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.”


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 36: Making the Right Move

The prompt this week was to write a story that included a romance. How something, even a relationship, looks, depends on who is doing the looking. Perception is reality, after all. I'm using one of my favorite stories that I wrote awhile back for a romance prompt, and I think it fits in nicely. I hope you enjoy.

MAKING THE RIGHT MOVE

Sylvia was feeling quite apprehensive about this evening’s possible outcome. It was her fifth date with Burt Downy, the Stockroom Manager at Tilson’s Market, and if the past was any indication, tonight would be when he made his move. At the conclusion of the fifth date had been when all the others before him had made their moves on her--all eleven of them, in fact. But, she had been alert, aware, and on guard as Mother had instructed her to be, and she had escaped their clutches unscathed. All eleven times. She hoped with all her heart that Burt was different, but considering that he had requested she prepare a home-cooked meal that the two of them could enjoy privately in her dining room, the prognosis was dim at best. He wanted to be alone with her in her home on their fifth date. Oh, how history repeats itself. Yet, still she hoped…

Burt was ten minutes early, but he knew how important punctuality was to Sylvia. He did not want to disappoint her--not tonight. He needed her to be completely at ease and without suspicion. One opportunity was all he would have, and everything about tonight must be flawless. He had already experienced this evening over and over in his mind, meticulously planning every word, every action. All that was left was to fit Sylvia into the scene. She didn’t know it yet, but soon it would all be very clear. Soon. Burt rang Sylvia’s doorbell.

When Sylvia opened the door, Burt noticed her blouse was buttoned up all the way to the collar. Her sleeves were long, with folded cuffs covering her wrists, and her skirt completely hid her feet. All this time we’ve been together and she’s still so proper, he thought. Interesting. Sylvia pulled Burt in and pushed him into the dining room.

“Dinner’s all ready,” she said, shoving him into his seat. Best to just go along and try to throw him off his game. “You see, it’s all on the table, nice and hot, right from the oven. I made roast chicken, green beans, mashed potatoes, rolls, apple pie, and my special iced tea that you love so much. You can’t get a more home-cooked meal than that, can you?”

Burt was impressed and knew he had made the right decision.

“Sylvia, before we have our meal, there are a few things I need to say to you and something I’ve wanted to do since the first time I saw you. I don’t want you to say anything until I’m finished, okay? I’m already more nervous than I thought I would be.”

So now it begins, Sylvia thought, giving orders, and the desire for complete control. Textbook typical.

“Sylvia, the first time our eyes met, I felt a stirring in my soul that I’ve never felt before. I will admit I’ve dated a few times, but it generally didn’t turn into anything. I’d pretty much given up on finding the perfect woman. But then, I met you, and I knew you were the one.”

So, she thought, I wonder what it was about me that slotted me in--made me fit the pattern--made me THE ONE.

“I know this is only our fifth date,” Burt continued, “but I am certain I want to look no further. I don’t want you to look any further either and tonight, I’m going to make sure that the thought of seeing anyone else never crosses your mind.”

Oh my God, she thought. It’s really true. He’s going to do it. This is really going to happen. Again.

"I’m rambling, I know, so let me get to the point. Sylvia Potter, I have a surprise for you that I’m sure you never expected. Now, just close your eyes and…”

“And WHAT? You’ll tie my hands behind my back and drag me to the bedroom and ravage me and then slit my throat from ear to ear? Or maybe you’d rather strangle me with my own pantyhose? Well, brother, you can’t kill me with those because I’m wearing sandals. Outsmarted you on that one, didn’t I, mister man?”

Burt was confused. What was Sylvia going on about?

“Sweetheart, what are you saying? All I want to do is…”

“I know what you want to do. You came here to kill me in my own house just like all the others wanted to do. But I figured them out and I figured you out too. ‘I’m the one’ and “you’re going to make sure I don’t want to see anyone else’. I know what that means. Choose, then stalk, then murder. What kind of a fool do you take me for?”

“Murder? How can you think such a thing? Why, I would never harm a hair on your head. I don’t understand you at all.”

Burt drank half his glass of iced tea.

“Please, let me explain. I…” Burt grabbed the table to stop himself from falling off the chair. Why was he suddenly dizzy.

“I mean, I wanted…“ Why did his head feel like it was going to explode. He’d never had a headache in his entire life.

“What is hap…” Burt was finding it impossible to get a breath.

Burt clutched at his heart, slid from the chair, and when he collapsed dead on the carpet, a small box fell from his shirt pocket. Sylvia picked it up and opened it.

“Oh my,” she said. “What a beautiful sparkly ring. The stone isn’t quite as large as most of the others, but it’ll do. Splitting it would make a pair of lovely earrings. Imagine him thinking that I’d wear jewelry that belonged to his dead mother or whoever while he was making me breathe my last breath. Where on earth do these men get their crazy ideas?”

She hoped Stan Burgess, who re-shelved books at the downtown branch of the library wouldn’t get any crazy ideas. Their first date was scheduled for tomorrow night and he was planning to take her out for burgers and fries and then to a movie at the Multi-Plex. She’d have to tidy up the house, especially the dining room, so she could invite him in for coffee and cookies after. There was plenty of time though. First, she’d enjoy the delightful meal she’d worked all afternoon on. Of course, she’d put on a pot of coffee for herself as a beverage. After all, the cyanide she’d mixed in with the iced tea wouldn’t go too well with apple pie…

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 35: The Wish

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

The Wish

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

“Her protector? She has a bodyguard?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s wrong?

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

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

“I’m sure you’re right. Bye, Ricky.”

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

###

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

###

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

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

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

“Who…what the Hell are you?”

“I was Miss Lucy’s protector.”

“You’re real? I thought she…”

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

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

“It is my plan to grant your wish.”

“My wish? What did I wish for?”

###

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

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

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

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

###

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

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

“I would appreciate it.”

###

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

Thursday, April 21, 2016

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

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

First, Do No Harm…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 33: Never Forget

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

Never Forget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*         *         *         *         *

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

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

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

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

*         *         *         *         *

“Wake up, Walter. Wake up.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, April 7, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 32: A New World

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

A New World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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