Thursday, June 23, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 43: Happy Father's Day

The prompt this week was as follows, with a genre of horror:

This Sunday is Father’s Day, and it is defined as ‘a day on which fathers are particularly honored by their children, especially with gifts and greeting cards’. Unfortunately, that was never possible for you because when you were growing up, your father was rarely home. He was always on the road with his job, and in his profession, holidays were an especially busy time.

Your dad’s finally retired, and you want to make this Father’s Day the most special day he’s ever had. You’ve got the whole day planned, and it will be just the two of you. He is going to be so surprised, and you can hardly wait.

Prompt: Tell us all about how you spend Father’s Day.

Happy Father’s Day

“Pops, are you comfortable?”

“Mmmm.”

“Great. I’m so glad. It’s going to be just the two of us because Mom is resting. We’ve never been able to spend Father’s Day together because you were always on the road. Now that you’re retired from the trucking company, there’s nothing to get in the way of our spending the entire day together.”

‘Mmmm.”

“Looking back, Pops, I remember when I was little and you’d go out on your pickup and delivery runs. You’d be gone sometimes for a week or two, and I missed you so much. Mom was terrific whenever you were away. She would take me to the park and out for ice cream.”

“Mmmm.”

“The best time though was when you came back home for a day or two. I remember how you always brought Mom a present. You used to bring her the most beautiful jewelry. Sometimes it would be a necklace, and other times it would be a bracelet or earrings. Your job took you all over the country and wherever you were, you always remembered to pick something up for Mom.”

“Mmmm.”

“I know you were always thinking of me too. My rock collection would never be the treasure it is today if you hadn’t brought me a rock from every state you visited. I loved the way you wrote the name of the state right on each rock and then told me where you found it. That made each one so special for me.”

“Mmmm.”

“Things really changed when Mom became ill and took to her bed. Aunt Josie ended up coming to live with us to take care of Mom and me while you were working. She didn’t take me out as much as Mom did, but we still had some good times. All those years while I was in school, she helped out so much with Mom. When I was away at college, I knew I would be able to devote myself completely to my studies and not have to worry about her.”

“Mmmm.”

“I’m glad that we finally have time to talk. Not long before you retired, you spent more and more time away from home, so I didn’t have the opportunity to give you any news, I met a wonderful girl during my senior year and we fell in love with each other. I asked her to marry me and she accepted. The plan was for us to marry following graduation. We had our wedding all planned, but first, we both wanted to go home for a visit and let our families know about our engagement.”

“Mmmm.”

“I came home to tell you and Mom, and Melissa, that’s her name, told me she was going to hitch back to her parents’ home to tell them all about me. I told her that was a crazy and very dangerous thing to do, but she wanted one last big adventure. She was that type of girl, you see. She was so full of life and what she always dreamed of was getting married and raising a big family. I told her I would drive her home and then go home myself, or try to find a way to pay for a plane ticket for her, but she insisted on hitchhiking. I told her to call me every time she was near a phone until she got home.”

‘Mmmm.”

“She rode with me as far as the onramp of the interstate, kissed me goodbye, and headed to the shoulder to try to get a ride. I got on the highway and headed here. That was the last time I saw her alive. The next time I saw her was when I saw her picture in the newspaper after her body had been identified. The paper said she was another victim of the I-48 killer. She had been tortured, killed, and then dumped on the side of the highway just like all the others. They had all been hitchhiking. It was difficult for the police to catch this killer since I-48 runs through a lot of states and connects with so many other highways. I was heartbroken, Pops. She had been the love of my life.”

“Mmmm.”

“I needed so badly to talk to someone about all this when I came home, but Aunt Josie didn’t want to hear anything about it. She said talking about murdered women frightened her. Since I had graduated and was back home, she decided to go back to living on her own. She said I could take care of Mom, or you could since you were going to be retiring soon. Pops, I felt so lost and felt very relieved when you came home from your last run.”

“Mmmm.”

“True to form, even though I’m an adult now, you still brought me a rock with the state’s name written on it. Even though Mom’s so ill, you still brought her a lovely piece of jewelry. That necklace was gorgeous, with the gold chain and the special hand carved gold roses with the small diamonds in the center of each. I know those roses were hand carved, Pops, because I personally designed that particular necklace and had the store custom make it for Melissa.”

“Mmmm.”

“I recognized the necklace as soon as you pulled it from your pocket, Pops. Did you take it from my fiancĂ© before or after you killed her? I know you killed the others too. I didn’t say anything right away because I wanted to do some checking. You know, the Internet has lots of information on all your kills. When you look up the victims of the I-48 killer, the articles mention not only that they were all hitchhiking at the time, they also mention that a piece of jewelry was taken from each one, and provide a detailed description. All it took for me was a quick look into Mom’s jewelry box to know the truth about you.”

“Mmmm.”

“Is that why Mom lost her mind, Pops? She took to her bed years ago with that vacant stare and hasn’t spoken a word since. Did she look too closely at the jewelry you brought her and make the connection with the victims? Did she figure out that her husband and the father of her child rode the highways looking for young girls to torture and kill? When was it that you picked them up? Was it in between picking up pallets of bread or delivering crates of bananas? You were always away over holidays too. Was that because there were more girls looking for rides to get home during those times?”

“Mmmm.”

“You murdered all those young girls, including the girl I was going to marry. Mom was your victim too, you bastard, only you didn’t physically kill her, but you frightened her so badly that she retreated deep inside herself, so that’s almost the same thing. Well, it’s time for it all to come full circle, Pops. Today is Father’s Day and I’m going to give you the gift you deserve.”

“Mmmm.”

“How’s that gag? I wouldn’t want it to interfere with you being able to breathe. No way are you going to die that easily. I want you conscious right up until the end. I’ve got the perfect day planned for us. I rented this truck for a full 24 hours and I also rented the freezer back here. I’ve had it plugged in so it would be nice and cold for our ride. That’s what that extension cord running from the garage was. Remember how you asked me about all of this and I told you I had a surprise for you?”

“Mmmm.”

“Well, let me tell you all about how we’re going to spend your special day. I’m going to put you inside the freezer and drive all over I-48 until you’re nice and stiff. Then, I’m going to pull over at all the spots where you had dumped the bodies of those young girls and I’m going to break off a piece of you and leave one at each spot. Understand? An arm here and a leg there – some part of you to pay for what you did to each one. Our last stop will be where you dumped Melissa, and that’s where I’ll dump the last of you.”

“Mmmm.”

“Our neighbor, Mrs. Hopper, is going to stay with Mom while we’re on our road trip. When I get back, I’m going to get Mom into a home where she can be cared for 24 hours a day by medical personnel. Maybe there’s some way they can bring her back to me. Are you ready? Let’s get you into this freezer and head to the onramp of I-48. I’m so looking forward to our last trip together. Wait. Before I forget. Happy Father’s Day, Pops.”

“Mmmm...”

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 42: Letting Go

The prompt this week was to write a story about something important being lost. Sometimes by losing something we believe has value above all else, something even more valuable is found.

LETTING GO

Since she hadn’t spoken one word to me on the way to the restaurant, during dinner, or on the ride home, I assumed the evening had gone well. There had been no complaints and no recriminations; so, it really took me by surprise when I heard her scream from her bedroom. She had gone in there to hang up her coat, and I wondered if that was the moment she realized she’d actually left the house and returned in one piece. It had been almost two years since she’d gone outside. I ran into her bedroom and found her slumped in a corner grabbing at her chest.

“Are you all right? When did the pain start? Don’t worry because I’m going to call an ambulance right now.”

“No, Daniel. No pain. Look what happened. You have to get it back right away.”

She was holding the gold chain around her neck with one hand and the other hand was waving wildly in the air. Her breathing became irregular and she began to cry.

“I hope you’re happy,” she said between sobs, her tone angry and accusatory. “You knew how much that meant to me and now it’s gone. You pulled it off when you bumped into me, didn’t you? How could you be so cruel? What am I supposed to do now?”

I finally realized what was causing her so much concern. The heart-shaped locket she had worn every day for the past 30 years was gone. Apparently the clasp had broken and separated from the chain. Her husband had given her that piece of jewelry on their wedding night. Within the past couple of years however, it had taken on a special meaning.

“How can you say that? I know how much that locket meant to you. You’ve been wearing that every day. Sooner or later, it was bound to fall off. I know you had it on when we left this evening. I don’t remember if it was still on there while we were eating. I’m going to call the restaurant and ask them to check under the table. Maybe that’s where it fell off.”

“Don’t waste your time. I know I had it in the restaurant because when I went to the restroom and washed my hands, some water splashed on it and I blotted it dry with a paper towel. It was taken from me on our way back to the car. Remember when you bumped into me on the sidewalk? That’s when you pulled it from the chain.”

“I did no such thing. I accidentally bumped into you because there was something on the sidewalk and I tripped. How can you accuse me? You know, in a way, this might be the best thing that could have happened because maybe we can finally bring out into the open what’s been going on. You and I haven’t had a real conversation about anything since the funeral. I’ve tried to be patient and understanding, but this situation has reached a point where it is so far beyond bizarre that it has me frightened; not of you, but for you.”

“Now you’re saying I’m crazy? Is that it?”

“Of course not. I just feel that you’ve let yourself be so overcome with grief that you’ve lost touch with reality. Listen to what you’ve been saying. You’ve actually accused me of deliberately causing you to lose something that I know is very important to you. Tell me that you don’t really believe I would hurt you that way.”

“That locket and what it contained was all I had left of Jack, and you knew that. You kept telling me over and over to get rid of it. Since I refused, you made sure it would be lost. It’s somewhere in the city now, probably kicked from the sidewalk into the street, run over again and again by strangers in their cars and…”

“Stop. You know it wasn’t the locket I asked you to get rid of; it was what was inside of it. That flower had turned to dust and it gave off the most offensive odor.”

“Lies. All lies. You don’t know anything. Yes, my husband gave me that locket on our wedding night, but do you know why that flower was so important to me?”

“Yes, I do. I know all about how…”

“It was our 28th anniversary and we went out for dinner. On the way to the car, Jack wanted to take the long way around and go through the park. He had proposed to me on a bench by one of the ponds and he wanted to go back there just for a moment.”

“That was a wonderful thing. You told me when you got to the bench, he asked you to sit down so he could…”

“When we found that bench, he asked me to sit down, and as hard as it was for him with his arthritis, he got down on one knee and proposed to me all over again. There was a tree next to it with beautiful little flowers on it, and he picked one and handed it to me.”

“He always loved you very much. He would often…”

“When we started back on the trail, that’s when those awful boys with the knives came along and told him they wanted his wallet. He gave it to them, but still they…I know why they…”

“You don’t have to go through this again. It’s too…”

“They kept stabbing him and I kept screaming until those other people came to help, but those boys ran away. All the police and the questions and the blood all over my coat. They kept my coat, you know. Said it was evidence. I don’t know why, but I reached in the pocket before they took it off me and there was the flower. I don’t remember putting it in there, but there it was.”

“I know, and that’s when you put the little flower in the locket where it’s been ever since. I understand, but it’s gone beyond the locket and the flower. Until tonight, you haven’t been out of this house since the funeral and it’s been two years. You have everything delivered to the door, and if I didn’t bring you the mail, a couple of years’ worth of it would still be sitting in the box at the end of the driveway. His clothes are still in the closet, and everything is as it was before he died. This house hasn’t been a home since he was buried; it is a tomb, and you are the corpse inside of it.”

“I can’t believe I let you talk me into leaving the only safe place I have in the world, and look what happened because of it. My locket and my flower are lost now. My life is lost now, and it’s all because of you. How could I have been so foolish to trust you?”

“Mom, your life is not lost. A piece of jewelry and a dead flower have been lost. Yes, they were both important to you, but they were your things. They were not your life. You’ve never been able to move forward since Dad died. I won’t rattle off the so-called normal stages of grief because there’s nothing normal about grief. But you’ve convinced yourself that you could only go on as long as you had that locket and remnants of a flower. Now that they’re gone, you’re gone too?”

“You don’t know what’s it’s been like. You never grieved for him.”

“Mom, you don’t mean that. He was my father – the best father anyone could ever have. I think about him and miss him still. But life does go on. It moves forward. It must. You have resigned from the land of the living and that’s so wrong. I don’t believe in signs and fate and all, but perhaps the loss of the locket and the remains of the flower is a way to make you realize it’s time to let go.”

“You want me to forget him and just go on like he never existed?”

“Of course not. Letting go doesn’t mean forgetting. It simply means to let the memory of him go where it belongs, and that is to a special place in your heart.”

“I’m just scared.”

“I know, Mom, but don’t worry. We’ll move forward together.”

“My locket and my flower, they are both lost, aren’t they?”

“Yes, Mom, they are, but not you. Not anymore.”



Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 41: In Plain Sight

The prompt this week was to write a story set in the old West and to include the following words: Gunfire, territories, blacksmith, ranch, and stampede. My story is about a Sheriff who believes in righting a wrong, no matter how long it takes.

In Plain Sight

Moving from our comfortable home and my comfortable job in the East, out to the territories was my wife’s idea. She’s always been the adventurous one. Her lady friends were all content to be married to a man who came home for supper each evening. Not my wife, Mary, though. Don’t misunderstand me; we’re the happiest couple I know, but she never wanted me to do what she considered ordinary work. I was already Sheriff of our small town when we met, and I was prepared to give that up after our wedding since most women are full of fear for their men when they’re the law. My wife told me if I quit, she’d quit me. It’s important to keep folks safe, she said. I’m proud of my husband for keeping the peace, she said. You know, I’m proud of her for that.

So our wedding came and went, and I stayed on as Sheriff of our little town. Lots of folks traveling out West these days to look for bigger and better. Nice folks mostly, but there’s some bad ones too, which is why Mary said we need to go out there too. Right now, she said, they need more lawmen, so we packed up and headed West. We’re starting life over here in a little town that’s close to Ridge Rock Mountain – a little piece of Heaven on Earth. This town’s still building up and needed someone to keep it in line, so I presented myself to the Mayor. He, in turn, presented me with a badge.

The wife and I are doing well. We have a house just outside of town. She enjoys planting her vegetables and flowers, and I enjoy my walks through town, checking on folks and their businesses, and making sure our town drunk gets tucked safely in at night in my jail. It’s a good life, but I will always have one big regret: A killer I didn’t catch. Not long before we left the East, our town’s bank was robbed. It normally didn’t hold a lot of cash because the town was small, and the bank didn’t handle any large payrolls. This time, though, the owner of a big ranch out West was finalizing the sale of a large piece of land and several hundred heads of cattle. He planned to deposit the money in banks along the way as he traveled back home. Word spreads like wildfire these days and two men decided they would help themselves to this man’s fortune.

I had already closed up the office and gone home. I was almost asleep when I heard gunfire from the direction of town. I got there in time to see two men on horseback with sacks of money hanging from their saddles. When I fired, they turned around, and I got a clear look at both of them. One fired back and hit me in the shoulder. Before I passed out, I saw Davy Michals, the bank’s night guard, lying dead in the street. He still had rope tied around one hand. They had broken in, tied Davy up, took the money, and were on their way out when Davy got loose and tried to stop them.

The bank had no big safe like most, so all that cash had been locked up in the Manager’s office. How did they know it was there? They were never caught and the money was never found, but I never forgot their faces. One was clean shaven and had dark hair and the other had light hair and a big scar across his left cheek. Davy was a good man with a wife and a young son. He deserved justice, and the man who killed him deserved to hang.

We’ve got excitement coming since a big cattle drive is camped outside of town. Cowboys will be heading in to drink. They usually don’t bring a lot of trouble. They’re around for a night or two, and most of them stay out at their camp. The saloon and stores welcome their business. It brings a bit of money into town and that’s always a good thing. I was coming out of Rosie’s after having lunch when I saw some of them riding in. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The one at the back was the man who killed Davy 6 months ago. What was he doing out here working as a cowboy, and what happened to the money he stole? Too, where was his partner? I decided to get to know their foreman and treat him to pie and coffee at Rosie’s.

The foreman told me a couple days’ ride back, there was a stampede. When they had arrived in the town, the local blacksmith, whose name was Jeremiah, and who had a big scar across his cheek, seemed to recognize one of their riders whose name was Willie. Willie seemed bothered by the man, who insisted they go somewhere to talk. Later that night, the herd got spooked and ran off in the direction of the north end of town. The foreman told me they managed to settle the cattle down, but not before they ran right through the blacksmith’s house, destroying it, and his small crop. Jeremiah was found dead inside, trampled to death.

He said Willie was still with them, and described him as having dark hair and always being clean shaven. I said nothing because I knew exactly which one Willie was and why Jeremiah had been killed. Splitting the money two ways didn’t sit right with him. But where was the money, and why had one of them been working as a blacksmith and the other as a cowboy? I needed to make sure Willie got what he deserved, but not at the risk of having a herd of cattle stampede through my home or my town. He was a killer who wouldn’t hesitate to use any means to eliminate someone who could identify him, or arrest him. He hadn’t seen me when he came into town, so right now, I was holding the winning hand. But, where to go from here?

I found out over a second piece of Rosie’s pie when the foreman told me Willie was a poor soul too. He told me Willie did all he could to go on this particular drive since it would pass by Ridge Rock Mountain. Said his younger brother had been killed in one of the big caves up there by some Indians and he wanted to pay his respects. Some of the men offered to ride up there with him since it was rough country, but Willie told them he had to go alone. It was his duty to honor his kin. There have never been any Indians in that area. I knew exactly what I needed to do.

###

“Hello, Willie, if that’s really the name your folks gave you.”

I stepped out of the shadows in the cave just as Willie walked up to the entrance.

“What do you want, lawman? Can’t a man find some peace in these parts?”

If only peace was what he was after.

“I found the satchels of money from the bank robbery that you hid in here. That was real smart too. After the robbery, you kept on riding until you found a good hiding place. Then the two of you separated, worked like regular folks, and waited, hoping nobody would be looking for you after all that time. So, what went wrong? Did your partner want his share too soon for your liking? Is that why you used a herd of cattle to get him out of the way?”

“I know you, lawman. I put a bullet in you when I was leaving the bank. I should’ve gone back and put in one more. Doesn’t matter now though. This is as far as you get.”

He pulled his gun on me.

“Drop those satchels, Sheriff, and don’t reach for your gun because you’ll be dead before those bags hit the ground.”

“No, you drop your gun because this is as far as you get,” his foreman said, as the rest of the cowboys stepped out of the shadows behind me.

“We’re trying to make a living to feed our families, and all you were after was money,” the foreman continued. “You killed a bank guard, shot the Sheriff, and used my herd to kill your partner. You could have killed us all.”

Willie appeared to be lowering his gun, then raised it up and took aim at all of us. I lost count of all the shots that were fired in his direction. I plan to make sure all that money gets back to the bank safe and sound. Too bad Willie won’t be going back along with it. I guess the thought of his neck at the end of a hangman’s noose didn’t appeal to him as much as it appealed to me. Rest in peace, Davy, my friend. Rest in peace.


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 40: S.O.S.

This week, we were sent on an exploratory mission. Our journey might lead us to another planet, another universe, or even take us through time. It was our call. Regardless of our destination, we were asked to write up details of our mission, and use the format of a Captain's Log. The genre was Sci-Fi.

My story is about a signal received from another world.

S.O.S.

2135, 23 MAR 1600 H……….MISSION #UAC-4496R……….OBJECTIVE: INVESTIGATE SIGNAL/REPORT/RESCUE(?)……….MICHAEL JOSEPH O’HALLOREN, COMMANDER; CREW: RICHARD JAMES COOPER, COMMAND MODULE PILOT; RONALD ANTHONY JORDAN, MISSION SPECIALIST; GEORGE FRANKLIN SANDERSON, MISSION SPECIALIST; JONATHAN MARK WINSTON, MISSION SPECIALIST; SAMUEL TIMOTHY CAULDER, PAYLOAD SPECIALIST; BRAIN MITCHELL DAVIS, PAYLOAD SPECIALIST……….mjoEND TRANS

2135, 23 MAR 1615 H……….Signal received from beyond Black Arc……….Origin: Location #QR94xxxB9……….Atmosphere compatible with Earth……….S.O.S/no clarification……….System confirms 10 identical signals received past 10 years/Frequency: Annual/Earth time measurement……….Shuttles dispatched……….No shuttles retrieved/all crew classified MIA……….No reports or data available/corrupted?..........No rescue(s) of inhabitants documented……….Further access denied..........Will proceed with caution following arrival……….mjoENDTRANS

2135, 16 DEC 2100 H……….Touchdown achieved……….Instrumentation reveals no immediate danger……….Unable to seek origin of signal due to zero visibility……….Planet has 48 hours (Earth time measurement) of day from its sun and 48 hours (Earth time measurement) of night……….Instruments show we are mid-way through night cycle……….Were advised by Mission Control to begin search for possible distress immediately on arrival……….My orders were to dispatch entire crew……….I take full responsibility for disobeying said order……….I will not leave shuttle unattended or place entire crew in jeopardy……….Ronny and Sam will initiate search/both fully armed and are to remain together……….Report back within 2 hours……….mjoENDTRANS

2135, 16 DEC 2245 H……….Communication received from Ronny……….They were met by Ardisians (inhabitants of this planet)……….They were advised S.O.S. sent in error……….No danger present……….I advised their immediate return……….Contacted Mission Control to request further orders……….mjoENDTRANS

2135, 17 DEC 0800 H……….No response from Mission Control……….Ronny and Sam have not returned……….Unable to reach them……….Unsure how to proceed……….Plan is to wait for daylight……….Noises outside/did not investigate due zero visibility……….Shuttle on total lockdown……….mjoENDTRANS

2135, 17 DEC 2115 H……….Still no response from Mission Control……….Still no response from Ronny or Sam……….Day cycle has begun, but light dim……….Limited visibility..........George and Brian investigated area around Shuttle and reported damage to hull, landing gear doors, and landing gear……….Jonny will assess damage/attempt to determine cause/evaluate feasibility of repairs……….mjoENDTRANS

2135, 17 DEC 2400 H……….Still unable to contact Ronny or Sam……..No response from Mission Control……….No contact with Ardisians……….George and Brian dispatched on search for Ronny and Sam and/or Ardisian representative……….Advised both must report status within 2 hours……….Jonny cannot determine cause of damage/damage is extensive/repairs will be time-intensive and difficult without stronger light source……….I have requested immediate response and assistance from Mission Control……….Used Code Override CX5957……….I take full responsibility for violation of protocol, but I advised we are in distress and in need of immediate assistance……….Crew members missing and unable to be reached……….mjoENDTRANS

2135, 18 DEC 0300 H……….George and Brian have not returned and I have received no communication from them……….Still unable to contact Ronny or Sam……….No response from Mission Control……….I fear for the safety of my crew and the security of our craft……….I do not understand lack of response from Mission Control……….I do not believe initial communication was from Ronny……….No data on Ardisians available……….Still cannot retrieve data from previous missions……….Doubts about purpose of this mission……….mjoENDTRANS

2135, 18 DEC 0600 H…….…Not much time……….Mission Control confirmed our purpose……….Ardisians hold annual event/death matches……….Ardisians possess powerful weapons……….Guarantee safety of planet Earth if Earth provides seven human fighters per year……….Entrances sealed/not holding……….Seal has been broken…….…Hull has been breached…….…They are close……….We can  hear them……….Richie, Jonny and I will use our sidearms now……….On ourselves……….We have all been betrayed by our own kind..........We are not the first..........But we will be the last..........mjoEND TRANS

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 39: Memory Lane

The prompt this week was to continue the story. It began as follows:

‘It’s Friday night, and you and your friends planned a fun evening. You all work together at the same factory, and a huge order came in on Monday morning that was due by 5:00pm today. It’s been a very stressful week, but the order was completed with time to spare. A celebration is definitely in order.

You all had a terrific time at the local bowling alley, and decided to finish the evening with cocktails and a late supper at the Chinese restaurant downtown. Dinner was superb, and everyone was looking forward to opening their fortune cookie. Each took a turn reading their fortune, but when it was your turn, you crumpled it up and put it in your pocket. You told your friends that it was one of those silly predictions that fame and fortune will find you soon. Everyone had a good laugh, paid the check, and headed home.

All except you. Sitting in your car, you pull your fortune from your pocket and read it again. It doesn’t promise you fortune and fame. Your message contains a threat. That would be upsetting enough, but what’s most troubling to you is that the message is addressed specifically to you. Your name, first and last, is typed right above the message.’

Please enjoy.

Memory Lane

This can’t be happening. My team got the big order done, so we went out to celebrate. As is our tradition, we bowled a few games, then went to Mr. Liu’s for supper. Everything was fine until I opened my fortune cookie. My message read ‘you will die soon’. A gag in poor taste? Maybe, except for the fact that my name, Michael Danvers, was typed right above the message. None of my friends reacted when I read mine, so I told them it promised me fame and fortune. So, now, sitting in my car and re-reading my fortune, I’m wondering who wants me dead.

I don’t know of anyone who would want to kill me. I have no relatives here, and my friends are my co-workers. We are all close, and I have no reason to mistrust any of them. I was recently promoted to Assistant Team Leader though, so maybe there’s some resentment about that. That doesn’t make sense, but let’s take a close look at my co-workers just the same.

My team consists of Richie Howard, Candice Bromley, Derrick Ganden, and Billy Vanderkreig. Richie’s already a Team Leader and Derrick’s close to retirement. Billy’s going to law school at night and once he graduates, he’ll leave to practice law. Candice moved here a few years ago, joined the company, and has been a dependable employee and a good friend since day one. Now what? Maybe someone at the restaurant?

Ridiculous. I’m not involved with anyone there. How could this happen? Wait. Our waiter, Tim, placed the fortune cookies in front of each of us on a small plate. It’s easy enough to pull the fortune out of those open-ended cookies and slide a new one in, but why would Tim deliver such a message to me? For someone else, obviously, but who? And why? I decided to go to Tim and ask him.

Tim lived in Mrs. Hopper’s Boarding House, but when I went to see him Saturday afternoon, she told me he hasn’t been seen since yesterday afternoon when he left for work. She’s worried since he always came back after work and locked the front door for the night. She told me his steady girlfriend’s worried too since she hasn’t been able to reach him. Now, I’m worried. I’m going to the police.

“A message in a cookie?” Detective Ralph Miller wasn’t exactly reassuring.

“I know it’s unusual, but it’s still a threat, and besides, the waiter that delivered it to me is missing. It’s only since last night, but his landlady and girlfriend are both concerned. He never just disappears.”

‘Mr. Danvers, if the young man is reported missing, we’ll look into it, but I don’t see what we can do for you. That note’s probably a bad joke, but if anything further happens, give me a call. Maybe the person who wrote it will reveal themselves to you in some way.”

Yeah. When he kills me.

I took the Detective’s card and went home. Tomorrow is Sunday, so I have one more day before going back to work. I wondered what that would be like. Would I be able to tell which one of my friends had murder in their heart?

Turns out I wouldn’t have to wait until Monday. I was finishing dinner when Candice called. She asked if I’d meet her tomorrow night by the picnic tables in the park. She had overheard someone talking about hurting me and couldn’t discuss it on the phone. If we met somewhere in town and that person saw her with me, she could be in danger. Poor kid’s scared.

I stayed in all day Sunday, and left for the park at 11:00pm. When I pulled up, I saw Candice sitting at one of the tables. I joined her.

“Candice, thank you for calling. You have no idea what I’ve been going through. What did you overhear? Wait. Why did you bring a gun?  Why are pointing it at me? I don’t understand. Was it you that made the threat? Why would you do such a thing?”

“You killed my fiancĂ©. I’ve waited years to make you pay. Once I found out where you lived, I moved here, and got a job where you worked, so I could keep track of where your life was going. You just got a promotion, and life is looking up for you, so it’s time to bring your world crashing down just like you did to Jack. You remember Jack Porter, don’t you?”

“Of course, I remember Jack. We grew up together and…you’ve waited years to do what?”

“Destroy you. I paid the waiter to deliver a special message to you so you’d doubt your friends. After what you did to Jack, you have no right to feel safe. Because of you, Jack was expelled, lost all his grant and scholarship money, and no other decent college would even let him apply.”

“You’re leaving out that Jack brought that on himself. He hacked into the college’s records and got answers to that batch of exams. He cheated, Candice, but that wasn’t the worst thing he did. He used my logins and student codes to access all that information. They were ready to expel me.”

“So, you recorded him admitting that he cheated and turned it over to the Administrators.”

“What else could I do? I wasn’t going to take the rap for what he did. He told me all about it and said there was no way they’d find out. But they have a whole department that looks into that kind of thing and they called me to the Admissions Office the next day and threatened to expel me. I had no choice.”

“He told you why he cheated. You knew his mother was an emotional vampire. Every time Jack had an opportunity to better himself, she would mess with his head and derail his plans. He was under so much pressure because of her that he couldn’t get all his studying done in time. He had no choice but to get into the computer system to get the answers.”

“You’re saying I should have allowed my reputation to be ruined?”

“Your reputation? Jack could have made things right for you, but he never got the chance.”

“Look, Candice, I’m sorry Jack got expelled, but he shouldn’t have put me in the middle of it. There’s no way he could have made things right. But, that’s all in the past. I can’t believe you want to kill me. What would that accomplish?”

“You don’t understand how much damage you did. We had kept our relationship a secret so his mother wouldn’t try to split us up. We were going to be married, and I was going to work while he was in school. After he graduated, I would get my degree. After you sold him out, he applied everywhere, but was always turned away. That kind of stain on your record follows you everywhere.”

“There had to be somewhere he could get his degree. You’re acting like it was the end of the world.”

“It was, for him. He kissed me goodbye one evening, and drove through the guard rail on Samson’s Bluff. He was dead on impact.”

“I had no idea.”

“Of course not. You never stayed in touch with him after you betrayed him.”

“You’ve got this all twisted, Candice. I was the one betrayed. I’m sorry for what happened to Jack, but like I said before, I didn’t ruin his life. He ruined his own. You can’t blame me for his death.”

“I can and I do. You took away his chance for a good life, and now I’m going to make sure you have no life at all.”

I looked at her gun hand and saw her tense up. All I could do was wait for her to pull the trigger. Suddenly, Detective Miller stepped out from a group of trees behind Candice and placed his gun to her head. There were two uniformed officers with him.

“Drop the gun.”

She lowered the gun and he took it from her.

“I thought you didn’t believe there was anything to this,” I said.

“We found the waiter’s body; the one she paid to serve you that special cookie. We found out another server saw her with him out in back of the restaurant a couple of times, and again, after closing the night he disappeared. We put a tail on both of you, and since you both were headed to the park late at night, we thought this might be a setup.”

The reality of the situation hit me hard. This lady I thought I knew murdered one man and planned to kill me. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this experience, it is that the next time there’s an occasion for a celebration, it’s first to Bobby’s Bowl-O-Rama, then on to Steve’s Steakhouse. From now on, if I want to know what my future holds, I’ll see the fortune teller at the carnival.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 38: Seven Sisters

The prompt this week was to write a fantasy story that included a crisis. I offer you the story of the Seven Sisters.

SEVEN SISTERS

“I am afraid, my husband. The darkness becomes more oppressive with each new day. The air is thick and it has become difficult to breathe. Mother’s magic is weak, and her spells no longer soothe.”

“My dear wife, I am also filled with great fear.”

“You feel fear, Drandegal? How is that possible? You are a warrior, one of the Five who guard the Gates of Infinity, and you have triumphantly led legions into battle against the forces of evil.”

“The warrior who feels no fear, my sweet, is a fool and is doomed to fall. However, he cannot permit his fear to be all consuming. He must use it to hone his senses and direct his focus on the completion of his quest.”

“I know the time will soon come when you must depart, my love. Can you share with me what dark forces have come to destroy our world?”

“The rift between our land and the world of the humans has been breached, Coseandra, and one of the seven deadly sisters banished to the land of the humans has entered, and threatens to destroy us all and pull through all her sisters to reclaim this territory as their own. Take heart, my sweet. I shall return to you, if only for us to perish in each other’s arms.”

###

“Lord Master of the High Council, I, Drandegal, Imperial Guard of the Gates of Infinity, stand before you in this time of great distress. My fellow warriors and I, along with the Protectors of the Realm, have sought to contain the presence of the deadly sister known as Wrath and to force her back through the rift into the world of the humans. My heart is heavy with the need to report that she becomes more powerful with each passing moment and the rift grows wider. It is with regret I must inform the Council that our efforts have failed. We beg the High Council’s indulgence and advice.”

“Drandegal, the invading sister has countered the magic of all who guard us. She is not the same as at the time of her exile. We have learned that while there are many humans who reject them all, there are many more who embrace each of them. They are filled with so much more power than when we first encountered them. We know of no way to prevent them all from coming through other than to seek the assistance of the Elder.”

“But, the Elder provides guidance to us all. If he should fail, we shall be lost indeed. But if he should succeed, he will be the one who…”

“We have no choice in the matter, Drandegal. The Elder’s son protests, but this is the only way. I regret it must come down to this, but it is his purpose, and he knows this to be so. He must become Sister Wrath’s host and cross the rift into the world of the humans. He is the only one with magic powerful enough to close the rift behind him. He must accept her before the others come through. Anger and Lust hover at the edges of the rift as we speak and continue to grow stronger.”

“But once the Elder becomes host and passes through, he must remain, and will be destroyed.”

“It is true. But without his sacrifice, our world will be destroyed and the Seven Sisters will reign again. He wishes the Five, the Protectors, and all Members of the High Council be present. He said it would honor the event if we all would witness. Once he has passed through, his son will become Elder of the land in his place. It is time.”

###

“Husband, I’ve never seen you in such a state. It was painful, yes?”

“Painful indeed, dear Coseandra. He embraced his son, the Five and the Protectors and blessed us all. He read the spell from the Book of the Ancestors and Sister Wrath consumed him. She beckoned for the others to make their way through, but before they could, he cast himself into the rift. Once on the Earth side, he spoke the spell to seal the opening. We could all hear the screams of the Seven Sisters who had been denied entry. Unfortunately, we could also hear the screams of the Elder as he crossed. He knows he is forever lost and can never return to his home.”

“Will it be no comfort to him that his son and his people have been saved?”

“No, dear wife. As soon as the rift was sealed, his mind was corrupted and he became one of the seven in body and soul.”

“Will it remain closed, Drandegal? Are we now permanently safe from harm?”

“I wish it were true, but danger remains. Our ancestors carved this world of ours from the void. The Seven Deadly Sisters ruled with cruelty and stood defiant. They denied us sanctuary and promised only slavery and death. But our forefathers’ magic was strong and they were defeated. They were sent through the portal back to the world called Earth from which they originally came.”

“But, if Earth had always been their home, why return here?”

“It is in their nature, dear wife. Two of them, Sisters Greed and Lust, find no contentment and must always seek to conquer that which belongs to others.”

“So, the danger remains.”

“Yes, Coseandra. When you couple the Sisters with the humans, the danger is twice as lethal. The humans are a malicious race, and are always looking to overthrow and enslave. We must be vigilant. Our world will never be completely safe. Not from their kind.”



Thursday, May 12, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 37: Raising the Dead

The prompt this week was to write a detective story, and one of the main characters must be a mother. Some prefer the past to remain past. If only it would…

Raising the Dead

“Mom, I know I’m here to visit, but I can’t turn this down. The richest man in town’s been murdered and his wife, who is 30 plus years younger than he, is the only suspect. She asked if there was a PI in town, someone referred her to me, and she hired me to look into it. Why are you so upset?”

“Ralphie, how can you get involved? Young woman like that marries a man so much older that’s worth millions and he’s found beaten to death? It’s so obvious that she did it.”

“Mom, just because she’s younger doesn’t mean she killed him.”

“The paper says Tommy Fitzhugh saw her and her husband walking into that deserted apartment building on Fourth. Then, Bob Wilson saw her toss the tire iron she beat her husband with into the dumpster at the corner. Tommy and Bob are at the diner in town every day for lunch. They’re still talking about it.”

So much for not tainting the jury pool.

“Mom, I’m only going to ask a few questions.”

“Fine. Just don’t turn your back on that floozy, Ralphie.”

“Mom, how can you talk that way about someone you don’t even know?”

“Just be careful. Don’t dig too deep into this, Ralphie. Some things are best left buried.”

Mom’s favorite line. I sometimes wonder if she realized all things eventually make their way to the surface.

###

When I had spoken with my client, she told me she and her husband had been happy. On the night he was killed, she said he received a phone call and went out, but she didn’t know who called him or where he was headed. After he left, she said she too received a call about a friend, but when she arrived to meet the person who called her, no one showed up.

The case against Mrs. Halverson was pretty flimsy, but since it came down to two witnesses and a lot of gossip, it may hold up in our small-town court; especially if the jury is made up of the gossipy old biddies that live here.

I decided to start by re-interviewing the two witnesses. I didn’t want to step on any toes, so I checked with the Chief of Police first. He told me I could talk to whoever I wanted since the case was, in his words, ‘all wrapped up’ and the ‘widow’s arrest was right around the corner’.

I wanted to speak to Fitzhugh and Wilson privately so as to eliminate any attempt at grandstanding in front of the locals. I found Tommy in the hardware store where he worked.

“Can we go in the back, Mr. Fitzhugh? I just want to confirm your statement to the police.”

“I’ll tell you what I told the cops. I was taking my nightly walk that everybody knows I take, by the way, when I saw them. I always go down Fourth past those old apartments, and then stop at the drug store at Fourth and Taylor to get my wife’s tonic. Something bright caught my eye and when I looked, there they were. Mr. Halverson was walking in the front door and his wife was right behind him. I knew it was her with all that long blonde hair. She had on a white outfit and her sparkly bracelets were flashing in the streetlights. I thought it was odd, but didn’t say anything until the next day when I heard she reported him missing. I told the cops what I seen and they found his body right there inside the lobby.”

“There’s nothing else that you can remember?”

“There is nothing else, Ralph.”

“Well, thank you for your time, Mr. Fitzhugh.”

“Wait. There is one thing that just occurred to me. Maybe you could tell the cops for me. I just remembered how odd I thought they looked.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s just that whenever I saw them in town, she was so much taller than him, you know? But that night, she looked a lot shorter. Maybe she wasn’t wearing her high heels that night. It sure was odd.”

“Thanks, Mr. Fitzhugh. I’ll be sure to mention it to the police.”

Odd indeed. Mr. Halverson was 5 feet, 5 inches tall – the same as me. His wife towered over me since she was well over 6 feet in slippers, which is what she was wearing when I met with her in her home. I was very anxious to hear what Bob Wilson had to say, and found him having his lunch in the park.

“Mr. Wilson, could you tell me what you saw the night Mr. Halverson was killed?”

“She’s guilty, Ralph. The Chief said so, but I’ll tell it again. I was visiting my wife’s grave as I always do before I go to bed, and I saw this person all in white across the way. Well, it was Mrs. Halverson because she’s the only woman in town with all that long blonde hair. She had on a white coat and pants and diamonds and was trying to throw something into the dumpster. In the streetlight, I could see it was a tire iron. First though, she was wiping it off with a rag, I think.”

“What do you mean, ‘trying to throw’?”

“Well, it seemed hard for her, even though a tire iron isn’t that heavy. She seemed to have trouble lifting up her arm.”

Something told me it was her left arm.

“Which arm was it, Mr. Wilson?”

“Her left, Ralphie. She was having trouble lifting up her left arm.”

###

I think I always knew she was guilty. All those years of whispers and secrets. It wasn’t all that hard to fit the pieces together. Mom was right. I have always been good with puzzles. When I walked into the living room though, I have to admit I was surprised to see her pointing a gun at me.

“Really? What would be the point? I notified the police before I came here and they’re outside waiting for me to bring you out. Did you actually believe you could get away with two murders and one attempted murder? And now, you’re going to shoot me?”

“They all needed to die, especially Griffith. That first wife of his would have been dead too if he hadn’t come home early from his business trip. Since pushing her down the stairs didn’t kill her, I was going to finish her off by strangling her, but I ran out the back when I heard the key in the front door lock.

“I don’t want to hurt you, but I’m not going to jail because I did nothing wrong. They all deserved what they got. Now, get out of my way because I’m walking out of here. We both know there are no police outside.”

“Missus,” the Chief of Police announced from the front yard. “If you have a weapon, you need to put it down and come outside with your hands up. There doesn’t need to be any more killing.”

“You would do this to me? You could never understand.”

“I do. I understand all of it. You told me not to dig too deep into this? I’ve been digging into this one way or another all my life. You had an affair with Griffith Halverson and became pregnant. He told you he couldn’t marry you because you were both already married and he couldn’t afford the scandal. You thought you could solve both problems with murder. You killed your husband and tried to kill his wife, but she survived and ended up paralyzed. In spite of the affair with you, his devotion to her was strong. He cared for her all those years until she died recently.

“In the meantime, you raised the child totally on your own. After his wife died, you believed he would marry you, and make up for all those years you struggled. But, what did he do instead? He brought a young woman into his home, married her, and still refused to acknowledge you or his son - me.

“You called Halverson with some bogus story and told him to meet you by those apartments to prevent the scandal of anyone seeing you two together. You wore a wig, a white suit and flashy jewelry because you knew Tommy Fitzhugh would walk by and see you. Once inside, you killed him. Then, you called his wife, made up a story about a friend needing help, and told her to wait in the school parking lot which was deserted at that hour so she wouldn’t have an alibi. You also knew Bob Wilson would see you toss the tire iron into the dumpster. You should have tossed it in with your right arm. Your left’s been weak since that fall you took when I was nine.

“Put the gun down now, and I’ll walk out with you. The time has come to do the right thing, Mom.”