Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 56: Breaking Up is Hard to Do

The prompt this week was to write a story about ending a relationship using dialogue only, and the genre was romance. Sometimes breaking up is easier said than done.

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

“Hello.”

“Hey Danny, it’s me. I wanted to make sure you were all right. I drove by your building this morning and there she was, just standing there, staring up at your window. Did you ask her to leave you alone? You’d better be careful what you say and how you say it. There have been so many cases of…”

“Karen, I haven’t talked to her yet. Quit worrying about it. Nothing bad is going to happen.”

“I have the right to worry about you. That’s what older sisters do. You read the papers and watch the news. You think you know someone and what they might be capable of, but then when you least expect it, they…”

“That’s why I’m not sending her a letter or a text message. I’m going to sit down with her in a very public place and tell the crazy bitch to back off. She does know where I live though. Maybe I should hire a bodyguard to move in with me after I tell her off. I don’t need her paying me a visit in the middle of the night with a hatchet.”

“That’s not funny. She obviously has mental issues, and you do need to dump her, but even if you try to let her down decently, that doesn’t mean she’ll just walk away. She carries a camera around and no matter where you go or who you’re with, she’s clicking away taking photo after photo. What if she takes one of you talking to another woman? You need to keep track of all your female co-workers and friends. What if they suddenly begin to disappear?”

“You watch too many crime shows. I know she’s basically been stalking me, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she’s dangerous. Crazy? Yes, but I’m not afraid of her. Besides, if she keeps following me around and snapping photos of me, I’ll just call the cops or my lawyer or both and have papers served on her to leave me alone.”

“Restraining orders, or whatever they’re called, are just pieces of paper. There was an article in the paper last week about…”

“Sis, stop. Enough. I’ve got to go. I’m meeting her in 20 minutes downtown at Rochere’s. We’ll have dinner, a few drinks, and I’ll let her know that whatever she thinks we had together never was, and that it’s time she moved on. I’ll call you when I get home to let you know I got out of there alive.”

“Fine. Make jokes. If I don’t hear from you tonight, I’m going to have the cops drag the river.”

“Go watch your murder TV show or finish your Jack the Ripper novel. Calm yourself down. I’ll call you later. Promise. Love you. Bye.”

“Love you too. Talk later, I hope.”

***

“Thanks so much for meeting me here, Michelle. I have some very important things to discuss with you and I didn’t want to pick you up because then this evening would seem like a date.”

“You sound so serious, Danny, as if we’re having some kind of meeting.”

“Well, in a way, it is. I do want things to go smoothly and calmly. That’s why I suggested we meet here so that we could have dinner, a few drinks, and a quiet conversation to straighten some things out.”

“What things need to be straightened out?”

“Well, Michelle, the way I see it, we met at the library after the poetry lecture two weeks ago, right? We went out for coffee and found out we had a lot in common. We went out on a couple of dates after that and had very nice time, but…”

“I don’t under…wait. I think I know where you’re going with all this. When you start detailing out every moment of our relationship like that, I get the impression that you…”

“Michelle, we don’t have a relationship. I was hoping I could say this nicely, but I don’t think that’s possible. We met, had coffee one time, went to a movie one time and to a poetry reading one time. I can’t help it if this sounds nasty, but every time I go out, I notice you following me, and it really creeps me out. If I happen to look out my window any time of day or night, there you are on the sidewalk looking up and taking pictures. That camera of yours. I’m surprised you don’t have it on you tonight, or do you?

“I don’t know a lot about you, either personally or professionally, but what I do know, and what I have seen, pisses me off to no end. I feel like I’ve lost control of my time and my life because you’re always out there, somewhere, watching and waiting. That’s the way it seems, and I’ll tell you, I don’t like it. I’m not the clingy type and I can’t stand people who are. I brought you here tonight since this is a crowded place and I didn’t want you to make a scene. Michelle, I want you to stay away from me.”

“I see. But, I did tell when we went out for coffee that one time that I was an amateur photographer and that I was taking a class at the college. True, I have run into you here and there, but that was just coincidence. Why would I follow you? As for being out in front of your building, it’s the building I’m interested in and I take lots of photographs of that too. If you were aware of what happened in your building decades ago, you’d probably be doing the same thing. I did also tell you that I’m taking a course on local history. Your building, and the events that occurred there, happen to be the topic of a paper I’m writing.”

“Yeah, but…”

“You actually thought I was stalking you?”

“Well, it just seemed strange to run into you everywhere and…”

“You said it yourself, Danny. We like a lot of the same things, so it’s natural that we would end up in many of the same places. I will admit that whenever our paths did cross, I did take a snapshot of you, but that’s partly because I liked you and partly because you’re a good subject. I also photographed other people around you and the scenery. It wasn’t always all about you.”

“I guess I wasn’t really thinking about…”

“No. I guess you weren’t really thinking, Danny. You know what? Let’s not go through the motions here; I mean, ordering dinner and dessert and dragging things out. We’ve had a cocktail and got things out into the open. Let’s not waste each other’s time trying to share a meal making small talk. It would be way too awkward. I’m going to go home and order a pizza. Why don’t you do the same?”

“No, Michelle. Please stay. We can’t leave it like this. I admit that I made too many assumptions and wasn’t looking at things logically, but that doesn’t mean we can’t at least be friends.”

“Friends? Danny, you’ve got to be joking. You accuse me of following you around town – actually stalking you, and staring at your window from the sidewalk like some kind of obsessed psycho. Then, you say you want us to be friends? How can we possibly be friends?”

“I’m sorry for everything. Why don’t we put all this behind us and start over. If you’re not busy this Saturday, how about a picnic? I could pack a lunch for us and include a bottle of chilled wine, and we could sit on a blanket down by the lake. I know a spot where we could be alone and…”

“Put this behind us and start over? As if I’d agree to go anywhere alone with you after all this. I don’t think us seeing each other again would be a good idea, Danny. I’ll just put this $10.00 under my glass. That should cover my cocktail. If there’s any left over, just leave it with the tip.”

“There’s no way you need to do that. I never expected you to pay for anything. Look, I’ll call you tomorrow and we’ll…”

“Danny, I enjoyed the couple of dates we had, but I think it would be best if we part company here and now. You were right about our never having any kind of relationship and frankly, I don’t believe it would be possible for us to have one anyway. All that’s been said here this evening has me really creeped out. No offense intended, but you have creeped me out. Please don’t call me or come around to my apartment. I do have friends in law enforcement, and I won’t hesitate to involve them if you try to contact me. I’m leaving now, and don’t try to stop me.”

“Wait. Michelle? Don’t go. I’m sure we can work this thing out if we…”

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 55: For the Principle

The prompt this week was to write a story set in the Old West. The story also had to include the following words: Stagecoach, outlaw, bank, railroad, and cabin.  Please enjoy.

For the Principle

Name’s William Maddox, and I’m pleased to make your acquaintance. I have time to tell you a bit of my story, but I can’t sit for too long. Reason is, I got the law after me. Truth be told, it ain’t quite as bad as it sounds. I mean, there’s no posse huntin’ me down, with each one been deputized, and all anxious to slip a hangman’s noose around my neck. All I done was rob a bank in Moose Falls, but I ain’t killed nobody. Not never. Killin’ is what they hang you for these days. Money will buy you drink and a fine woman or two, but spendin’ it can be mighty hard from six feet under.

I remember that day long ago like it was yesterday. Rafe and me heard talk around town that when the next stagecoach came through, there would be bags of money in it for the bank. We knew we had to wait till the money was inside the bank before grabbin’ it because tryin’ to rob one of them coaches would get you dead for sure. There were guards on the outside and guards on the inside who all had guns, and any of ‘em would shoot you down before your hand made it to the latch on the door.

Let me take a minute to tell you who Rafe is. Was. He was the son of my ma’s cousin’s uncle’s somethin’. Anyhow, we were family. His ma and my ma used to do some sewin’ for the folks on the big ranches, and Rafe and me would clean the barns, and when we growed up some, the ranchers let us mind the cattle and feed the cows. Now, Rafe wasn’t too bright because he never had no schoolin’. I didn’t neither, but my grandma taught me how to read the Bible, so my head wasn’t as empty as Rafe’s.

I know what you’re thinkin’. If I had any sense, I wouldn’t be robbin’ banks. But you see, I did it for my folks. Don’t get it in your head that I’m tryin’ to make myself look like one of those do-gooders that comes through town with their preachin’ and such. It’s just that when I was a boy, I was real sickly all the time, and one or the other of them was always at my bed keepin’ my head cool and gettin’ me through the nights. I wouldn’t be here today if it hadn’t been for my ma and pa, and that’s a true thing.

When my folks got sick and couldn’t work no more, it was up to me to make it right. When Mr. Giles over at the bank said they couldn’t stay in the house unless he got some money, me and Rafe made a plan. Rafe’s folks were livin’ then out on the Tolbert’s spread, where his ma did the cookin’ and his pa tended the horses, so they didn’t worry about a roof over their head. My folks had lived in that same house in town from when they were married until now, and they been payin’ the bank every month faithful like, until their troubles came.

Pa’s horse spooked one day when he was checkin’ on some fences, and he fell hard. He couldn’t walk after that and had to be in one of those chairs folks push you around in. Ma couldn’t keep sewin’ because her hands crumpled up. Doc said that happened to ladies when they got old and nothin’ could be done. Rafe said he’d help me get money from the bank. Then, we’d take my folks away and we’d build ‘em a cabin and use the money to buy what they needed.

All we were plannin’ on takin’ was one bag because I knew there’d be enough in there to care for my folks for some time. We had our guns out, but we had no plan to use ‘em. Killin’ was never supposed to be part of it. After the money was taken into the bank and the stage left, Rafe and me went in and told Mr. Giles to give us one of the bags. We had kerchiefs over our faces, but Mr. Giles knew my voice and asked me why I would do such a thing. I just waved my gun around in the air and told him to be quiet and just give me the bag. Don’t you know, he pulled out a pistol from his vest pocket and aimed it right at me. To this day, I can’t figure out why he would do such a foolish thing. Rafe got scared and shot Mr. Giles in his face. I do believe he meant to shoot him in his hand, but Rafe never could hit what he aimed at. Before I could grab him, one of the customers pulled his gun and shot Rafe in the back of the head.

I did all I could think to do, and that was to run. My horse was outside and I rode like Death hisself was after me. I ended up with no money, and my friend was dead. Now what was I to do? I bunked in overnight at old man Dan’s small spread a half days’ ride out. He knew me when I was a boy and took in any and all, and never judged. He knew every man needs a meal and a bed no matter what. When his son Nathaniel came by and saw me, he said he’d been to Moose Falls. They had a new Sheriff, name of Frank Howard, who swore in right after the killin’ at the bank. Sheriff James Banner had stepped down, sayin’ he weren’t goin’ after a man who didn’t take nothin’ and didn’t kill no one. Nathaniel said Frank was goin’ after me just the same. Said it was for the principle. I didn’t know what the principle was, but I did know Frank.

When we were boys, we would run in and out of Mr. Sodder’s General Store and make him chase us with his broom. His ma and my ma weren’t friendly, but she was a good person. Frank’s pa had passed, and his ma sang in the saloon. Ma said bein’ a good Christian, she couldn’t be seen talkin’ to the woman, but her son and me could be friends. Now my friend was comin’ for me.

Through the years, I’ve traveled from town to town, territory to territory, and Frank was always close behind. There was one night I was up on a ridge and watched him sleepin’ down below. I camped a short distance away, and at sun-up, I rode on. Nice and slow. Wouldn’t want him to lose me.

***

It’s been many a year since that day, and my hair and beard’s both gone white. If Frank’s got any left in either spot, I expect they’ve turned the same color. No one pays me much mind when I ride into a town. I sweep up to earn my supper and a bed and go on to the next. Times sure have changed it seems. Always a bit of excitement goin’ on. Cowboys ridin’ the herds come in lookin’ for strong drink and a good time and a chance to raise up some Hell. Never thought the day would come when I was on the watchin’ end of such, but I know where their path’s headed.

These young ones nowadays, name themselves outlaws, they think drinkin’ whiskey, bein’ loud, and shootin’ folks makes them strong and tough. What it does is make ‘em dead before their time. I learned over the years that what makes a man strong and tough is knowin’ how to survive to a ripe old age in this Godless land. All it takes to do that is mindin’ your business, not botherin’ nobody, and keepin’ your gun on your hip. I’m not goin’ say nothin’ about the whiskey since I, myself, do take a sip now and again.

I follow the railroad line these days since most of ‘em run through a town now and again. I always am watchin’ my back though as I know Frank won’t never give up. It’s one of life’s constants, you know? Ma always told me that it’s life’s constants that keep your heart beatin’. What would Frank do without me to hunt down, and what would I do without Frank behind me comin’ round every bend? The years go on and we go on. Funny what life makes up its mind to hand you sometimes.

What’s to come from all this wanderin'? Well, I expect that I’ll keep on runnin’ away and Frank will keep on chasin’ after, even though he gave up Sheriffin’ years ago. Someday though, we both might be feelin’ a bit tired. When that day comes, maybe I’ll let the old coot catch me.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 54: Timing is Everything

The prompt this week was to write a story that includes a clock, and the genre was horror. Please enjoy.

Timing is Everything

“It’s true what they say, Miss Jeanine. Timing is everything. I couldn’t close up the shop early because I had so many customers. I ended up being late to the estate sale and missed out on getting that clock. I picked up a few unusual pieces of furniture, but you were the fortunate one. If you ever want to sell that clock, I’ll make sure you make a profit.”

“Thanks, Mr. Spooner, but that clock really classes up my dining room. I understand there’s a dark legend that goes along with it. Do you know what that’s all about?”

“Indeed I do, Miss. You weren’t living here when old Mr. Branson lived in that house on the hill. Folks still talk about him having made a deal with the Devil to get even with everyone who did him wrong. What happened was, he was paralyzed in an accident at the factory. The investigators found out the machine operator had been drinking at lunch. The guard rails on some of the equipment weren’t secured properly and when Branson switched his machine on, a big piece of it fell on him.

“The owner paid him a ton of money to keep it out of court – the operator was his brother-in-law, you see, and Branson took every penny. But he swore he’d get all of them for destroying his life. He got into Black Magic and told everyone there was a curse on the big clock in his living room – the one you now own. There’s a small drawer behind the pendulum, and if he wrote someone’s name down on a note or something and put it inside that drawer, at midnight that very day, that person would die a horrible death.

“Well, the factory owner and machinist both died violent deaths at midnight a week apart. Branson told everybody in town that the curse worked. No one believed in all that curse business, but everyone in town avoided him anyway. He died a few months ago, but with no relatives on record, it took a while to get his affairs straight. That’s why the estate sale was just this past weekend.”

“He must have been insane. Do you know how they died?”

“Harry Dillan, the machinist, was repairing a leak in his roof, and he fell. That’s bad enough, but when he landed, it was face down right on top of his barbed wire covered fence. No one could figure out how that happened because the fence was 25 feet away from where he was on the roof.

“Ben Cooper, the owner, was nearly decapitated. He was mowing the grass on a piece of property he owned a couple of miles from town. When he didn’t come home, his son went looking for him and found him with his head under the mower blades. No one could figure out how his accident happened either.”

“Disturbing, Mr. Spooner, but I thank you for sharing the town’s legends and gossip with me.”

“No problem, Miss. You’re part of our community now, so you may as well know about all the skeletons in our town’s closet.”

“Ha, that’s a good one. Later, Mr. Spooner.”

“Have a fine day, Miss.”

***

Brian Haskins had to die. He had made the mistake of telling Jeanine she’d never be promoted to be Cassie’s assistant as long as he was alive. She thought, so be it then, you bastard. She wrote his full name on an index card, and placed it in the clock’s secret drawer. She went to bed around 11:00, hoping that just once, curses were real. If this one actually worked, she wondered when it would get Brian, and how she would know. She didn’t have to wait long.

“Jeanine, it’s me, Cass. I’m sorry to call you at five o’clock in the morning, but Brian’s dead. I’m sure you can’t hear all the sirens at your end of town. There’s police and an ambulance, and our whole neighborhood is out on the street. What happened was that his wife, Suzanne, heard him scream, and found him at the bottom of the stairs. Their clock had just finished chiming midnight.

“My God, Jeanine, he wasn’t just bruised from falling. People are saying his eyes were gouged out, and his arms and legs were broken. Suzanne’s outside in shock, talking about blood being everywhere. How in the world could all that happen to him just from falling down a flight of stairs? I can’t stop shaking.”

“Cass, try to calm down. You know getting upset is not good for your blood pressure. You go lie down and rest, and I’ll go in early and open the shop. I’ll take care of everything.”

“Thank you so much, Jeanine. You are a lifesaver. I depended so much on Brian, especially when I was out on buying trips and at conventions, but now, I’m going to be depending on you. That makes me feel better because you’re so responsible. I’m sorry I couldn’t give you a bigger raise, but I had already promoted Brian before you came to work for me. Of course, you’re my assistant now. I’m an awful person, aren’t I, Jeanine? Talking about business right after Brian’s death?”

“Not at all, Cass. I know it sounds cruel, but just because someone dies, the world doesn’t stop turning. Your store has to open this morning just like it does every morning. Life does go on.”

“Thank you, Jeanine. You’re so level-headed. I’m going to take your advice and lie down. Call me if anything comes up. Bye, and thanks again.”

“Bye, Cass, and don’t worry. Everything will be fine.”

Yes, Jeanine thought, everything will be fine. Now, who else in this miserable town has tried to screw me over. She decided to make a list.

***

“Cass, it was sweet of you to take me out to dinner tonight.”

“Jeanine, the only reason that big order went out on time is because of you and all your dedication. You deserved an evening out. I had heard nothing but praise about this restaurant. Why is it that all the great places are a couple of hours away from where we live?”

“That’s small town living, Cass. The factory and all our stores do well because of the tourists passing through, but restaurants and movie theaters always build up closer to the city. Thanks for picking me up though. Tonight really was a treat for me because, not only did I have a wonderful dinner, I didn’t have to drive at all.”

“It’s my pleasure. You’ve been helping out with deliveries too, and I figure you’ve put enough extra miles on your car. There’s something else, Jeanine. I was going to surprise you, and I know I shouldn’t spoil it, but I hid a little present for you to show my gratitude for all you’ve done to help me after Brian’s death. It’s a gift card for that new spa that opened in Middleton; you know, the one you spend all day at. You deserve a day where everyone takes care of you for a change.”

“Cass, you didn’t spoil anything. I’ve been wanting to book an appointment there, but the whole day thing is so expensive. I can’t thank you enough, and you are so right. As much as I love my job, I need a day of doing nothing but being pampered. So, where exactly did you stash my ticket to a little piece of Heaven?”

“You’ll love this. When I was at your house picking up those sales reports and you were getting us coffee, I noticed the clock in your dining room was a bit slow. Gorgeous clock, by the way. Anyhow, I opened the door on the front of it and tried to find where to wind it. That’s when I looked behind the pendulum and saw the little drawer. I thought, that’s the perfect hiding place, so I put the card in there. By the way, you’ll have to show ID when you present the gift card so they can make sure the person using the card is the one it was intended for. It’s crazy, isn’t it? I mean, it’s a spa, not Fort Knox.”

“What does my ID have to do with a gift card?”

“Well, it’s the name they’ll be checking – to make sure they match.”

“My name is on that gift card?”

“Of course. Like I said, the place has all kinds of security. You’d think you were trying to get into the White House instead of a salon.”

“You put a card with my name written on it in the drawer behind the pendulum in the clock in my dining room?”

“Yes. So?”

“So? My God, Cass. You have no idea what you’ve…wait. What time is it?”

“Wow, I had no idea it was so late. It’s less than a minute until midnight. Where has this evening gone?”

“I…”

“What’s wrong, Jeanine? Jeanine? My God. What’s happening to your…”


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 53: To Honor All

The prompt this week was to choose a title from the list, and then write a story. The titles to choose from were:

1. Last Rites
2. Broken Dreams
3. To Honor All
4. The Invitation
5. Footprints

I chose #3. The genre was paranormal. Please enjoy.

To Honor All

Mr. Raymond was a good man. My mother had worked for him as his housekeeper and cook. My family and I lived in a small house in the poorest area of the village. Between my father’s sporadic income as a carpenter and my mother’s, we managed to keep our heads above water. When my father was killed while repairing a neighbor’s roof, my mother’s income alone could not keep our home from foreclosure. Mr. Raymond came to our rescue, and invited my mother, my sister, and I to take up residence in his house. A formal education was a luxury not afforded to me, and Mr. Raymond taught me how to read, and encouraged me to discover the stories contained between the covers of his vast book collection.

Shortly after Mr. Raymond died of old age, my mother was notified that his nephew and his nephew’s wife would be taking possession of the house, and they requested she and her children remain in their employ. Mr. Robert and Miss June began the abuse on the day they arrived. Miss June berated my mother and spoke to her in a crude and vulgar manner. Mr. Robert repeatedly struck, and defiled, my younger sister on a daily basis until her mind could no longer cope with the constant trauma. On the night before her tenth birthday, my sister used a carving knife from the kitchen to open both her wrists. Not to be inconvenienced by this act of what he saw as rude defiance, Mr. Robert dragged her lifeless body out to the woods behind the house.

My mother took to her bed shortly after with an unknown malady that rendered her weak and disoriented. I cared for her as best I could with the small amounts of food and water allotted to me. I was beaten, forced to care for the house, and prepare meals for Mr. Robert and Miss June. My mother was physically incapable of joining me in an escape, so I did my work, and prayed for her recovery. She died one evening following a violent seizure. I felt a sense of relief for her; at least her suffering was at an end.

Following Mr. Robert’s disposal of my mother’s body in the woods, I had no desire to flee to save myself. I knew in my heart that they both must die. I decided I would kill Miss June first. Once she was cold and in the ground, I would kill Mr. Robert. The pain and loss they both had inflected on me and my family was unforgiveable. One Friday night, Mr. Robert was asleep downstairs in the drawing room. Miss June called for me to come to her room. When I entered her private bedroom, she invited me to share her bed for the evening.

Mr. Robert’s missus told me she had envisioned my becoming her lover ever since the day they had arrived. I was a young man by then, almost 17 years old. I walked over and stood at her bedside, planning to place my hands around her throat and press them together as tightly as I could until she could no longer draw breath. As I raised my hands, she began to laugh, and I did not see the gun she had been holding in her right hand under the comforter. She pointed the gun at my chest and pulled the trigger. As I fell to the floor, my thoughts became a prayer that I may be permitted, in some manner, to avenge the cruelty that had been visited upon my family. My corpse was also placed in the woods to become a feast for the bears and coyotes.

I could feel myself rising above my earthly shell and went to search for the souls of my beloved family. I found the spirits of my mother and sisters hiding in a small cave deep in the forest. I reached out my hand, but they cowered in fear. I told them, somehow, I would bring peace to us all. I knew I would be unable to physically interact with the living, but wondered if I could be seen. I returned to the house and entered the kitchen where the newly hired cook was preparing luncheon. I placed myself in front of her, closed my eyes, and strained hard as if to push myself through a wall I could not see. She looked in my direction, dropped the dishes she was holding, and ran to the front room where Mr. Robert and Miss June were waiting to be called for their noon meal. She screamed that she saw something evil. She explained she did not see an entire ghost; but saw the light surrounding its form. She told them she could not stay because the house was haunted. She ran from the house, leaving her belongings behind. After the cook, I was able to frighten away the gardener and the stable boy. All the help were now gone, never to return.

And I smiled.

The time had come to bring those responsible for our misery and deaths to justice. One spring day, I followed Miss June to the stable. With no staff, it was left to her to saddle up the steed for her morning ride. I waited until she reached for the gear that was toward the back of the narrow stall, and used that moment to appear before her. She made a high-pitched whining sound and as I moved toward her to force her behind the horse, she put her hands on the creature’s hindquarters and tried to push it in my direction.

Mr. Raymond had instructed us children never to stand behind a horse, this skittish one in particular. He also made sure we understood never to grab and pull on a horse’s tail. Miss June did both as she tried to back away from me. The horse first kicked her face, then followed with blows to her head and chest. She ended up in a slouched sitting position in the corner of the stall, with blood pouring from her eyes, ears, and a gaping wound in the middle of her forehead. She was dead.

And I smiled.

After his spouse’s demise, tumblers of whiskey became Mr. Robert’s mealtime staples. One evening, he filled his glass to the brim and was on his way upstairs to spend the night in his dead wife’s bed, a habit he acquired since her funeral. My timing was perfect. Just as he placed one foot on the top step, I allowed myself to come into view directly in front of him. He gasped briefly, and stepped back. Mr. Robert slipped, lost his balance, and fell backwards down the flight of stairs. I knelt close to him and saw bruises around his face and on his hands. His left leg was bent back beneath him, and his neck appeared broken. His eyes were open, yet his gaze was an empty one. He was dead.

And I smiled.

The house and grounds were readied again; this time, for the last of Mr. Raymond’s descendants and his family. He was called Mr. David, and his wife was called Miss Marie, and they had a young son called Master Jonathan, who appeared to be approximately five years of age.

Mr. David found the journal that had been kept by Mr. Raymond, and continued by Mr. Robert. Mr. Raymond’s script related memories of good cheer, faith, and hope. Mr. Robert’s entries spoke only of degradation, murder, and desecration. I observed Mr. David and Miss Marie weep together for the atrocities that had been committed with the walls of their new home.

Mr. David arranged for three coffins to be built, and three headstones to be carved. There was one for my mother, one for my sister, and one for me. Since our remains had been scattered by animals, the coffins were empty; however, Miss Marie placed a cross into each one before they were sealed. Mr. David arranged for them to be buried side by side in the graveyard behind the church on the hill, and each headstone placed to mark our final resting place in that holy ground.

Mr. David was a good man. His wife, Miss Marie, was a loyal and devoted wife, and a loving and caring mother. Their young boy was a happy and secure child, and filled the house with joy and laughter. The house was thoroughly cleaned, and all the possessions of Mr. Robert and Miss June were discarded. The house was redecorated, and was now filled with bright colors and much love.

I shall let these good people live in peace, because I shall be able to rest in peace.

We shall all be able to rest in peace.

Now.

And I am smiling.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 52: Till Death...

The prompt this week was to write a story set in a healthcare facility, and the genre was medical thriller. If you ever decide to get a second opinion, you might want to really think that through.

Till Death…

I knew something was wrong as soon as I looked into their eyes. Each of them had come for their weekly visit following hospitalization, and all looked terrified as they were led into the treatment room. I got their numbers from the charts, but none would see me; that is, until I called Mrs. Pope. Her daughter, Lucille, asked me to stop by because she had plenty to tell me.

“Something’s going on in that clinic. I’m telling you, that doctor is dangerous. Several times, I’ve told the nurse I want Mom’s records to take to another doctor, and during her next visit, Mom gets deathly sick at the clinic and goes to the hospital. When she comes home, she begs me not to find another doctor and to just keep taking her to Dr. H. What do you make of that?”

Her mother was sitting in her wheelchair, and tears were streaming down her face. I knelt in front of her and took her hand in mine.

“Mrs. Pope, I don’t know what you’re afraid of, but you don’t need to be anymore. I will find out what’s going on and I’ll fix everything. I promise.”

I wasn’t sure how I was going to fix what I didn’t understand, but I made a promise, and I intended to keep it. I decided the logical place to start was with the record of their hospitalizations.

These four patients had presented in Dr. Hargrove’s clinic for routine visits over the past four weeks. Prior to their appointments, I was permitted to review their charts, and even though each was an elderly individual, they were all in reasonably good health. I, however, was not permitted to observe their examination in the treatment room. I questioned the doctor about that and his response to me was that these particular patients would be uncomfortable with another doctor in the room, even if it was only for purposes of observation. Since I had never been directly involved in treatment of any elderly patients, his explanation seemed reasonable. What I could never accept as reasonable was the fact that each collapsed while in the treatment room, and all were rushed by ambulance for admittance to the hospital. The only common denominator was that each had been the last appointment of the day.

Dr. Hargrove waited in the reception area of the clinic for the paramedics and directed them to the treatment room where the patient was lying on the exam table. Each time, he told them he would be riding in the back of the ambulance with the patient to the hospital and would assume full care on arrival. Unusual, but not unheard of. Within a day or two, each was released from the hospital, discharged to home.

Before the paramedics arrived to transport them to the hospital, I took a quick peek at each one of them and, to put it in non-clinical speak, they all looked like death warmed over. Two were vomiting, three seemed to be having trouble breathing, and all four seemed too weak to sit up on the table. What could possibly cause this sudden onset of such drastic symptoms, and how could they recover so quickly and be discharged home with no nursing support? I was determined to find the answers.

The day shift Medical Records clerk at Mercy General, Ms. Rose Danfield, wouldn’t pull any of Dr. Hargrove’s patients’ charts for me to review. I reminded her I was in my residency working with Dr. Hargrove, and chart review was part of that process. She informed me, in no uncertain terms, that only Dr. H had access to those. I knew I had to find one of the staff who hadn’t been employed there long enough to be so fiercely protective of the great Dr. H. My treating the Human Resources receptionist to a double-scoop ice cream sundae at lunch got me the information I needed. Miss June Sanders, the newly hired Medical Records clerk, had a certain taste in literature.

I went to the hospital just before midnight. The 11 to 7 security staff was one man, and he was sound asleep on one of the couches in the lobby. I went straight to Medical Records, where Miss June was sitting at the desk reading a romance novel. I had brought three recently published lovey-dovey paperbacks to offer her as a bribe, and it worked like a charm. Am I proud of employing such a sleazy tactic to get access to the confidential medical records of four individuals who were the patients of another physician? You bet I am.

Miss June pulled the four records for me and left me to return to her stories. It didn’t take long for me to figure out what beloved Dr. H was doing. The charts revealed the following: #1: Miss Bernice Jennings, 74, presented with vomiting, respiratory difficulty, and irregular heart beat; #2: Mr. Harvey Ziegler, 81, presented with double vision, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, and respiratory difficulty; #3: Mrs. Karen Pope, 69, presented with muscle weakness, slow heart rate, and skin cold to the touch; and #4: Mr. Marvin Aaronson, 77, presented with nausea, respiratory difficulty, and weak pulse.

The medication he ordered from the Pharmacy was dixogin immune fab for patient #1, glucagon for patient #2, and narcan for patients #3 and #4. No lab work was ordered for any of them. Why? He didn’t want any results on file because he knew the cause of their symptoms, and, even as only a resident, so did I. The symptoms were the results of drug overdoses of digoxin, insulin, codeine and Vicodin, respectively. The medications ordered were the anecdotes.

My only question now, was why, and the only place I’d find the answer to that was in the clinic records. On Sunday night, I picked the lock on the clinic’s front door – a skill I picked up as a wayward teen. I opened the charts and placed them side by side on the break room table, and I found my answer in his nurse’s clinic notes. Each patient’s family member had requested records be sent to another physician since they intended to seek a second opinion as to why it was necessary for their relative to return to Dr. Hargrove’s clinic weekly for an undetermined length of time, for no specific medical reason. Following their hospital discharge however, the notes indicated those requests for records had been cancelled. Dr. Hargrove would remain their only physician. Coincidence? Hell, no.

I felt the needle-stick in my left arm and became dizzy. Dr. Hargrove eased me into one of the chairs.

“Did I forget to tell you I have cameras all over my clinic that I monitor at home?” Dr. Hargrove sat in the chair next to mine. “Ms. Rose at Mercy told me about your wanting some charts. She found out that new clerk gave them to you. I knew your next move would be to come here.”

“Why do you almost kill these people?” It was hard to form the words. I wasn’t sure what I had been injected with, but I did assume it was a fatal dose. “Was it so you…save and prove…God?”

“I don’t have to prove I am God to my patients. They have always known. Now and then, however, I need to remind the older ones because they become forgetful. I’ve never had to remind any of my younger patients since their memories are quite intact. If, however, it should become necessary, I am quite prepared to act accordingly to preserve our bond.

“A doctor and his patient have a relationship that’s kind of like a marriage. The commitment we make is until death do us part – theirs or mine. You were supposed to sit through a few of my clinics, review a few outpatient records, and move on  - not pry into matters that do not concern you.”

“The welfare of…pat…con…” I found it increasingly difficult to keep my eyes open and remain upright in the chair.

“You’ll lapse into coma soon, and my receptionist will find you here dead in the morning. Another case of a resident who couldn’t take the pressure and OD’d. So sad.”

I heard voices coming from the lobby telling Hargrove not to move, and a woman shouting to call an ambulance for me. I looked up and saw Mrs. Pope’s daughter, Lucille.

“I told you he was dangerous, and when you said you’d fix it so Mom wouldn’t have to be afraid, I knew if you tried to do something, he’d come after you. I’ve been watching this place ever since you came by. When I saw you go in and the doctor sneak in after, I called the police.”

“Th…”

“Don’t worry. An ambulance is on the way, and whatever he injected is in the vial on the table. By the way, no Mercy General for you. St. James Memorial is much closer. Safer too!”






Thursday, August 18, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 51: Unpaid Intern

The prompt this week was to write a sci-fi story that included the following words: Fire, DNA, corporate, student, and secret. Students sometimes work, or observe, in a particular field, often in an unpaid status, to gain knowledge or experience. I wondered if there were students in other worlds besides ours who did the same thing. I hope you enjoy my story about one such unpaid intern.

UNPAID INTERN

The fire destroyed almost every piece of equipment in the laboratory. It was difficult to extinguish, but eventually, the flames all subsided and only ashes remained. Dr. Ronald Schuster, the Laboratory Director, came very close to being overcome with smoke inhalation. I grabbed him and pushed him out of the door and into the street. I could not let him die. He is not only a brilliant scientist and physician; he is also a decent and highly moral human being. There are definitely not enough of either in the world today.

Because I hold Dr. Schuster in such high regard, I felt obligated to accompany him to the meeting with his superior, Mr. David Hargrove, Director of Research Services, at corporate headquarters. I have already attended several meetings with Mr. Hargrove presiding, and I have found him to be an honorable individual; however, his educational and professional background were focused on the commercial value of scientific research. Investing money in the search to find cures for diseases or the attempt to locate life on other planets within the galaxy is deemed noble and critical, as long as there would be profit to be gained. Mercenary as that may seem, I am not so naïve that I do not realize money is what makes the world go round.

***

“Please come in and have a seat. Ron, I hate that we have to meet under these circumstances, but what happened in your lab could have resulted in even heavier losses. Thank God you were able to get out and that the Fire Department was able to get the fire under control before the entire building exploded. Have you any idea what could have started it?”

“No Dave, I’m sorry, but I have no idea. As you know, I don’t store a lot of chemicals there, and even the ones I do are not dangerous or flammable. Another thing I don’t know is how I managed to get out of there. I remember having a hard time breathing because I was on the other side of the lab away from the door when the room began to fill with smoke. I made my way to the exit and all at once, the room was engulfed in flames. I must have tripped over something because I basically fell out of the lab onto the sidewalk. It was the strangest thing.”

“Are you sure you’re all right? I was told you didn’t even want the paramedics to check you out.”

“Yes, I’m fine. I’m just still shaken up. I know restoring everything will take time and be quite costly, but do you have a timeframe in mind for when I’d be able to resume my work?”

“Ron, the Fire Department hasn’t even finished going over everything yet. You certainly are anxious to get back to work. We are planning to set up your lab in another building as soon as possible, but there’s something important I must go over with you. The funding for your current project has been terminated by the Board, and the directive I received from them is that you are to go back to your work with DNA manipulation, or whatever that project was called.”

“Dave, you can’t be serious! You know how important my work is. Why can’t you explain to them how critical it is that I be allowed to continue?”

“Because, Ron, I don’t understand what you’re doing well enough to explain it to anyone. The Board has always been concerned that most of what you’re doing is done in secret. I mean, you won’t allow anyone to watch any of your experiments or read your notes. You want to wait until you achieve a breakthrough, but none of us can figure out what kind of a breakthrough you expect.”

“Dave, my friend, I’ve told you that I believe there are other beings all around us. I don’t mean in outer space either. I’m talking about a kind of inner space. I’m not alone in my theory; others before me have looked into this too. To put it simply, there are worlds within worlds within worlds that exist side by side. We can’t see them, but they’re there – or rather, here. I know this all sounds like a sci-fi movie script proposal, but we are only one possible dimension. There are doorways, or portals, all around us that just need to be opened. I’ve already had minor success opening several in a small way, but without warning, my equipment malfunctions and I can’t go any further.”

“My God, Ron, gateways to other worlds materialize out of thin air?”

“Of course not. Combining various types of equipment that produce sound, light and other factors help to make them accessible. It’s difficult to get too detailed about it, but you’ll have to trust me on this.”

“You know I do trust in your work. I had no idea you were this close. I’ll tell you what. For now, work in the other lab we’re going to set up for you and in the meantime, I’ll work on convincing the Board members to reestablish your funding within the foreseeable future. What we could accomplish if we could establish some type of communication highway between other dimensions and ours is beyond comprehension.”

“The doors are out there, Dave. They only need to be pushed open. Who knows what could be on the other side?”

***

I am the one who started the fire because I do know what could be on the other side. The dangerous consequences of Dr. Schuster’s type of research would not be immediately felt, but the killers would lie in wait, as killers often do, and strike without warning. The end of all living things would result soon after. The good doctor was not aware of the power he was preparing to unleash, but I knew well its magnitude. Now that I have found out the company, in the near future, might permit the good doctor to continue his research into opening random dimensional portals, I fear greatly for him and his kind.

Back home, I am a student – one of many sent here to observe and learn. In my world, we are all devotees of all branches of science. However, there are many worlds situated alongside this one, and inhabitants of all are not content to remain within their own realm. Some are extremely dangerous and not easily vanquished. Dr. Schuster’s equipment seeks not a particular doorway, but any that makes itself available. He does not know that only those who desire to maim and kill are ready and willing to cross over. I am unable to share this knowledge with him as my physical interaction with these creatures, these humans, is limited. I cannot even be seen clearly since I appear only dimly as the shimmer of heat on their asphalt on blistering summer days.

It was never my responsibility to rescue humankind from potential predators. However, since they ever seem bent on destroying themselves on a daily basis, I cannot help but feel an obligation to assist these often foolish and irresponsible beings. My time here is indeterminate. When I am notified that my assignment in this dimension will soon come to an end, I plan to assess how near my subject is to reaching his goal. If he soon will be in a position to pull the deadly ones through, I shall have to destroy him. Conscience be damned. None of us may shirk the duty that is thrust upon us. This human sector is one of the cores, and its destruction would be the death of us all. I wonder if any who reside here know just how important to the rest of us they are…




Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 50: What's Best for Father

This week, the prompt was to write a story about sisters, and the genre was drama. Sometimes, between sisters, drama is all you get.

WHAT’S BEST FOR FATHER

“Are you okay, Sarah? I expected you to arrive long before this. Did your plane have engine trouble or some other problem? These days, traveling by any means can be scary. I would hate to imagine anything bad happening to the best sister in the world.”

“Lillian, I’m the one who has the best sister in the universe. Besides, I’m fine. Nothing went wrong with the plane. We were delayed due to a storm and had a layover in some small airport for hours. I was more concerned for you having to be here alone with Father since he is so ill.”

“It’s bad enough being stuck in large airports, but in a small strip? Not much to do to pass the time, I’m sure. The important thing is that you’re okay. I was worried because I know how you get.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? How do I get?”

“Well, Sarah, you get all worked up over nothing all the time.”

“Really, Lillian? I don’t get any more worked up than you do over everything.”

“Look, the doctor called me and asked me to come since Father needs full-time care.”

“The doctor called me first and asked me to come. Father can certainly do without your kind of care.”

“My kind of care? I would care for him better than you, that’s for sure.”

“Very funny. You always were the joke of the family. I’m going to go talk to Father and you’d better stay away. He always wants to speak with me privately since he’s afraid of you.”

“You’re the one he’s terrified of – you and your big mouth. You’re always yelling and giving everyone a headache. Father told me he’s been having horrible headaches lately.”

“I’m not surprised since you’re the one who’s been here with him. I’ve only just arrived. Leave us alone. I’ll go reassure him that I won’t let you get to him. That’s always concerned him.”

“Sarah, he lives in mortal terror of you. He told me that the minute I got here. Go in there if you must, but he was resting quietly. Don’t get him all agitated. If you do, he’ll make all kinds of weird sounds and I won’t be able to hear myself think. I’ll have to give him a dose of a sedative I got from my doctor. It will put him out for a minimum of 6 hours.”

“Poor Lillian. As if you ever think about anything that matters. If he makes weird noises, it’s only because he knows you’re in the house. If I’m not able to sleep because he’s in there rambling on and on, it will be all your fault. For your information, I got a much more powerful sedative from my doctor than yours could ever prescribe. Mine will keep him quiet for at least 36.”

***

“Sarah, do you have to make so much noise making a sandwich?

“Shut up for one minute, Lillian. Did someone knock on the door?”

“Do the world a favor and shut up for an hour. Yes, someone knocked on the door. Go open it.”

“I AM opening the door. See? Mrs. Hopper. What do you want? You don’t need to check on our father anymore because my sister and I are here. I thought we made that clear with you when we called.”

“Yes, Ms. Sarah. You and Ms. Lillian made that abundantly clear. The reason I’m here now is to make sure you both were all right since your dad was found wandering alone by the train station. Someone called for an ambulance and the hospital called me since they knew I had been looking in on him. The important thing is that nothing has happened to either one of you. Apparently, he can’t be left alone for even a short period of time now. Let me know if you both need to be out and I’ll come over and sit with him.”

“Lillian, what is she talking about? For your information, Ms. Nosy Neighbor, our father is resting comfortably in his bed waiting for his lunch, which I was in the middle preparing when you so rudely interrupted me.”

“I’m going to ignore the name-calling, Ms. Sarah, because my concern is only for the welfare of your dad. I would suggest that you go and check on him because he is not resting in his bed. The nurse said a man saw your father walking back and forth across the tracks at the station, mumbling to himself. Evidently, he told the man he was waiting for the train because his weekend leave was over and needed to get back to his platoon.

“I told the hospital I would go check on his daughters who were staying with him. I’m happy to see nothing has happened to either one of you. Now, you can take offense at what I’m about to say, but I don’t care. Your dad left the house without either of you knowing about it. You ought to be ashamed. I’m going home now, but let me warn you. If he ends up coming back here with you and I find out you’re not making sure he’s safe, I’m going to call the police. Someone has to protect that poor man.”

“Close the door, Lillian. This woman has crossed the line for the last time. I’m going to check on Father.”

***

“Lillian, my God, that old biddy was right. Father’s not in his room. She said he was walking back and forth across the train tracks. When I think of what could have happened, it makes me sick to my stomach. What if he had been hit by the train? What if some nasty people had taken advantage and robbed him and beat him up? There’s no way he could defend himself against something like that.”

“I know, Sarah. It’s frightening. He thought he was back in the Army. That poor old man walked all the way into town to the train station. It’s a blessing that he wasn’t hit by a car walking along the road like that. All that talk when I got here first about his bad headaches mixing him up meant something serious was going on, but you didn’t do anything about it, did you?”

“What do you mean ‘all that talk when you got here first’? You know my plane was delayed due to weather. I got here as quickly as I could after his doctor called me. Father told me about his headaches too; although, he went into much more detail with me than you because he knew I’d understand since I’m not as self-centered as you are. Wait. I didn’t do anything about it? What stopped you? See. All you think about is you. At least, I was making his lunch. Where were you? Sitting with your feet up?”

“Yes, you bitch. This trip has been hard on me coming all the way from Phoenix. You were making him lunch? Big deal. What do you want – a medal? Didn’t you hear him leave? That’s it. I’m taking him back with me. There’s a nice facility that’s twenty minutes from where I live.”

“Bitch? Me? Look at the lazy skank talk so big. He’s coming back to Boston with me. I can get him admitted into a care home immediately that’s ten minutes from my house.”

“We’ll just see. I’m going to Mercy to make arrangements.”

“You’d better let me have him because I’ll put him in a better place than you ever could.”

“You wouldn’t know a better place if it bit you on the ass. I want what’s best for MY father.”

“I want what’s best for MY father.”

“Sarah, I’ll drive so you don’t add miles on your rented car.”

“That would be great, Lillian. Thanks tons for helping me save on the charges.”