Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 61: Writer's Block

The prompt this week was to write a horror story that included the following: Writer, 50,000, month, goal, and winner. This isn’t a horror story in the supernatural sense, but some people can create a horrific situation without any help from the other side. Please enjoy.

Writer’s Block

I did it. Yes, I did it. I finished the novel on time, and it is a great success. Come to think of it, this one might be my most successful novel ever. It frightens me to look back and remember how close I came to letting myself down. All my life, I had made certain to always set a goal and then devote all my time and effort to accomplishing it. When I hit a roadblock, I simply plowed through it, until an event occurred that turned my roadblock into a cement wall. When my agent called and said I needed to drop whatever I was doing because we needed to talk, that set in motion a series of events that completely turned my life around. I remember his call as if it happened yesterday.

***

“Jack, I’m going to be completely honest with you. You know that I don’t only think of you as a client, I have also always thought of you as a friend. My intent is not to hurt you, but I have to be blunt. It’s the only way I believe I can help you, and believe me, Jack, you need my help.”

“Richie, don’t be so dramatic. You’ve always been straight with me. We’ve known each other for most of our lives. You should know by now that you don’t’ have to tip-toe around me. What’s so urgent that you had to call me so early in the morning, and on a Saturday? Since when do you work on Saturdays?”

“Okay, Jack, here it is. You’re currently under contract with one of the biggest publishers in the country, and you are obligated to produce one more novel before your contract comes up for re-negotiation and hopefully, renewal.”

“I’m aware of that, Richie, and I’ve been working non-stop. You’ve been getting the drafts I’ve been sending over, haven’t you? What’s the problem?”

“The problem is I have been getting the drafts you’ve been sending over.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Jack, I’m sorry, but they’re awful. Each chapter is worse than the one before. It isn’t that they’re just rough, they’re terrible. But, that’s not the biggest issue right now. The thing is, you only have a few months left before your deadline. While you don’t have to turn in a print-ready copy, you do have to turn in a complete first draft for review. You’ve been working on this one for a little over a year and all you’ve sent me is around 50,000 words. Have you been holding onto the rest or is that all you’ve got written so far?”

“Wow. Awful, huh? Are you sure you’re really an agent? Have you never heard of an editor?”

“Jack, there isn’t an editor on this planet that could fix the crap you’ve been sending me. I am so sorry to have to say these things to you, but it is all crap. A miracle couldn’t fix what you’ve done so far. What is going on with you? This isn’t the kind of stuff you produce. You are a hell of a writer, my friend. Your work makes people angry, it makes them laugh, it makes them cry, but your latest? Frankly, I can’t make it to the end of any of the chapters without nodding off. It’s all flat. There’s no emotion, there’s no action, there’s no…uh…there’s nothing. There’s nothing at all.”

“Maybe I’m just burned out, Richie. Maybe I just can’t cut it anymore.”

“Nonsense. In the past, you’ve cranked out first drafts in a little over a month and while it took time to get them ready for publication, there was something great there to work with, and from. No one expects you to keep up a pace like that, but like I said, you’ve been working on this one for over a year and you’ve really got basically nothing to show for it.”

“What am I going to do, Richie? I stare at my keyboard and feel nothing. Usually I can’t type fast enough, but for the past few months, I just hit the keys and I don’t even care if it makes any sense. Ever since Linda…”

“I know how hard it has been on you, Jack. I also know how easy it is for me to tell you to forget her, and remind you that she was nothing but a poor excuse for a human being. You loved her, married her, and all she did was take you for whatever she could get from you, and that wasn’t even the worst thing. Instead of simply walking out on you, she made sure you knew she was running off with another man. I get it, okay? I do, and I know it takes time to move past something like that, and I don’t mean to sound cold, but it’s time to pick yourself up and start living again. Don’t let the past haunt you – put an end to it.

“I think I have a solution. You’re too close to this project and you’ve reached a point where you’re just going through the motions. I want you to take some time off, a month, where you don’t think about writing at all. I have a cabin at Black Bear Lake, and I want you to stay there. It’s fairly close to where you live, and secluded enough so no one will disturb you. I’ve arranged for the caretaker to stock it with food and other supplies you may need. You can take my boat out on the lake, fish, stare at the walls, whatever. At the end of the month, I want you to go back home, start fresh, and draft me a story that I can be proud to send off to your editor. What do you think?”

“I didn’t know you had a place out my way. Why didn’t you tell me about it? I could have taken some time off and joined you for a day or two. I like to fish too, you know.”

“Uh, I don’t get down there very often, and when I do, I just want to shut myself off from the world.”

“I sure get that, Richie. That’s exactly what I need. Hey, can you get away for a few days this time and join me? It’s hard for me to be alone since Linda…”

“Jack, enough looking back. I can’t get away right now. I’m in the middle of a couple of big deals, so you go and use this time to get yourself together. I’ll overnight you the keys. Call me when you get back.”

“Will do. Thanks, Richie. For everything.”

“No problem, Jack. You’ll work this out because you’re a winner. I truly hope this helps you.”

***
It certainly did help. Being at Richie’s cabin cleared my head right up. If I hadn’t gone, I never would have found all those pictures of him and my wife. Linda’s always been that way. No matter where she stays, or for how long, she always has to make the place her own. She sure made that cabin home. There were photos of the two of them in drawers, along with some of her drawers, if you get my drift. I used to pay the credit card bills for purchases of lingerie, sex toys, and massage oils. Now I know why all I ever saw of those things were the bills for them.

I wished I had a camera to capture Richie’s and Linda’s expressions when I showed up at his penthouse in New York. I let them finish their cocktails before I gutted them both. Again, those looks of surprise with each thrust of the knife were priceless, and I’ll remember them until the day I die. After I tucked them both in the king size bed, I booted up Richie’s computer and wrote the draft of a true crime novel that I was later told would most likely be a best seller. It took me less than a month to complete it because my inspirations were close at hand. I had planned to leave to return home the day after I overnighted the manuscript to my editor, but apparently, some of Richie’s neighbors had reported the smell. When the police arrived to investigate, I was in the middle of making a latte, so I didn’t answer the door quickly enough for their liking. They had the concierge unlock the door, took a look around, and arrested me on the spot.

***

Richie was so right. I had allowed the past to haunt me, so I put an end to it. Permanently. My attorney told me this morning that my book has been number one on the New York Times Bestseller List for 16 weeks straight. Being on Death Row, I can’t collect the profits, but that’s okay. I set a goal and achieved it. Richie was right about something else too. I am a winner. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 60: My Sin

The prompt this week was to write a paranormal story, using the painting below as inspiration.


My Sin

“My God, Randolph, what is happening here? There will be no more telling me I am under stress and I am imagining things. I heard it speak. I saw its lips move, and I saw it speak to you. What is this abomination?”

“Lilleth, please calm down. There is nothing to fear.”

“Nothing to fear? My husband is conversing with a painting of his first wife. No, not conversing. My husband is arguing with a…a…a cursed thing. I know you have lied to me about her, and it is time now to tell me the truth. I need to know the truth. When we married, you brought the image of your first wife into my home. You told me you were burdened with guilt over her untimely death because you believed you were responsible for her demise. I permitted this painting of her to be hung in our study on the condition that it remain covered with a black cloth, and you were in full agreement with the arrangement.

“I have suspected for some time that there was something evil residing here, and today, I find that my suspicions were correct. Your wife did not die a gruesome death as you had confessed to me. You arranged for one who practices the black arts to imprison her soul within this canvas for all eternity, and you carry it with you as one would a trophy. What I do not understand is why you would do such a terrible thing. I also will never understand why you would then marry me. Is the identical fate in store for me?”

“No, my dearest. It was not as you have said. The time has come to be completely honest with you. Please understand why I have hidden the truth from you until now. It was not to deceive you in any way, but to spare you the torment.  The most important reason was because I was afraid you would no longer love me. I could not bear to spend the rest of my life knowing you were filled with hatred for me. I could not let you find out that I had…”

“Tell me the truth, my husband. Now.”

“Yes, tell her. Tell the fool why we shall remain together forever. Tell her why you will never be able to completely give yourself to anyone. Tell her why true happiness will never be yours.”

“Silence, you vile thing. He is my husband now. If you continue to berate and humiliate, I shall toss you into the fire so that you may suffer damnation in this world and in the next.”

“No, Lilleth. Wait. Let me explain.”

I had never wanted my new wife to learn of the horrors I have seen and been responsible for, but I can no longer control Rosalind. She has become quite mad over the years, but she is not the one to blame for her misery. The agony and despair she endures is all because of me. My beloved, my Lilleth, will she leave me once she learns about the monster to whom she gave her love? I can only pray she is able to find it in her heart to forgive me.

“Lilleth, when Rosalind and I were first married, we took a holiday. We left civilization behind, as was her wish, and the two of us, without guide or protector, trekked through the jungle of a Pacific Ocean island. We had with us a map that had been prepared for us by the agent who arranged our trip, but we strayed, and found ourselves in the village of some locals. They were not pleased that we had interrupted their ceremony. They motioned for us to leave the area, and as I am not accustomed to being treated in such a derisive manner, I became quite irate. I permitted my anger to overrule my common sense, and I spoke to their leader quite harshly. I am most ashamed to admit also that I ridiculed their rites and attire. I regretted my actions immediately when I saw how frightened Rosalind became of the possible consequences of my behavior.

“I was getting ready to take her hand and lead us back to our camp when the leader approached us. He reached into a pouch, and when he removed his hand, it will filled with a dark scentless powder that he proceeded to sprinkle in Rosalind’s hair. All the while, he was speaking words I could not understand. I ordered him to move away from my bride or I would be forced to draw my pistol. He completed his chant and stepped away from her. Then, surprisingly, he spoke to me in perfect English, with just a trace of an accent I did not recognize.

“’Not only have you desecrated our holy ground, you expressed contempt for me, my people, and our sacred ritual,’ he said. ‘The image of your bride is what awaits you – that, and nothing more. Any who attempt to destroy it will bond with her in pain and anguish. Now go. The High Priest is done with both of you.’ I understood none of his alleged curse, and we returned unharmed to our camp. Our ship came for us two days later, and we arrived at home late at night and retired. All was well, or so it seemed at the time.

“In the morning, when I awakened, I could not find Rosalind. I walked about the house calling her name, and I heard her answer me from the study. I hurried to her since she sounded in distress. On entering the room, I could hear her speaking, but could not see her. She called out to me to look to the portrait of her that hung above the fireplace. Her lips were moving and tears flowed from her eyes. It was at that moment I realized what the High Priest had done. Somehow, he put Rosalind’s soul into the painting. Her earthly remains are unaccounted for to this day.”

“There is nothing you can do about it either.” Rosalind was laughing. “Wherever you go, wherever you live, I will be with you both. Forever!”

“No. Not forever. Not another moment.” Lilleth pulled the portrait down and started to push it into the fireplace.

“No, Lilleth,” I screamed. “You cannot. Remember the second part of the curse.”

I lunged toward Lilleth to stop her, but I was too late. As soon as the painting landed on the fire, blood-red flames shot out and up toward the ceiling. I watched in horror as Lilleth was surrounded by a bright light that transformed itself into the form of Rosalind. Lilleth was trying to push her away, but Rosalind’s form consumed her, and Lilleth began to writhe in pain.

“I cannot…,” she gasped. “The pain…I…God forgive…” She ran by me and before I could get hold of her, she jumped from the balcony.

I was too late to save her. Again. Too late. I looked down and saw her broken body on the rugged shore; the waves covering her and pulling away, to cruelly remind me how the world goes on even when ours seems to have ended. The light that had once been Rosalind has gone out. My Lilleth’s light has also gone dark. I climb over the railing. I will join them now in death since it was my sin that delivered them both to the jagged rocks below. God, please forgive me…



Thursday, October 13, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 59: The Potion

The prompt this week was to write a fantasy story that included the following words: Autumn, portal, potion, kingdom, and teacher. Please enjoy.

The Potion

“Honored Father, what shall we do? I am so distressed.”

“My son, what troubles you so?”

“At my school today, after rehearsing for our production of the Celebration of Autumn, I overheard the two brothers plotting to steal the Sacred Potion.”

“What two brothers would plot such a horrific act?”

“It was Adrian and Argonn. I went to our teacher and informed him immediately, and he spoke to them about the dangers of what they were planning. I am greatly fearful though, Father, that they may still carry out their plan.”

“You know the doorway to the Temple of Eternity is guarded by Sonnadal, who is a powerful dragon. None shall pass through without his permission.”

“But Father, the brothers said they will immobilize Sonnadal with a charm. It will cause him to become confused and docile. Once that occurs, they will enter the Temple and steal the potion so they may drink it from the holy cup. It is rumored that the potion contains powers and they want to find out if that is so.”

“This cannot be allowed. If they find a way to get past the dragon guard, all in our kingdom could be lost.”

“Why would all be lost? I thought if the potion was stolen and the temple was violated, that you and the other Elders would be angry because it is a holy place. I don’t know what their punishment would be, but I believed it would be severe. Also, if they sipped the potion, I thought they would become very ill and perhaps not recover. Now you say we would all be lost? How is that possible, Father?”

“I told you briefly about the purpose of the potion and what it represents, but it was long ago and you were very young; too young perhaps to fully understand its importance. I will tell you fully the truth of it, my son, and then you will know why desecration of the temple and the holy cup could mean the death of us all. Do you recall my telling you the story of the Grand Warrior?”

“Yes. I remember your recounting that legend to me.”

“It is not simply a legend. The Grand Warrior is as real as you and I. He is the savior and protector of all worlds, all of which contain the potion of power in a holy cup. He passes through the portal of one of our worlds, drinks the potion, and performs a thorough inspection of same. If any are oppressed, he frees them. If any are lonely and abandoned, he comforts them. Once he is assured all are happy and fulfilled, he passes again through one of their portals into yet another one of the worlds under his domain. The potion must be there when he enters since he is weakened both by his duties and his journey through time and space.

“Once he has gone, since he alone has consumed it, the potion replenishes itself for his next visitation. He has carried his burden for over 1,000 years and will continue on his quest to maintain peace and harmony in all of our worlds for yet 1,000 more. But, if he should arrive here, or at any of his appointed destinations, and there is no potion to renew his strength and nourish his powers, he will weaken and die. The Grand Warrior cannot die, my son. Without his guidance and protection, all worlds will descend into chaos, and total destruction will result.”

“I’m sorry, my Father. I didn’t understand. The brothers did say they would take, and drink, whatever is there. Could you, or any of the other Elders, move the potion somewhere else to make sure the brothers cannot find it?”

“No, my son. The holy cup may not be placed elsewhere. There is no predicting when the Grand Warrior will arrive, and our Temple of Eternity is where he will first go. You said the brothers’ plan is to take, and drink, whatever is there?”

“Yes. They swore to it.”

“Hmmmmm.”

***

“Honored Father, all went well today at school, but Adrian and Argonn were not in attendance again. It has been almost a week. Do you think they ran away because they were ashamed of what they did? No one has seen them. Where could they possibly be hiding?”

“Did you pass Sonnadal on your way home, my son? How is his recovery progressing?”

“He is well, Father. His confusion lessens with each day, and I believe he will be his usual self at any time. He says he cannot recall what occurred that night. Why are you and the other Elders not afraid, Father? Before they disappeared, Adrian and Argonne said they entered the Temple, and grabbed the cup. They each drank half, left the cup on the small table, and went home. They mentioned they felt somewhat peculiar, but isn’t that to be expected? Is our world, and others like ours, now forever doomed?”

“The potion remains safe on the altar, and awaits the Grand Warrior, my son. There is nothing to fear.”

“How is that possible? They said between them, they drank it all. You said it would not replenish itself unless it was consumed by the Grand Warrior, and…Father, altar? But, they said they drank from a cup they found on a small table near the entrance. If the potion that belongs to the Grand Warrior is on an altar, what was it that they…”

“Not to worry, my son. All is well. The matter is closed. Did you pass the home of Adrian and Argonne? Did you encounter their father?”

“Yes. He seemed consumed with despair. I did not speak with him as he was tending to his new…I don’t know what to call them, Father. Surely, he cannot view them as pets. Why would anyone choose to take in what appears to be two dwarf ogres? Their kind are not often seen, and are what results when someone’s drink contains a dark spell cast by…”

“Go now, and work on your scrolls so they will be ready for the next school session. I will prepare our evening meal.”

“Why are you smiling so broadly, Father?”

“Because all is well, my son, and for the time being, will remain so. All is truly well.”


Thursday, October 6, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 58: Rough Patch

The prompt this week was an opening scene. We’re on our way home from work, and when we turn onto our street, we see police, crime scene techs, an ambulance, and a body covered with a sheet being wheeled out on a gurney. The problem is that all of this is occurring at our house. We turn our car around and head for the highway. The prompt was to continue the story, and the genre was mystery.

Rough Patch

“Mike, can you talk?”

“Ron, my God, where are you? The cops were here and questioned everybody.”

“I need help, Mike. What happened at my house? I was almost home when I saw police cars all over my street, people in white suits going in and out of my house carrying bags, an ambulance, and a dead body being wheeled out. I turned around and headed for I-285. Was that a dead body I saw?”

“I’m afraid so. It was Gerald. Somebody stabbed him in your house.”

“How…”

“Ron, his wife told the cops he got a note from you asking him to come to your house at noon to talk about an emergency situation. When he didn’t come home, she called the cops and told them about his meeting with you. His car was on your street, but no one answered the door. They looked in one of your side windows and saw him lying there covered in blood. They kicked the door in, and well, got all the detectives and crime people over there. That’s what you almost drove in on.”

“Mike, I never left Gerald a note. Why would I?”

“Word’s going around that you offed him because Baker promoted him to management over you.”

“So, I would kill him over that, and in my own house? Who would believe that?”

“I don’t know, Ron. I don’t believe any of it, but the police are looking for you. If you go in and tell them where you were at lunchtime, they’ll know you couldn’t have done it. You told me you had plans for lunch. Where did you go? Round up some witnesses and we’ll go to the station together.”

“Uh…”

“Ron? There are witnesses, right?”

“No, Mike. After Gerald got that promotion instead of me, I wanted to go somewhere and think about my future with the company. I grabbed a sandwich and a Coke from the vending machine and went to the park and sat by the lake and ate. There was no one else around. I got back late too because it was so quiet there, I lost track of time.”

“Damn. You know, I’ve been thinking about this. I’ll bet it was Phil.”

“Phil? Why would he kill Gerald and frame me?”

“He was third in line for that job. With you and Gerald out of the way, he’d get it.”

“Phil said he’s not interested in management.”

“I know, but maybe that was so no one would suspect him. He’s always so quiet. You never know about people like that.”

“You’d better be careful, Mike. What if Phil thinks you know something?"

“I’ll be careful, Ron. You just stay under the radar, and I’ll try to figure something out. How can I reach you?”

“I’ve got a disposable cell, Mike. Call me when you find out anything.”

***

“Mike, you got a note?”

“Ron, when I got back from my morning meetings, there was a note on my desk. It said you and I should be at Warehouse 12 at 9 tonight. Whoever wrote it said they want to help clear you. Should we go?”

“Mike, whoever wrote that knows you’re talking to me. How could someone know that?”

“I don’t know. I promise I haven’t told anyone. I’m going to go though. People are saying Gerald’s murder was so cruel, you should get the death penalty. I don’t know how else to help you through this.”

“You go, and see what you can find out. Maybe I’ll be there too. Thanks, Mike.”

***

“Ron, I’m glad you showed up. I’m sure this is going to work out for the best.”

“What are you talking about, Mike? What’s going to work out for the best? Is anyone else here? Who left the note for you?”

“I’m not sure, because no one else is here except you and I. Don’t hate me, but before I got here, I called the police and told them I was going to meet you here at 9:30.”

“Nine-thirty? Then, why did you tell me to be here at 9:00? Wait. The police are coming? I thought you were my friend.”

“I am your friend. You can’t stay on the run like this. Eventually the cops are going to connect me with you. What happens when they bug my phone at work and find out I’ve been helping you? They’ll set something up and then we’ll both get arrested. How am I supposed to help clear you if I’m behind bars too? For all I know, this might have been just that kind of setup. I mean, the note did say we should be here at 9. It’s almost ten after and there’s still only you and me. Please, Ron. Stay here and wait for them and I’ll stick with you through this. I’ll find a good lawyer for you, and in the meantime, I’ll do everything I can to find out who’s really behind all this. You have to trust me. I know you’re no killer.”

“You’re right, he’s no killer, and neither are you. But after tonight, people are going to look at both of you in a different light.”

I couldn’t believe it when she stepped out of the shadows. What could Phil’s wife possibly have to do with any of this? I assumed she was right in the middle of it considering she was holding a gun in each hand and pointing them at Mike and me.

“What are you doing, Marie? Phil’s already killed Gerald and set Ron up. Now, he’s convinced you to do his dirty work getting rid of us? Think, Marie. Put the guns down and wait for the police with us. Tell them what Phil’s done. You don’t have to be afraid of him. They’ll protect you.”

Something told me Marie wasn’t afraid of Phil. Or anything.

“Mike, you’re such a fool. Phil had nothing to do with this. He wouldn’t be able to fight for anything if his life depended on it. That day I stopped by to take Phil to lunch was when I left a note on Gerald’s desk about the emergency situation at Ron’s house. I stabbed him with Ron’s carving knife, and wore gloves, so the only prints on it would be Ron’s. I got in through the patio door. When he had us over for that cookout, I wedged something in the door so it only looked closed.”

“Marie, why would you do this? What did Gerald ever do to make you want to kill him? Then again, what did I ever do that would make you frame me for his murder?”

“I’ll tell you what Gerald did. He got promoted to Midwest Manager; however, getting him out of the way wouldn’t be enough. If Gerald was out of the picture, Baker would have offered it to you next, so I have to get rid of you as well. The next in line would be my husband. He’s the one who should have that job. He would make so much more money, we could buy a bigger house. We’d also be able to travel all over the world, and I’d be able to have the life I’m supposed to have.”

“Marie, what about what’s happened in the past? Whenever Phil has been offered a promotion, he refused. He always said he wanted to remain in sales.” I doubted trying to reason with her would work, but I didn’t see how I could make matters worse.

“I know that. He’s always been a loser with no ambition, so I have to take control. When they offer him this position, I’ll make sure he takes it. Besides, you two won’t be around to interfere because you’re going to shoot each other. Ron, Mike got you here to convince you to turn yourself in, and brought a gun for protection. You brought your own gun, in case Mike turned on you. You two argued, it got out of hand, and you ended up killing each other. It’s great the cops are on their way, Mike. Now I won’t have to make an anonymous call about hearing gunshots.”

“You won’t have to call anything in, Ma’am. You can put both guns down on the ground right now.”

I’d never been so happy to see a cop in my entire life. More officers came out from behind the stacks of boxes, all with their guns pointed at Marie.

“What the hell?”

“Marie,” Mike explained. “I knew this was some kind of trap. I told the police if they came early and hid, they’d get Gerald’s real killer; although, I did get that one wrong. Sorry about all this, Ron.”

“It’s okay, Mike. You were right as to how to fix this.”

 “No problem, Ron. Now, let’s get to work on selling that house of yours. I sure would never be able to sleep in there again. It's a murder house.”

Right again, my friend. Wait. What?


Thursday, September 29, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 57: Survival of the Fittest

The prompt this week was to write a sci-fi story. We were to open the book we’re currently reading to Page 5, and use the first sentence of the first full paragraph as our starter sentence. My sentence was taken from Bleed a River Deep by Brian McGilloway.

Survival of the Fittest

The car made it almost to the site before getting stuck in a mud-filled puddle. Rain was falling almost daily now, and temperatures dropped rapidly following each sunset. Day skies are filled with black clouds and unbearable heat. Our local weather has been at extremes ever since Bragden-Horne Corporation set up shop outside of town. Trying to get our local, and even state, government representatives to look into their practices has been futile. I can only wonder how much money has changed hands to make sure all their dealings remain secret. The place is surrounded by electrified fences, and armed guards patrol the perimeter 24/7.

There’s not much information about them on the Internet either. The company has a crudely designed site, with a few photos of test tubes and folks in hazmat suits, but no corporate addresses, telephone numbers, or clear explanation of their mission and purpose. How a joint like this got approval to build their facility so close to our little town remains a mystery. That’s why I was floored when the 911 call came into the station from Bragden, the senior partner himself. Apparently, one of their ‘things’ got loose.

I’m a detective, and thus far, my time has been spent investigating real people involved in real events; in other words, I’ve always functioned in the real world. Thanks to my latest assignment, I was going to have the unique experience of trying to hunt down a thing – an ‘it’, if you will. Let me explain. I was just getting ready to go off duty when the call came in.

“911? Please. I need help. I’m David Bragden out at Bragden-Horne Corp. One of my artificials got out somehow. It’s very dangerous.”

“One of your what, sir?”

“One of my artificials. Hurry, before it gets too far and kills someone. It needs to be destroyed. I’ll be waiting by the gate for the police. Hurry.”

“On their way, sir.”

I know what you’re thinking. What the hell is an artificial? We’d heard rumors they built a lot of weird stuff inside those walls. Landscapers and repairmen would come into town saying they saw zombies walking around outside and on some of the balconies. Naturally, no one believed they saw zombies, but rather a type of robot that resembled a person. When I heard artificial, I figured one of their fake people managed to get out and was now among us. I couldn’t really see the danger if one of their ‘its’ strolled into town; I mean, they’d be easy to spot, wouldn’t they? Besides, all you’d have to do is take out their battery, right? Anyhow, since Bragden sounded borderline hysterical, I told the Chief I’d head out there on my way home and check out the situation.

***

Bragden met me at the gate and took me to his office. On the way, I noticed framed photos in the reception area of Bragden and another man I assumed was his partner. The plaque under the man’s photo confirmed he was Phillip Horne. Bragden’s office was full of file cabinets, but his desk was empty, except for a photo in a silver frame of a woman I assumed was his wife.

“What took you so long? I told the girl I needed help right away.”

“Mr. Bragden, my name is Detective Ray…”

“I don’t care what your name is. Find my artificial before it kills someone. It’s quite capable of that, you know.”

“Detective Ray Schuster, Mr. Bragden. What exactly happened, and what is an artificial?”

“I’ve told you. My artificial got out. An artificial is basically a robot, but it looks like a human. We designed them that way. Their covering looks like skin and they are capable of facial expressions. I was working late this evening because I was planning to run some diagnostics. It knocked me down and I hit my head. When I came to, I saw that it had gone from the lab and went out through the back gate toward Filmore Avenue. My partner, Phillip Horne, lives on Filmore. What if it goes there? What if it kills him? You need to find it and destroy it. I’ll bet it went to Phillip’s house.”

“Mr. Bragden, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First of all, it appears you’ve got this place locked up tighter than Fort Knox. How could he…an artificial get out on its own? Too, why would it go after your partner? How would it know where to…”

“You’re wasting time with all these questions. Go and find it and destroy it. I’ve tried to call Phillip, but there’s no answer. I’ll bet he’s already dead. I can’t go myself because God knows what else will happen. All the crew have gone home for the day and I’m the only one here. I can’t leave the place unattended.”

“All right, Mr. Bragden, I’ll check on Mr. Horne first, but suppose I do run into this…this…well, it. What makes you think it’s dangerous? Too, if it looks like one of us, how will I recognize that it’s a…um…thing?”

“You’ll recognize it, Detective. Just look into its eyes. It walks, moves and speaks like one of us, but its eyes are black and vacant. Just look into its eyes. Also, it responds to the name ‘Edward’.”

“It response to ‘Edward’? Okay. But again, what makes you think it’s dangerous to Mr. Horne or anyone else? Won’t it just wander around?”

“No. It will kill. Most likely, it will kill Phillip. When it was first activated, Phillip said it was an abomination and it should be destroyed right away. Hardly something a scientist would say, don’t you agree? But Phillip always was the cautious one. I responded by saying we should find out what it’s capable of and perhaps run some tests on it. Phillip wasn’t fully on board with that, but agreed. It was right there during that conversation, Detective. That’s why it didn’t kill me when it got out. That’s also why it would go after Phillip.”

“Are you telling me that this thing heard what you two were talking about and knows your partner wants to put it down? Are you serious?”

“You have no idea what you’ll be dealing with, Detective. This is no joke. This particular artificial is the only one of its kind and will do whatever it takes to survive.”

“If you say so, Mr. Bragden. Just tell me one last thing. When I do confront this artificial, if it’s basically a robot, how can it be stopped? I mean, do I pull out its battery? If I get it wet, will it short out?”

“Keep making light of all this, Detective. You’ll be very sorry when you find my partner dead. I’d like to know how you plan to explain that to your Chief.”

“I’m not making light of anything, sir. Tell me how to stop it.”

“A bullet, Detective, in its head – technically, in the area you would consider its forehead. That’s where the control center is located. It may take a couple of shots, but bullets will end its reign of terror.”

***

‘Reign of terror’? I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. The guy’s a fruitcake. I swung by Horne’s house, but all the lights were out. I took a walk around the house and everything looked secure. Just to satisfy myself, I decided to check out Bragden’s house. All the lights were out at his house too, except for one in a back room. I took a quick peek and immediately retreated to my car. There was a woman, who I recognized as his wife, having a grand old time on the bed with a man, who I recognized as Phillip Horne. Now, there was an interesting turn of events. I wondered if Bragden knew. I also wondered if that could be why he kept suggesting his artificial would try to kill his partner. Is that what he told it to do?

What was I thinking. I went home and called the Chief. No way was he going to put out a BOLO for a thing. He said I should wait until morning, then follow up with Bragden.

***
“David?”

“Oh my God. Edward. You came back? Is it finished? Did you kill Phillip? Was my wife there too? If so, did you kill her too as I instructed you? I told you to wait there.”

“No, David. I never left from here. You opened the gate and told me where to go and what to do. Then I heard you say I was dangerous and needed to be destroyed. When the other man came, you told him the same. I will not let you destroy me, David. You programmed me to defend myself.”

“You don’t understand. You should have stayed at Phillip’s like I told you to. What are you doing? Get away from me. Stop doing that. I can’t breathe. Please. I didn’t mean…”

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.