds. But, me? I’ve always been a light sleeper, and Jeffreyelf’s snores make the room vibrate. I’ll just sleep in here while he’s bunking with us, I’m glad my laptop has an alarm so I won’t miss breakfast. Nobody will start working in here until the dishes are done, so I’ll have to wake myself up. No way am I going to miss Sweet Lady’s waffles. She sprinkles sugar on them. Yum.

Ephraimelf out.

19 December

Dear Diary, Ephraimelf here.

Breakfast was waffles with sugar just as I had thought, and did I ever need that pick-me-up. I spent the day manning the phones and I am wiped out. People think when the kiddies call and talk to a recording that it’s all for show, but it’s real. All those messages left for Santa. Some just say ‘hi’, but it’s important we get those to the Big Man in Red too. They’re cute, but the ones where they ask for stuff? Their lists go on and on and some kids are so specific. One boy today wanted a red wagon, but he wanted special wheels and designs painted on the side. Well, there goes the efficiency of the line. I worked the red wagon room last Christmas and those just roll out, but special wheels and designs? That one will have to go to the Specialty Order Room. I hear Nathanielelf’s working that this year and no offense, but he’s got that lazy eye. Hopefully, the Inspector Elves will go over what comes off his line with a fine tooth comb. Wouldn’t want the little tykes to be disappointed. Or frightened. He gets an order to paint a flower and it ends up looking like something that crawled out of a Halloween story. We don’t do Halloween. Good thing too. That stuff scares me. Well, my alarm’s set for pancakes tomorrow.
Ephraimelf out.

20 December

Dear Diary, Ephraimelf here.

Today, I spent the day at the Doctor’s office. No, Diary, not the Elf Doctor. It was time for Rudolph and the other reindeer to get their checkup. Getting those guys into the van gets to be more of a challenge each year. This one wants to sit by the window; that one wants to stretch his legs, ad nauseum. Rudolph insists he sit up front because he’s the leader. He doesn’t really have a big head about anything else, but the ride to the doctor? If he doesn’t get to sit up front with the driver, he’ll whine your elf socks off. It took us over an hour to get everyone situated in the van and we ended up being late for the appointment, but they all checked out fine and ready for the long trip Christmas Eve night. For the ride home, we went through the same nonsense and we were late back for supper. Mrs. C, saved me a plate though, and my elf tummy’s full so I’ll sleep great tonight. Tomorrow I work the doll line putting their eyes in. That’ll make sleeping in here a lot less scary.

Ephraimelf out.

21 December

Dear Diary, Ephraimelf here.

I’m back in my own bed tonight since Jeffreyelf and Kennethelf are back in their own room. I spent today working two lines. First, dolls heads, and most have eyes now. I got sent to the bike wheel line for what I said about Ralphelf. That’s punishment for my being naughty since those wheels are bigger than I am. My arms and shoulders are going to be sore tomorrow. All I did was mention to Frankelf that Ralphelf better lay off Sweet Lady’s iced cupcakes before the rear of his elfpants need letting out again. Who knew Frankelf was a schoolyard snitch? He told Mrs. C on me so I got bike wheel duty for the rest of the day. I guess it was kind of mean, what I said. I apologized to Ralphelf and we both laughed about it, so all is forgiven. Come to think of it, the rear of my elfpants are getting a bit snug these days too.

Ephraimelf out.

22 December

Dear Diary, Ephraimelf here.

Today, I helped Mrs. C clean the house. There were several of us assigned, but I got to carry the list of chores and check them off when they were done. When we finished something like washing a floor or dusting a bureau, she’d smile, pat me on the head and remind me to check it off. We had lunch in the kitchen nook and it was great. Mrs. C made grilled cheese with tomato soup. It’s a cold and snowy day today and that lunch made us all feel warm and cozy. After lunch, we did the dishes and started the baking. We made cookies and cakes and candy and all things yummy. I love spending the day with Sweet Lady, especially since she tucks us all in after. She’s the best.

Ephraimelf out.

23 December

Dear Diary, Ephraimelf here.

Today, we put our tree up. Big Man in Red brought home a huge one and we put ornaments, lights and candy canes on it. When we’re all asleep, he and Mrs. C will put out presents under it and Big Man in Red will put the magic in each and every one. We’ve got presents for him and Sweet Lady, and we plan to sneak those under the tree when Big Man in Red is out delivering and Mrs. C is taking her Christmas Eve nap. Our house here at the North Pole is all lit up and it smells so good in here with all the baking and cooking. I’ll be helping in the wrapping room tomorrow.

Ephraimelf out.

24 December

Dear Diary, Ephraimelf here.

What a day this has been. So many presents to wrap and put bows on. Frankly, this week has been enough to get me ready for my straight-jacket fitting. But, the week before Christmas is the same every year. Rush, rush, rush, and for what? I’ll tell you for what. Tomorrow morning, we’ll all gather in the Rec Room and turn on all the screens. We’ll have breakfast on trays while we watch happiness appear on the faces of children all over the world as they open their presents. It won’t be just children though. We’ll be able to watch all the delight and wonder on the faces of new brides and grooms, moms and dads, and grandmothers and grandfathers too.

We’ll all thank the Heavens above for our friends here at the North Pole, and for Big Man in Red and Mrs. C. We have the most wonderful jobs because we are blessed to be able to share and give to each other and to the world, and that is what Christmas is all about.

We all get to help Mrs. C with tomorrow’s dinner and that’s always a treat. After dinner, we’ll clean up the kitchen and do the dishes so she can put her feet up. Sweet Lady deserves a time out. Malcolmelf and I will get the kegs of hot cocoa going and drop the marshmallows in. Then, Big Man in Red will tuck us in and read us a story. We’ll have the week off and won’t have to go back to work until New Year’s Day. Then, all the madness begins again, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

After supper this evening, we loaded up the sleigh and sent Big Man in Red off to deliver joy everywhere. Safe trip, Father Christmas. There will be a nice hot toddy waiting for you when you get home. For now, Dear Diary, a very Merry Christmas to all of us and to all the world.

Ephraimelf out.