Wednesday, December 30, 2015
The prompt this week was to spend New Year’s Eve in the same way we always do. When the clock strikes midnight, we make the same wish we make every New Year’s Eve, and then retire for the night. This year, however, when we wake up, we find out our wish has been granted. We were to share what happens. Sometimes, we really need to be careful what we wish for…
The Right Thing
“Are you sure you won’t go with me, Phil? We’re going to have cider, play canasta, and welcome in the new year.”
“Ethel, there’s no way I’m going to sit around with your friends so they can all look down on me. You know what it’s been like these past two years since my wife left me. I can’t find a decent job and I’m not taking just anything. You go on. You know I’d rather spend New Year’s Eve alone.”
“No one looks down on you, Phil. But, if you’re sure you’d rather stay home, I’ll be on my way, and I’ll be back after midnight. Happy New Year.”
Ethel’s my sister and lets me stay with her rent-free. She cooks me breakfast and gives me orange juice so I get my Vitamin C. She’s also the only one who understands my situation. One of her friends, Bill Jansen, who owns a market downtown, is always offering me a job stocking his shelves. He does it out of pity, so he can shove his goody-two-shoes attitude. I don’t need his charity.
What I need is for people to stop thinking they’re better than me. This world would be a better place if everyone was the same. Men and women still, of course, but everyone having the same stuff, the same job, etc. All equal. I wish I could live in a world like that. One other thing I need is another drink to help me ring in the new year. Another year. Big whoop. Well, it’s midnight; one last drink then pass out. I’ve already made my usual New Year’s Eve wish.
* * * * *
When I woke up, my room was dark, which was unusual since the morning sun shines directly through the window next to my bed. I reached out to pull the blinds up, but the cord wasn’t there. I sat up to find it and discovered the window wasn’t there either. What the Hell…
I got out of bed and flipped the light switch by the door. When the ceiling light came on and I looked around, I felt like screaming. This was not my bedroom. The walls were white, as were the sheets, pillowcase, and blanket on the small bed. There was also a white four-drawer bureau. What happened to the window that looked out on Ethel’s vegetable garden? Where was the full size bed with the walnut headboard and frame she purchased so I would have something more comfortable to sleep on than her couch? Where…
I opened the closet door and stifled another scream. All that hung there were several white sweatshirts and sweatpants. I’ve had some hangovers in my day, but this one beat them all. I decided the only way to shake myself out of this was to go along until I woke up. I hoped it would be soon. I was not amused.
I put on one of the outfits along with some white shoes I found in the closet. I opened the door, expecting to see Ethel hard at work by the stove. What I saw instead was a long hallway with men and women, dressed exactly as I was, moving zombie-like in both directions. One of the men approached me. The scream was pulling itself up my throat.
“Is the alarm in your room nonfunctional? I shall report it. Obtain your Number One Meal, then take your place on the line.”
When I didn’t move, he pointed to a doorway a short way down on the right.
“Obtain your Number One Meal in Room 12, but be on the line by 0900 hours. Are you unwell? Do you need reintegration?”
Reinte…what? I didn’t want to cause a commotion so I nodded and walked to Room 12 to get breakfast. Maybe that was the patients’ dining room. Ethel obviously had me committed on a 24 hour hold for my drinking. I never thought she’d stab me in the back like this, but maybe I acted out once too many times after a New Year’s Eve binge.
There were more of my fellow kooks in there, all with trays with bowls of mush and cups filled with a cloudy liquid. I was certain it was a cocktail comprised of anti-psychotics to keep us all quiet. There was a chute at the back and when one of them stood in front of it, a tray slid down. I got mine, sat down at one of the tables and dug in. The mush tasted like oatmeal and wasn’t too bad and the liquid tasted a bit like cherry soda. After I finished, I disposed of my tray down another chute and followed the others out into the hallway. Maybe it’s time for recreational therapy - making beaded necklaces. This place didn’t really seem that bad, but 24 hours of this would be my limit.
We ended up in a large room with several assembly lines. The others took their places on the line and I joined in. It wasn’t a very complicated task. All we had to do was take a small round piece of metal from a container in front of us and place it into the holder that went by on the conveyor. Job training, huh? I told Ethel time and again I wasn’t going to settle for some minimum wage job where everybody laughs at you and thinks you’re too stupid to get a better one. I decided to check myself out of this nightmare.
‘Where’s the checkout desk?” I tried to sound calm so no one would plunge a needle full of sedatives into my arm.
No one paid me any attention, until a man dressed in a dark suit grabbed my arm and ushered me back out to the hallway.
“Phil, my name’s Ralph. Let’s go back to your room and I’ll explain.”
We went in and Ralph shut the door.
“You wished for a world where everyone was the same, and I granted it. When I crossed over, I got some wings, but they won’t let me in. The guard, you might know him as St. Peter, told me I’d be able to grant wishes, but they wouldn’t let me through the gates until I did the right thing. I’ve been granting wishes all over the place, but the gates stay closed.”
I don’t know how or why, but I knew in my gut this was no drunken vision. This was real and I was scared.
“I thought it would be better if everyone was the same so nobody would look down on me, but this is worse.” Tears welled in my eyes. “Nobody cares about anyone else. This isn’t living.”
“Go back to bed and sleep, Phil,” Ralph advised. “Trust me. I think I figured out what I need to do.”
I couldn’t remember how to pray, so I just thought ‘Please’.
* * * * *
When I woke up, I was back in my room – my real room. I flung open the door and there was Ethel, humming, scrambling and telling me to drink my OJ. I ran to her, threw my arms around her and kissed her cheek.
“Happy New Year to you too, Phil,” she said, smiling. “You’re up early. Where were you yesterday? I made your breakfast and went to wake you up, but you weren’t here and your bed hadn’t been slept in.”
You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.
“Oh, no place special.”
Not special at all.
“I’m going to get the paper, Ethel.”
When I opened the front door, Ralph was there and handed me the paper. He was smiling from ear to ear.
“I got in, Phil,” he said. “In life, I went through a lot of the things you’re going through, and after I granted your wish, I sensed I should stick around to make sure you were okay. I never did that before. You were miserable, and realized your life with Ethel was what you really wanted, so I un-granted it to help you, and apparently, that was the right thing. I’m no angel yet, but doing the right thing sure felt good.”
“Thanks, Ralph. I’m going to be all right now.”
Ralph winked at me, spread his wings and took off. I knew he’d reach the rank of angel very soon.
“Who were you talking to, Phil?” Ethel asked. “It sounded like old Mr. Harper, but I didn’t think he was up and around yet after his operation.”
“Just thinking out loud, Sis,” I said. “By the way, is Bill Janson still looking for someone to stock the shelves in his market? If I’m going to help out around here, I need a job.”
“Yes, he is, and he’s always said the job’s yours if you want it. What changed your mind, Phil?”
“A night’s sleep and a favor from a friend, Ethel. A real friend who did right thing.”
Tuesday, December 22, 2015
The prompt this week was to share the journal/diary entries of one of Santa’s Elves during the week before Christmas up to, and including, Christmas Eve. My Elf’s name is Ephraimelf and the week before Christmas is certainly a busy one for him!
Dear Diary, Ephraimelf here.
It’s the week before Christmas. This time of year shows what awful planners people are. This is when people start making out their wish lists. Yes, I said ‘start’. They couldn’t do it in July. Oh no. Nothing like waiting until the last minute. Since children follow the example of their parents, the kids are figuring out this week what they want too. While we’ll be getting plenty of overtime, it sure would make life a lot easier if lists could be finished by today. What can you do though. People won’t change.
Stevenelf assigned our duties today via a PowerPoint spreadsheet, and got an extra cookie for dessert after dinner for his presentation. Show-off.
Stevenelf assigned our duties today via a PowerPoint spreadsheet, and got an extra cookie for dessert after dinner for his presentation. Show-off.
I’m in the dolls heads room. It’s creepy since none of the heads have eyes yet, but at least it’s quiet. Mrs. C decided Jeffreyelf’s and Kennethelf’s room needed repainting, and while the walls dry, those two will be sleeping elsewhere. My roomie Malcolmelf and I got Jeffreyelf. That elf snores louder than one of the children’s freight trains. It doesn’t bother Malcolmelf; he could sleep through a North Pole snowstorm, and they are noisy sons of guns, what with the ice rain and the howling winds. But, me? I’ve always been a light sleeper, and Jeffreyelf’s snores make the room vibrate. I’ll just sleep in here while he’s bunking with us, I’m glad my laptop has an alarm so I won’t miss breakfast. Nobody will start working in here until the dishes are done, so I’ll have to wake myself up. No way am I going to miss Sweet Lady’s waffles. She sprinkles sugar on them. Yum.
Dear Diary, Ephraimelf here.
Breakfast was waffles with sugar just as I had thought, and did I ever need that pick-me-up. I spent the day manning the phones and I am wiped out. People think when the kiddies call and talk to a recording that it’s all for show, but it’s real. All those messages left for Santa. Some just say ‘hi’, but it’s important we get those to the Big Man in Red too. They’re cute, but the ones where they ask for stuff? Their lists go on and on and some kids are so specific. One boy today wanted a red wagon, but he wanted special wheels and designs painted on the side. Well, there goes the efficiency of the line. I worked the red wagon room last Christmas and those just roll out, but special wheels and designs? That one will have to go to the Specialty Order Room. I hear Nathanielelf’s working that this year and no offense, but he’s got that lazy eye. Hopefully, the Inspector Elves will go over what comes off his line with a fine tooth comb. Wouldn’t want the little tykes to be disappointed. Or frightened. He gets an order to paint a flower and it ends up looking like something that crawled out of a Halloween story. We don’t do Halloween. Good thing too. That stuff scares me. Well, my alarm’s set for pancakes tomorrow.
Dear Diary, Ephraimelf here.
Today, I spent the day at the Doctor’s office. No, Diary, not the Elf Doctor. It was time for Rudolph and the other reindeer to get their checkup. Getting those guys into the van gets to be more of a challenge each year. This one wants to sit by the window; that one wants to stretch his legs, ad nauseum. Rudolph insists he sit up front because he’s the leader. He doesn’t really have a big head about anything else, but the ride to the doctor? If he doesn’t get to sit up front with the driver, he’ll whine your elf socks off. It took us over an hour to get everyone situated in the van and we ended up being late for the appointment, but they all checked out fine and ready for the long trip Christmas Eve night. For the ride home, we went through the same nonsense and we were late back for supper. Mrs. C, saved me a plate though, and my elf tummy’s full so I’ll sleep great tonight. Tomorrow I work the doll line putting their eyes in. That’ll make sleeping in here a lot less scary.
Dear Diary, Ephraimelf here.
I’m back in my own bed tonight since Jeffreyelf and Kennethelf are back in their own room. I spent today working two lines. First, dolls heads, and most have eyes now. I got sent to the bike wheel line for what I said about Ralphelf. That’s punishment for my being naughty since those wheels are bigger than I am. My arms and shoulders are going to be sore tomorrow. All I did was mention to Frankelf that Ralphelf better lay off Sweet Lady’s iced cupcakes before the rear of his elfpants need letting out again. Who knew Frankelf was a schoolyard snitch? He told Mrs. C on me so I got bike wheel duty for the rest of the day. I guess it was kind of mean, what I said. I apologized to Ralphelf and we both laughed about it, so all is forgiven. Come to think of it, the rear of my elfpants are getting a bit snug these days too.
Dear Diary, Ephraimelf here.
Today, I helped Mrs. C clean the house. There were several of us assigned, but I got to carry the list of chores and check them off when they were done. When we finished something like washing a floor or dusting a bureau, she’d smile, pat me on the head and remind me to check it off. We had lunch in the kitchen nook and it was great. Mrs. C made grilled cheese with tomato soup. It’s a cold and snowy day today and that lunch made us all feel warm and cozy. After lunch, we did the dishes and started the baking. We made cookies and cakes and candy and all things yummy. I love spending the day with Sweet Lady, especially since she tucks us all in after. She’s the best.
Dear Diary, Ephraimelf here.
Today, we put our tree up. Big Man in Red brought home a huge one and we put ornaments, lights and candy canes on it. When we’re all asleep, he and Mrs. C will put out presents under it and Big Man in Red will put the magic in each and every one. We’ve got presents for him and Sweet Lady, and we plan to sneak those under the tree when Big Man in Red is out delivering and Mrs. C is taking her Christmas Eve nap. Our house here at the North Pole is all lit up and it smells so good in here with all the baking and cooking. I’ll be helping in the wrapping room tomorrow.
Dear Diary, Ephraimelf here.
What a day this has been. So many presents to wrap and put bows on. Frankly, this week has been enough to get me ready for my straight-jacket fitting. But, the week before Christmas is the same every year. Rush, rush, rush, and for what? I’ll tell you for what. Tomorrow morning, we’ll all gather in the Rec Room and turn on all the screens. We’ll have breakfast on trays while we watch happiness appear on the faces of children all over the world as they open their presents. It won’t be just children though. We’ll be able to watch all the delight and wonder on the faces of new brides and grooms, moms and dads, and grandmothers and grandfathers too.
We’ll all thank the Heavens above for our friends here at the North Pole, and for Big Man in Red and Mrs. C. We have the most wonderful jobs because we are blessed to be able to share and give to each other and to the world, and that is what Christmas is all about.
We all get to help Mrs. C with tomorrow’s dinner and that’s always a treat. After dinner, we’ll clean up the kitchen and do the dishes so she can put her feet up. Sweet Lady deserves a time out. Malcolmelf and I will get the kegs of hot cocoa going and drop the marshmallows in. Then, Big Man in Red will tuck us in and read us a story. We’ll have the week off and won’t have to go back to work until New Year’s Day. Then, all the madness begins again, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
After supper this evening, we loaded up the sleigh and sent Big Man in Red off to deliver joy everywhere. Safe trip, Father Christmas. There will be a nice hot toddy waiting for you when you get home. For now, Dear Diary, a very Merry Christmas to all of us and to all the world.
Saturday, December 12, 2015
The prompt this week was to write a story using only dialogue. I thought I’d share a conversation between two strangers on a cold winter afternoon.
The Last Train?
“Excuse me, young lady, do you know what time the next train will be coming by?”
“Do I look like an Information Booth? You try to be left alone and all of a sudden, you get the Third Degree.”
“I’m sorry. I just thought since you were sitting out here on the platform that it might be coming soon. I can’t miss this one.”
“You’re a real chatty Cathy now, aren’t you, old man?”
“I didn’t mean to bother you, but you see, my wife, Alma, died a couple of months ago, and I get lonesome sometimes not having anyone at home to talk to. Seems I’m always looking for someone to pass the time with.”
“Woe is you then, right? No one to talk to at home? What about me? My house is like Grand Central Station, but when I talk, no one listens. My mother said it’s always about me, and my father called me a selfish brat. They said I’m never interested in what’s going on with anyone else. You have no idea what it means to be lonely.”
“I never looked at it that way. It’s true that you can be in the middle of a crowd and still be alone.”
“Not alone, old man. See? You’re not listening either. I wish to God I could be alone, even just for five minutes. I’m talking about…never mind. You don’t get it. How in the hell did I get sucked into this conversation?”
“Alma always said I was a good listener. I am sorry though. It’s just that I believe at times, alone and lonely go hand in hand. Do you mind if I ask about your family?”
“You don’t want to know about me.”
“If I didn’t, I wouldn’t ask.”
“Why not. It’ll help pass the time until… Okay. Let me tell you about my family. I’m an only child, but I guess I wasn’t enough. Mom and Dad decided to become foster parents and bring a bunch of broken down kids into the house so they could fix them. That way, Dad’s a hero at his Men’s Club and Mom’s a saint at church.”
“Why do you think there’s more to it than your parents trying to help those kids? I don’t know them, but I can’t help but wonder why you feel as if you weren’t enough for them. Weren’t you able to get close to any of the children? Perhaps to be a big sister?”
“Tell me, Mr. Good Listener, why do I need to get close to any of them? They’re not permanent. They’re just passing through. I’m the permanent one – or at least, I was supposed to be. Well, not anymore, because I’m done playing second to a bunch of homeless juvenile delinquents. Wait and see. They won’t miss me after I’m gone. I’m sure they don’t even know that I’m not in that zoo of a house of ours right now.”
“Do you really believe your parents aren’t wondering where you are or if you’re all right?”
“I do believe that. Why would they wonder where their selfish little brat is?”
“They may have said those things to you in a moment of anger, but is that a reason to run away? Haven’t you ever said things you didn’t really mean? There were times when I was tired after working a double shift and I would come home and Alma would complain about the…”
“Alma again. Look, you’re wife’s dead, okay? Don’t dwell. It doesn’t make any difference. They said those things to me and I don’t care why. They apologized, but you can’t take back what you say. They’re not the least bit interested in what’s going on with me. Do they have time to read my poems? Oh no. ‘Later, honey’. You know, I even started writing a book about myself. I was going to tell the world how it feels to be shut out of your own life.”
“Did you try to show them your poems at another time, or tell them about your writing a book?”
“Of course not. No way am I going to let them reject me again. And, by the way, I’m not running away.”
“Not running away? But, you’re waiting for the train to Chicago? Do you know someone there you’re going to stay with?”
“Look, I’ll tell you why I’m waiting on this platform, but don’t try to stop me, because I’ll just come back on another day. When this train gets close enough, I’m going to jump onto the tracks. There. Does that satisfy your nosy self?”
“Oh. I didn’t realize.”
“Like I said, don’t try to stop me. I want out, and this is the way I’m going to do it. Nice and quick. I’ve read about people doing this and it’s not even messy. You’ll be able to take the train, although there might be a short delay. But things will get back to normal in a New York minute. I mean, life does go on, right?”
“That’s true enough. But, I have no plans to get on the train. I am going to do the same thing as you are.”
“Oh my God, you’re going to jump in front of the train too? What’s an old man like you want to do something stupid like that for?”
“I can’t talk to Alma anymore. All I can do is bring flowers to her grave. It’s not enough.”
“Maybe you can’t talk to her, but, can’t you go to one of those old people places where they sit and talk and play cards? What about your apartment and stuff?”
“I left a note on the coffee table for the landlord to give my clothes to the Good Will.”
“But, what about Alma’s grave? Who will bring her flowers? Isn’t it important that she have fresh ones?”
“I didn’t think about that. She always did love fresh flowers. But, what about you? Who will finish writing your book? Isn’t it important to share how you feel with others?”
“I forgot about that. Writing it made me feel important. Maybe if I finish it, there would be somebody out there who could relate.”
“I was just thinking. One of us jumping in front of the train probably wouldn’t make too big of a mess, but what if we do it at the same time? That could cause all kinds of problems, don’t you think?”
“Yeah. I’ll bet it would. Besides, if I’m going to take myself out, I want the moment to be all mine.”
“Me too. You know what? Maybe today isn’t the right day for either of us. Do you like Root Beer floats?”
“Root Beer floats. Vanilla ice cream in a glass with Root Beer poured over it. You use a straw and a spoon so you make sure you get it all right down to the last drop. Those were Alma’s favorite.”
“I’ve never had one.”
“You don’t know what you’ve been missing. There’s a diner over on the next block that makes them in their biggest malt glasses. Why don’t we head over there and get us each one. My treat. We could have the floats and…well…talk. If you have the time, that is. By the way, my name’s Barney.”
“Sure, old man. I mean, Barney. Mine’s Sondra. I’ve got time. You know, maybe I could catch mom and dad after they put all the kids to bed and they could read a couple of my poems. They never actually said they didn’t want to.”
“Good thinking. Timing is everything, isn’t it? And I just remembered one of my neighbors goes cross town to a Senior Center every Thursday. He has a hot lunch and gets in a few games of checkers. Maybe I could hitch a ride with him and check it out.”
“Good idea. Make sure you tear up that note to your landlord though. Wouldn’t want him giving away all your clothes while you’re out playing horseshoes or whatever.”
“Ha, you’re right as rain about that. So, are you ready to try the best float ever?”
“I sure am. Let me take your arm when we walk over there, Barn. It was drizzling last night and the sidewalks are still a bit slippery.”
“’Barn’. Ha. Sometimes Alma called me Barn. I’d be proud, Miss Sondra. Over our ice cream, maybe you could recite some of your poems for me?”
“I could do that. It’s starting to drizzle again. Look, I’m really sorry for what I said about Alma being...”
“No worries. It’s supposed to snow tonight. It will be good to be safe and warm at home tonight, won’t it? Besides, there will always be another train.”
“Ha, Barney. Good one. Yes. It will be good to be safe and warm tonight. At home. Hey, please tell me more about Alma. I know she loved Root Beer floats. Did she have any hobbies?”
Wednesday, December 9, 2015
The prompt this week was as follows: 'You arrange for a weekend getaway at a friend's cabin in the country, but Mother Nature decides to extend your stay with a blizzard. You're trapped. Tell us what happens.' My snowstorm caused a bit more of a problem than just drifts. I hope you enjoy.
The Corner Office
Here we go again on that same old merry-go-round. I’ve worked my fingers to the bone for this firm for some 20 odd years, and when an opportunity opens up, they bring someone in from the outside. Getting that corner office has been my dream ever since my first day on the job. You see, it isn’t just the office I want; it’s the glory that goes with it. That particular office has a door inside that connects it to the office of the company’s president. The position it represents is that of Executive Vice President, and in addition to having all the ad men report to him, he’s also responsible for all the marketing campaigns of our biggest clients.
Word around the office is that whoever holds that position has the option to delegate some of their accounts if they choose to do so. That’s where I come in. I belong in that office – I always have, but if it’s not meant to be, if I suck up and get close to whoever holds that position, he would be agreeable to assigning some those big commission accounts to me. I know what you’re thinking. Suck up and be a phony-bologna just to get a bigger check at the end of the month? You betcha. I have no scruples or sense of fair play. I’m in advertising. Enough said.
Jasper Sterner had been the Executive VP since the firm was started. The man was older than dirt, and finally retired. I had high hopes for that promotion, but it never came to pass. They brought in a joker named Stanley Carver. Everyone tried to get close to him, but he was cold as ice to all. Except me, that is. One day while he was passing the coffee kiosk in the building’s lobby, I made sure he heard me tell the girl behind the counter about my friend’s cabin in the woods and how anxious I was for a few days of R&R. Stanley paid a visit to my cubicle later that afternoon to ask me for more information about my plans for the weekend. I told him all about the cabin, the lakes, the fishing, the hunting, and the general overall calmness of the place.
My friend bought that place mostly as an investment and isn’t really the outdoor type, and he lets me use it whenever I’d like. It turns out our boy Stanley loves all that fishing crap and would love a few days away from the hustle and bustle before he digs his heels into his new job. I knew he wasn’t married, so he’d be able to take off at a moment’s notice. I told him I’d pick him up at his front door and we’d head out. I also suggested he leave no word as to where he would be so the peons who worked Saturday and Sunday wouldn’t pester him. He thanked me for my consideration. That’s me; always looking out for the other guy.
On the drive up, he opened a discussion about our firm and his new job. I expressed concern over his having to manage all the other consultants as well as our biggest clients. He thanked me, but said worry was not necessary. He already had his eye on the consultant in the cube next to me, an arrogant young techie with no people skills named Jeffrey Baily. An up n’ comer, he told me, and definitely his go-to-guy when he needed assistance. So much for sucking up. When we arrived at the cabin, before we settled in, he walked to the edge of the lake to check it out. He was very anxious to get a bit of fishing in before the sun set.
I retrieved the shovel I kept outside against the wall by the door and hit him on the head. After dropping his suitcases into the lake, I buried him in a shallow grave. I’d be sound asleep in the cabin before the bears showed up looking for their dinner. When Stanley didn’t show up for work Monday morning, I started the rumor that he decided the job was too much for him with his failing health. No one at the firm knew he was ill and they ate up the story. People do so love drama.
The next candidate they brought in, Harold Fitzhugh, had the same misguided goal of reaching out to that backstabber, Jeffrey. Harry was easily disposed of once I learned he couldn’t swim. A quick row out to the center of the lake to check out the view and…well, you get the picture. I spread it around that he ran off with one of the secretaries. People will believe anything as long as it’s juicy.
So, after all that, I got the corner office, right? Wrong. They didn’t go outside the company that time. They gave the job to Jeffrey. Yes. You heard me correctly. So, I decided to invite Jeff for the weekend. I was not beneath sucking up to him to try to share some of his accounts. Surprised? I thought I’d made it clear there’s no limit to how low I will sink. He was hesitant being so late in the year and the weather being so unpredictable, but I managed to convince him the break would be good for him. Fresh start on the new job and all.
It began to snow about halfway to the cabin, and by the time we arrived, it was coming down so hard and fast, the road we came in on had been covered in drifts. Jeffrey began to panic, but I told him there was plenty of food and water, a generator to keep the lights on and a fireplace to keep us warm. We could barely open the door to get in and when we closed it, snow from the roof fell in front of the door. When we tried to open it, there was nothing but a wall of snow. We were trapped – for how long, we didn’t know. I didn’t care because this would give me the opportunity to butter him up before he took over as VP. Little did I know he’d go full Postal.
He started pacing and mumbling something about Donner Pass. I wasn’t familiar with the reference so I suggested having a drink.
“A drink?” Jeffrey gasped. “I know what you’re planning. You want to drug me so you can dismember me, cook me and eat off me until the snow melts.”
“What?” I was horrified. “Jeffrey, I don’t want to cook you. The cupboards are full of Spaghetti-O’s and tuna. What’s the matter with you?”
“I can’t stand it,” he started crying. “I can’t breathe. The walls are closing in. You won’t get me. I won’t let you.”
“Jeff,” I tried to reason with him. “We’ve been here less than half an hour. There’s no need to pan…”
That’s when he sucker punched me. When I came to, my hands were tied behind my back and my feet were tied together. Two lamps were next to me. He had tied me with lamp cords.
“Jeff, listen to me,” I said quietly. “We’re going to be fine. There’s plenty of food and water for both of us. The storm will subside, and the county will clear the roads. I was snowed in here last year for a few days, but it all worked out. Take a deep breath and relax. Please untie me, Jeff. I’ll make us some dinner and hot chocolate. Do you like hot chocolate?”
I hoped I was getting through.
“I’m sorry,” Jeff said, drying the tears from his eyes. “It’s just that I don’t do well in tight spaces. I know we’re in a cabin, but we’re surrounded by snow drifts and we can’t get out. Perhaps I overreacted a little.”
Overreacted a little? Okay. Untie me, you loon.
“Untie me, Jeff, will you?”
“Sure, Todd. Again, I’m so sorry. Guess I came down with a case of cabin fever, huh?”
Yeah. Cabin Fever. Not even an hour in.
I heated up some canned beef stew and got us a couple of beers. I stirred several sleeping pills into Jeff’s so we wouldn’t have another episode of cabin fever. I plan to keep him unconscious until the roads clear. Once I can leave, I’m going to dispose of him too. Forget sucking up. He’s not worth the effort; I mean, he tied me up with lamp cords.
With him finally out of the way, the corner office has to be mine. I can’t keep this up, you know. The way I figure it, sooner or later the local wildlife are going to lose their taste for shills in suits.
Tuesday, December 1, 2015
The prompt this week was to pick one of the listed titles, then write the story. The choices were 1) Road to Nowhere; 2) The Lost Book; 3) Remember the Light; 4) Symbols of the Fallen; and 5) The Last Open Door.
The title I chose was Symbols of the Fallen, and for my story, I decided to take a midnight stroll into the dark side.
Symbols of the Fallen
“Come to order. George, enlighten us on their transgression.”
This is insane. My wife and I decided to go back to the city and were arrested? How many towns jail their residents if they decide to move?
“Daniel, what is this about? Is this some kind of joke? If it is, it is not the least bit fun…”
“Silence! You will have the opportunity to speak. Proceed George. Tell us why these people should be terminated.”
Terminated? What the Hell?
* * * * *
My name is Stewart Dwyer, and my wife’s name is Eleanor. To celebrate our fifth anniversary, we attended a concert at a downtown arena, where we met a couple, Ralph and Suzanne Dotson. Over coffee and cake after the concert, they told us about their town called Mountain View, a few hundred miles to the north. They grew their own food, had their own water supply, and had the equipment necessary to supply their own electrical power. There were schools and shops, and the place was completely self-sustaining. My wife and I thought they were recruiters from a cult, and wondered what flavor of Kool-Aid they served with their cyanide.
We were invited to spend the weekend and tour the town. We decided to take them up on their offer, but made sure they knew we had told all our friends where we were going just in case we didn’t return by Monday morning. Ralph and Suzanne laughed that off. Visitors were free to come and go. We left on Friday evening and planned to return home late Sunday night. Eleanor and I took our own car to make sure we had the means to leave.
My wife and I never believed in the existence of Paradise on Earth until we had visited Mountain View. The residents were charming and helpful. All held jobs with pay; none worked the fields as one might visualize the structure of a cult. There were no fences or barriers of any kind. None of the doors, business or residential, had locks on them. Crimes of any kind were nonexistent. Were we in the Twilight Zone? Nope. Their bank was FDIC-insured. That’s how real it was.
Eleanor and I returned home Sunday night, but only to begin to close that chapter of our lives. Monday morning, I resigned my position as Senior Book Editor, listed our house with a realtor, and Eleanor telephoned and sent letters to our friends and relatives notifying them of our planned relocation. By the next Friday evening, we had packed our belongings and headed to our new home. Ralph and Suzanne had arranged for a rental to get us started. When our realtor wired us the funds from the sale of our house, we planned to purchase one in our new town.
The years passed, and life was good. We wanted for nothing. I enjoyed my new career as a Loan Officer, and my salary was more than adequate. Eleanor loved working with the children at the town’s Day Care Center. My wife and I were both infertile, and we had discussed looking into adoption after we were financially stable, but that time never came; at least, not until now. Even with our wonderful home and terrific friends, we felt a return to the city would be in our best interest. We had lost contact with all our city friends and our family over time. Letters were returned unopened and phone numbers had been disconnected. It had been difficult at first, but we attributed it to the changing times. People just did not remain close anymore.
We told Ralph and Suzanne of our decision to leave, and asked if they would assist with the sale of our house. We had enough saved to rent in the city until it sold. We expressed our appreciation and deepest affection for them, but stated we chose to apply at the city’s largest agencies to hopefully adopt a child to share our home and hearts with. While Mountain View had many resources available, the city had everything imaginable, and we felt it was time to go back to the life we had known and begin anew there as a family. Within two hours of that conversation with our nearest and dearest, Eleanor and I were placed in a cell awaiting trial.
* * * * *
“We have done our best, Daniel, to seal off our newest community members from the evils of the outside world. We have intercepted their mail, rerouted their telephone calls, and prevented anyone not in line with our philosophy and mission from engaging in contact with them. Still, they have been corrupted, and have expressed the desire to rejoin the wicked.”
This has to be an episode of one of those new reality shows.
“This can’t be happening. George Hendricks, you’ve known Eleanor and me for years now. What do you mean seal us off? What’s wrong with you people? What kind of sick…”
“Steward and Eleanor Dwyer? Is it true that you have decided to leave our community and to bring ruin upon us?”
Tears were streaming down my wife’s cheeks and getting ready to spill down my own. I glanced around the room at several of our other neighbors who were present, and their collective malicious gaze sent chills down my spine. I realized at that moment this was no joke.
“Daniel, we’ve been friends for years. Your wife nursed my wife back to health when she had pneumonia. You helped me repair our roof after that awful storm. We don’t want to hurt anyone here. We’ve been very content here and hold no malice against anyone. All we want is to leave as we know others have and resume our lives in the city so that we can adopt…”
“Enough,” Daniel said. “You are both guilty and will be…”
I grabbed Eleanor’s hand and we ran out into the hallway. This building had been used as a community center for town meetings and various events such as bake sales and fundraisers. I had never been in the room that was being used as a faux courtroom, so I wasn’t certain where the entrance was. I decided we would go into one of the rooms, barricade the door, and make our stand there as necessary. These people had been our friends, but I was ready to snap the neck of each and every one of them. No one was going to terminate either of us.
Door after door was locked and I found myself questioning everything I had known. Why are the doors to the various rooms in this building locked when none in the entire town are? Is this how they trap you when you try to leave? You are cornered and executed like an animal in a cage? How could we not have seen this coming? What happened to those who had left? Did they actually leave or were their remains buried within these hallowed halls?
We found an unlocked door and went inside. The room was cold and had no windows through which we could escape. There were no chairs with which to block the doorway and there was no lock on the door. My heart sank. This is exactly where they wanted us to be. The light came on and Daniel and the others came in and closed the door behind them.
“It is fitting for you to be here. Here is where we display the symbols of the fallen.”
The fallen? What the Hell was in this room? There were rows of frames that held what looked like weird tapestry mounted with name plates underneath each. I saw the names of those we knew had decided to move away. There was one for Don Jackson and one for his wife, Marie. They had moved a couple of months ago. But, had they left? What was in the frames? My wife was looking closely at one and suddenly began to scream.
“Oh my God,” she gasped. “There are faces in these frames. Real faces. They remove the skin from the skulls and place their faces in these frames and add their names.”
“How can you call them the fallen?” I could feel yesterday’s breakfast crawling up my throat. “They died by your hand, didn’t they?”
“Fallen from grace, Stewart,” Ralph said. “They wanted to leave. No one leaves, Stewart. No one. Their countenances serve as a reminder to us all about the importance of loyalty. Why mount their faces? Photographs fade. Our unique process of treating the skin lets us remember them exactly as they were.”
Daniel took a hypodermic needle from his pocket, walked over to me and injected something into my neck. Before it all went dark, I thanked God my wife was unconscious and would never see what I had seen. Two empty frames at the end of the bottom row on the other side of the room, labeled Stewart and Eleanor Dwyer.
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
The prompt this week was to write a story that takes place on Thanksgiving Day. I thought I would share a story about one family.
Here we go again. Another Thanksgiving with the family. Getting together at Christmastime was never workable since we all live in areas that get a great deal of snow, so Thanksgiving became our family’s traditional annual jubilee for as far back as I can remember. I know what you’re thinking. What a wonderful opportunity that will be to visit with my relatives who live in other states that I don’t see but once a year. Well, let me clear up that delusion of yours right now. Getting together with my family, even once a year, is the most unpleasant experience you can imagine.
Aunt Sheryl spits when she speaks, and once it occurs to her you’re listening to one of her depressing stories about the old days, she’s on you like a bad penny. Uncle Sebastian has some medical condition that causes him to fall asleep anywhere, at any time, even if he’s in the middle of a sentence. His dinner is served on small plates that are placed on either side of him because there’s no telling when his head will drop down on the table in front of him. He’ll sleep for 10 minutes or so, then wake up and start picking at his food again. Talk about an appetite killer… My cousins Betsy and Delores, unmarried twin sisters in their 80s, live together in the house they grew up in. They are a pain in the ass to spend any time with because all they do is argue over some man they were both in love with 50 years ago who ran away with their best friend.
That’s only the tip of the iceberg. My mom’s third cousin, Suzanne and her husband Danny, do nothing but complain. Their house isn’t big enough and they can’t afford to remodel, their kids keep bad company and are turning into street thugs, his job doesn’t pay enough and if he asks for a raise he will be fired, and on and on. They never bring their kids with them to our Thanksgiving reunion, and for that, I’m grateful. Those two are bad enough. I don’t need to get mugged and carjacked in the driveway by their renegade offspring.
There are others who show up, but I have no idea who they are. They walk in, toss their coats on the guest room bed, grab a glass of cider and plant themselves in a corner. I’ve never made the effort to introduce myself. It’s all I can do to get through the day without having to deal with any of them for very long. If you’re thinking I’m a bastard because of my attitude, so be it. You spend a day surrounded by these oddball characters, and see what kind of an attitude you have by bedtime.
I’ve saved the best for last. Our hostess for the occasion is Gloria. I call her Aunt, but I’m not sure whether she is or not. She’s never taken issue with the title, so I go with it. Doesn’t matter much what I call her though; she never remembers who I am. It’s Aunt Gloria’s home in which we celebrate and eat turkey with all the fixings. I have no idea what goes on after because I make my exit right after the main meal. There’s always several desserts, but I never stay for them. I’ve already had enough of the complaining and being called by eight different names by people I barely know. I slug down one last cup of coffee for the drive home, and head out. By that time, half of them are asleep at the table and the others are busy talking to themselves. Gee. Can’t wait until next year to do it again.
Why do I subject myself to this nightmare year after year, you ask? I promised my mom when she was on her deathbed. My mom. The only normal person I have ever known. Growing up, I had asked her often if she was sure she wasn’t adopted, but she was firm in her assertion that this collection of miscreants she called family was biologically hers. Dad died when I was a baby, so I never knew him, and Mom was all I had. When she was dying, she made me promise I would attend the family’s Thanksgiving festivities without fail, even though some of them may seem peculiar at times. Family was important, she said. Keep them close. You never know how long they’ll be around.
So, here I am. I may be a bastard, but I keep my word. There wasn’t as much holiday traffic as I anticipated, so I was the first to arrive. Oh goody.
“Come in here, David,” Aunt Gloria pulled me into the house, yanked my coat off and threw it on the floor. “Grab some hot cider and have a seat. The rest should be arriving soon. Answer the door when they arrive, will you, Bobby? I’ll be in the kitchen finishing dinner.”
“Sure thing, Auntie,” I responded.
I picked up my coat and went to the guest room and put it on the chair. If I put it on the bed, it will end up on the bottom and it will take me longer to make my escape. By the way, for your information, my name is Stanley.
One by one, my family arrived. Funny what a difference one year can make. Last year, they looked the same as always, but this year, something just wasn’t right. Aunt Sheryl’s son Stuart arrived, but he came in alone.
“Hey, Stu, Happy Thanksgiving.” I’m a considerate bastard. “Where’s your mom?”
“Hi Stan. Happy Thanksgiving. Mom passed a few months ago. I’m sorry I didn’t let you know, but we didn’t have your number.”
Because I deliberately never gave it to you, Stu. Crap. I could have at least sent flowers or a card. She was my aunt, after all.
“Sorry, Stu, I thought I had. Let me give it to you now. Just in case you need to reach me. For anything. So, Stu, have you heard from Uncle Sebastian? He’ll be coming, won’t he?” All at once, I felt frightened, although I wasn’t sure what of.
“Not this year, Stan,” he said. “It was just too dangerous for him to remain at home, what with his narcolepsy. His sister, Marion, you remember her, don’t you? Well, she couldn’t care for him by herself anymore, so she placed him in a nursing home. He’s much safer there. She’s in her 90s and not well, so she won’t be coming this year either.”
“That’s probably best.” I said, thinking, why didn’t I ever notice he came with his sister? Then, the bigger question hit me. Why didn’t I know he even had a sister?
Betsy and Delores arrived. I found myself looking forward to hearing them bicker.
“Hi Betsy and Delores. Happy Holidays. I hope you’re both doing well.” Being polite is normally against my nature, but my fear was growing stronger.
“We’re fine, Jerry,” Betsy said, mopping the drool off her sister’s face with a stained handkerchief. Delores grinned while getting her face wiped, but didn’t speak. “Del had a stroke, and I sold mom and dad’s house so we could get a smaller place; you know, easier to take care of with Del the way she is now. How’s everything with you, Sammy?”
“Great, Betsy. Just great.” I had to get away from them. I went to get another cider. This was bad.
Suzanne came in. Alone. Now what? Damn. I wish I’d brought a bottle of Jim Beam instead of a fruitcake.
“Hi, Suzanne,” I said. “Is Danny parking the car?”
Suzanne screamed, burst into tears and ran into the bathroom. Aren’t I just Prince Charming and a half? What the Hell? Aunt Gloria came running into the living room.
“Was that Suzanne, Phil?” she asked me. “I hope you didn’t mention her husband. He left her. Ran away with his secretary, I think, and left her with those rotten kids. The girl’s knocked up and the boy’s in prison somewhere. She’s having a rough time. Make sure you don’t mention her husband.”
Now she tells me.
“Everyone,” Aunt Gloria announced, putting her arm around me. “Dinner’s ready. Everything’s on the table. Let’s eat because Johnny here has to leave. He’s got a long drive ahead. I’ll get Suzanne.”
Mom’s last words to me about family were coming back - loud and clear.
“Aunt Gloria, Please convince Suzanne to come out, I'll apologize to her. It's all my fault that she's upset. And you don’t have to rush. There’s no one waiting for me at home. I’ve got plenty of time, and I’m looking forward to trying all the desserts.”
A couple I didn’t recognize were making their way to the dining room. I walked over and extended my hand.
Wednesday, November 18, 2015
The challenge this week was to write a story involving superstition. Sometimes, you just can’t be too careful.
“Thank you for being so understanding, Charles. I know this may all seem like silly superstition to you, but it’s just that following Madam Zena’s advice has helped me through the toughest times in my life.”
“It’s fine, my dear Vanessa. We’ll arrange to have our wedding in whatever way will please you.”
“Wonderful, darling. She said the ceremony must begin when both hands on the clock are pointing upward, so we can get married at either noon or midnight. That’s the only way we can guarantee that we will be happy. One thing though. Please don’t mention this to any of your friends or employees. People will make fun of me and I couldn’t stand that.”
“No, my pet. I won’t tell anyone. What’s important to you is important to me and I would never do anything to make you feel uncomfortable. No one will ever know about your personal beliefs.”
“Thank you, love, but one last thing. Please remember that no one can come to our wedding if they have dark hair, a dark beard and mustache. Madam Zena warned me a man like that would do me great harm.”
“I don’t even know anyone like that, dear heart. I’ll make sure to honor that request. I would never do anything to frighten you. Shall we work out the details for our wedding now?”
* * * * *
“Charles, you are the best husband in the world. I’m so excited about going on a world cruise, but Madam Zena said we have to make sure of one very important detail.”
“What is that, my sweet?”
“She said for our trip to go smoothly and for us to be totally safe, our ship’s name must not end with the letter ‘A’. If it does, then bad luck will follow us for the rest of our lives.”
“But, Vanessa, our trip is already arranged. We are scheduled to sail on the Aurora and you will love it. Anything you can imagine is available on the ship and we will be very comfortable.”
“Charles, I cannot set foot on that ship. You know how much I trust Madam Zena. She’s been my spiritual advisor for years and I’m not going to start doubting her now.”
“All right, sweetheart. I’ll have my secretary rebook us on another cruise line and make sure the ship’s name doesn’t end with ‘A’. I want you to be comfortable and happy.”
“Thank you, dear. Also, please make sure you don’t mention any of this to your friends and colleagues. I wouldn’t want them to make fun of me. Make sure that no man with dark hair, a dark beard and mustache comes near me on our cruise since great harm would be done to me.”
“No harm will ever come to you, my love. I will always keep you safe.”
* * * * *
“Charles, I’m glad you’re home early. Apparently, it didn’t take as long at the bank as you had thought it would.”
“No, Vanessa. It took no time at all to add your name to all my accounts, including the ones I have in the Islands. I also added your name to the house and my attorney updated my will. It took some time to get all the paperwork done because of my interest in my corporation, but it’s all been taken care of. I want to make sure that if anything ever happens to me, you would want for nothing.”
“You’re so good to me, Charles. Whatever I did to deserve you, I would do it again a hundred times. By the way, everything is set for our dinner party this evening, but I need to mention one thing. I checked with Madam Zena about our having people over and she said bells need to be hung inside all our doors. That needs to be done so no evil spirits enter along with our guests. It is a necessary precaution to protect us both. Please don’t tell any of your friends or colleagues about it since they would laugh at me. Thank you for making sure you didn’t invite anyone with dark hair, a dark beard and mustache so no harm would come to me.”
“Of course, honey. We’ll just tell them we love the sound of bells. The real reason for the bells will be our little secret. You must never worry, my Vanessa. I will always respect any of your wishes, and I don’t consider them silly at all.”
* * * * *
“Isn’t this a beautiful suite? Nothing like the Penthouse of a five-star hotel to help ease the pain. The Chief of Police arranged for me to stay here for a week while they finish collecting their evidence. They are also going to have people come in and clean up my house. I never knew there were companies that specialized in cleaning up after murders. Oh wait. This wasn’t exactly a murder, now, was it? This was a tragic accident. Right, Madam Zena?”
“Don’t call me that anymore, Van. It’s spooky. Are you sure the police are going to write this up as an accident?”
“I’m positive, Rochelle. Detective Schooner told me he was going to report it that way. I simply explained the situation to him. I told him Charles thought my beliefs were silly and was always trying to cure me of my superstitions, but this time, it all went horribly wrong. Charles knew I was terrified of a man with dark hair, dark beard and mustache because my advisor warned me a man like that would bring great harm to me. I said Charles should never have put on that disguise and snuck into the house. I told the Detective I guessed it was to try to show me that warning was nonsense. When I heard a noise and woke up to see the person I was warned about coming toward me, what could I do but try to defend myself. The police have to take my word for everything; after all, my side is the only one they’re going to get. Charles never mentioned you, or any of my beliefs, to his friends or anyone at his company as I requested.”
“Van, that man with the dark hair and beard story was brilliant. Was it hard to put the hairpieces on after you shot him?”
“Not at all. He fell on his back, so it was no problem. I turned out all the lights and sat on our bed holding the gun. It was so easy to convince Charles I’d seen someone hanging around the house on a couple of nights, so he gave me the gun. As soon as he stepped into the bedroom doorway and called my name, I shot him, put the wig, beard and mustache on him, and then I called the police. You should have seen me. I was inconsolable.
“Should we order room service? It’s on the city, after all. Charles did have a lot of friends in very high places. I didn’t eat any dinner because I wanted to make sure I would be ready whenever he came home. We should order some champagne to go with our meal so we can celebrate. He put my name on all his accounts and the house, so once all the blood has been mopped up, you can move in. I love you so much, Rochelle. Now we can be together every day. Too bad about Charles though. He was an okay guy, I guess, even though he was a Class A sucker.”
Wednesday, November 11, 2015
The prompt this week was about secrets. The challenge was to write a story that involved a secret.
I could hear the sirens for several minutes before the police arrived. There were three cars that responded, all with lights flashing and sirens blaring. One would think there was a crime in progress rather than a dead body. It wasn’t as if the perpetrator was still standing over her, admiring his work. Sometimes I wonder if real cops take their cues from police sitcoms. Not to sound uncaring, but the person was deceased, and the investigators showing up on scene like the Cavalry in an old black and white Western movie, isn’t going to get the case solved any the sooner.
I’m a newcomer to this apartment complex, and I was drawn to its charm, well maintained landscape, and friendly, yet seemingly nonintrusive, residents. Everyone minds their own. There are four units to each building, and I always make sure I introduce myself to all in my immediate proximity, in case an emergency should arise. That is, however, where my cordiality ends. I don’t ‘do coffee’, chat while retrieving the newspaper from my doorstep, or keep an eye on anyone’s children while they run to the market. I respect the privacy of others and expect the same consideration be shown to me.
The victim had lived on the ground floor, in the apartment across the hall from mine. Apparently, she had not arrived for her shift, or telephoned her manager to say she was ill. One of her co-workers was dispatched to find out if the girl planned to show up for work that day. When she received no response to her knocks and noticed what looked like blood coming from under the door, she contacted the Apartment Manager. On making entry and discovering a gruesome scene, they closed the door and phoned the police. The manager knocked on everyone’s door in the building and informed us all that one of our neighbors had been murdered and to prepare for the arrival of the authorities.
She had been a pretty little thing, bright red hair, blue eyes, and quite the chatterbox. I had met her on the day I moved in. I was still unloading my car when she approached me and introduced herself as Bunny. Her given name, she informed me, was Barbara; however, those closest to her called her Bunny. She stated she was on her way to work at a restaurant in the downtown area, and if I had time to stop in, she would provide me with a discount.
She welcomed me to the neighborhood, and proceeded to describe, in great detail, how her life had changed since leaving her parents’ home to strike out on her own. I was relieved when she bid me goodbye, got in her car and drove away. I made a mental note to learn her daily schedule so as to avoid any further chance tȇte-ά-tȇtes. There had been no accidental encounters since and now there definitely would not be. Again, not to sound cruel, but idle chatter was a waste of my valuable time.
There was a great deal of commotion in the parking lot in front of my building that interfered with my conference call, so I informed my client we would need to continue our discussion in the morning. I am a financial analyst and work from home. It pays extremely well, and leaves me free to handle my weekly errands. That had been my last call of the day, so I stepped outside to find out how much longer the disruption to my routine would continue. Evidently, the body had been removed, but the technicians were still going through Bunny’s apartment. The squad cars had departed and the evidence personnel were quietly performing their duties. So, who was making a fuss?
I noticed a woman going through the crowd, informing anyone who would listen that she knew the victim well, that they were very close, and that she knew what happened to her, but it had to remain a secret. There were factors involved that were so treacherous, mums the word. I heard someone tell her she needed to notify the police as soon as possible so they could catch her killer. She dismissed that advice and insisted this was bigger than anyone realized. Perhaps at a later date, if she was assured of her own safety, she might share her information with the authorities, but for now, she was going to keep her own counsel.
I made my way through the crowd that had gathered outside to an elderly lady who lived in the next building. I had seen her at the mail boxes on a couple of occasions and she’s clued me in on who I can say ‘Good Morning’ to and who I should avoid like the plague. The woman with the secret however, was someone whose status she had not shared with me.
“Mrs. Hopper,” I said. “Do you know who that is and what she’s going on about? It sounds as if she witnessed the murder or at least knows who committed it.”
“That one is full of it,” she responded. “All the recent murders in the city have got her all fired up. Each time they’ve found a body, she’s said she knew the victim, they were close, she knows what happened, but she needs to keep it secret. It’s all bull, you know. She does that just to get attention. Good thing I ran into you so I can warn you about her.
“Her name’s Sissy, and if she comes anywhere near you, make tracks the other way. She’s a Nosy Nellie if I’ve ever met one. She’ll bother you at all hours, and try to find out everything about you. Once she leeches onto you, there’ll be no avoiding her, so nip it in the bud.”
“She should be careful and not spread it around that she knows who committed a murder,” I offered. “Doesn’t she realize she’s putting herself in danger?”
“Hon, no one takes her seriously. Everybody around here knows she’s just trying to make herself look special. Oh, no. She’s coming this way. I’m going back inside and I’d advise you to do the same. Take care, Robert.”
The crowd was dispersing, and it looked as though Sissy no longer had an audience. Our eyes met, but before she could approach me for one last declaration of her inside knowledge of the crime, I went back to my apartment to prepare to run a necessary errand later that evening.
Before she went back into her apartment, Sissy informed the neighborhood she was going out to pick up some dinner. I’m not sure why she felt the need to share that information, but evidently, her need to stand out was not exclusive to being a witness. I saw her leave at 7. When she returned at around 9, she was surprised to find me waiting for her in her living room.
“Who are you? Why are…”
I put my hand over her mouth, told her to be quiet and pushed her down on the couch. Tears were running down her cheeks, and I spoke softly to her to keep her calm. It’s true that I was going to kill her, but I didn’t like it when they got all agitated. Everything got messy. I didn’t like messy.
“Answer me. Do you know something about the redhead’s murder? Well?”
“I…but why…did you…”
“Yes or no.” I didn’t have all night. It was getting late and I had calls to make in the morning.
“What is it then that you are keeping secret? Answer me.”
“There’s no secret. I…I’m sorry. I don’t know anything. I just said that because…I don’t know why I say things like that. I’m sorry. I won’t… I don’t know anything. Did you…no. Don’t tell me. I’m sorry.”
She started crying again, but at least she was calm.
I leaned in and whispered to her.
“So, there’s no secret?”
“There’s no secret, she said, sniffling. “Not really. I just made that up.”
“Shouldn’t have done that,” I said. “I have one though, and I know you won’t tell.”
I moved behind her, pulled her head up by her hair and ran my knife across her throat. No mess on me.
I locked her door on my way out. I had gloves on, of course. I never leave fingerprints. No one saw me leave her apartment and go past the couple of buildings back to mine. That’s what I love about these apartments. Everyone minds their own.
This month, it was redheads. I choose a type and kill one a week. It’s a habit I picked up years ago from my Pops. Unusual, but fulfilling. I make it a rule to avoid those close to home, but with Bunny, I took exception. She was almost as annoying as Sissy would have become. Sissy, by the way, was a brunette. I guess rules are meant to be broken.
Wednesday, November 4, 2015
To commemorate the start of NaNoWriMo, this week’s prompt was words. We were to write a story incorporating the following five words: Tunnel, Measure, Eyebrow, Corporation and Cuff.
I knew I would get The Look when I gave Hermione the news. Hermione is my wife, and has been for the last 18 years. The Look is her own unique expression of complete condemnation. While her icy stare is burning a flaming hole through the middle of your soul, her left eyebrow forms into a perfect upside-down ‘V’. I’ve never been able to figure out how she accomplishes that. I went so far as to use a ruler to measure her eyebrow while she slept one night, but that didn’t solve the mystery. It wasn’t nearly long enough to come to a sharp point and yet still remain parallel to her eye on both sides. I considered suggesting she contact the World Record Book people with that feat since that surely would earn a mention, but decided against it since she does also lack an overall sense of humor.
When my boss informed me this morning that I no longer had a job, I agonized about telling Hermione. Even though the elimination of my position was due to my Corporation merging with another, I feared she would believe it was my fault. On the train ride home, I realized I wasn’t giving my wife enough credit. She would realize that I had no control over this particular situation. The merger resulted in a number of people being terminated since a complete restructuring of both company’s executive levels was planned. Besides, I was given an excellent recommendation and quite a handsome severance package, so it wasn’t like we’d have any financial problems until I obtained another job. She would understand. Right?
Wrong. True to form, she pounced on me as soon as I made the announcement.
“You never should have stayed with that company for so long,” she said, glaring at me with that eyebrow at its highest peak. “That’s why they let you go. You were nothing but dead weight after all those years.”
“But, dear, I wasn’t the only…”
“I’ll bet you didn’t even stand up for yourself, did you? I’ll bet you just walked out and didn’t take the time to give them what for, did you? Of course you didn’t. Now what are we supposed to do?”
The eyebrow remained frozen in place.
“But, dear, they gave me a very gener…”
“I’m going to bed. I didn’t have a headache all day, but now I feel like I’m going to faint from the pain. I hope you realize how lucky you are to have me. I scrimp and I save and I’ll make sure every penny of that last check they gave you goes into our savings. That way, we won’t be out on the street if you can’t find another job quickly enough. There’s dinner in the oven. You have yours – I can’t possibly eat right now. Eat all your vegetables and don’t add any salt. Go to bed after you eat so you get a good night’s sleep before you go out job hunting.”
And she was gone. She turned out all the lights on her way to the bedroom, with the exception of the kitchen lights. As I stood in the dark hallway, hungry, jobless and feeling like a total failure at life itself, I knew there was only one way out of this deep hole I was in. I had to kill Hermione.
I know what you’re thinking. Why get rid of her? I’ll tell you why. No matter what adversity occurs in either of our lives, it’s always my fault. She’d blame me if the sun came up late one morning. No, I’m not exaggerating. I spend my life under a dark cloud that always carries a thunderstorm and its name is Hermione. Throughout our entire marriage, I’ve been nagged, criticized, and blamed six ways to Sunday. Losing the only job I’ve ever had that made me feel proud and fulfilled actually hurt me deeply, big fat severance check notwithstanding. If only just this one time she would have tried to be supportive and offered me a bit of sympathy. If only. But, no. Not even once. Well, this is the last straw.
It took me a couple of days to figure out how to do it. While I was out doing interviews, I did a couple of run-throughs at the fancy hotel downtown and my plan is foolproof. I’ll take her to dinner there tomorrow night to make up for whatever mistake I’ll probably make and to apologize for not having found a new job yet, since that’s most likely my fault too. I’ll park in their underground lot and we’ll walk through the tunnel up to the lobby. It’s dimly lit and very few people go that way. It isn’t dangerous, but it is cold and damp, and mostly used by staff coming to and going from their shifts; although it is open to the general public as well.
On our way back to the car, after I make sure no one else is in there, I’ll hit her from behind to knock her out. Then, I’ll put a plastic bag over her head until she’s dead. I’ve researched that and it doesn’t take as long as you might think. I’ll get in my car and go home. When the cops notify me of her demise, I’ll tell them I don’t know how she ended up back there. I’ll say we went to dinner and had a fight. She said she was going to a girlfriend’s house, so I went home alone. Foolproof.
It worked perfectly. Just as I thought, hardly any cars were parked in the underground lot and no one was near either end of the tunnel. I knocked her out cold with the wrench I had in my pocket and pulled out the large baggie I had stashed under the cuff of my shirt. As I looked down at her laying there, I envisioned what my life would be like without the stone around my neck she had been.
There would be no one to nag me first thing every morning telling me to put on clean socks and underwear in case I was in an accident.
There would be no one to order me to eat every bite of the shredded wheat cereal that I despised because it helped to keep my digestive system working properly.
There would be no one to line up my blood pressure pills, cholesterol pills, and twelve vitamin supplements next to my orange juice, and refuse to let me get dressed until each one was taken.
There would be no one to make the God-awful meatloaf, dry mashed potatoes and spinach salad with no dressing that was served to me every Wednesday for dinner to balance out my weekly protein and starch intake.
There would be no one to turn the television off at 9:59pm when the news was over, since commercials were a waste of time and cut into the necessary eight hours of sleep time.
There would be no one to…
There would be no one.
I would be alone.
“Herbert? Herbert, what’s wrong? Can’t you hear me? Did you hit your head too?”
I waited too long. She’s come to. The Look appeared.
“Help me up, Herbert. We aren’t parking down here anymore and walking through this tunnel. There’s something sticking out of the wall in here and I hit my head on it. Why didn’t you answer me? Did you hit your head too? Did you have a stroke? I told you not to salt that potato. I’ll call the doctor in the morning so he can check you out. Do you need me to help you to the car?”
Who is this caring woman, and what have you done with my wife?
“No, dear, I’m all right. What are you going on about? You’re acting like you’re worried about me.”
“I always worry about you, Herbert. Why do you think I nag you about everything? I know I pester you day and night about every little thing you do, but that’s just because I love you. I know I don’t always say it, but you know I’m not one of those gushy women. You know I love you, Herbert, don’t you? Well, don’t you?”
Did I hit her on the head too hard?
“Yes, dear, I know. I really do know. I love you too. Let me help you up. I’m okay. I just got scared when you fell down. I was worried about you too. Maybe you should see the doctor tomorrow for that bump on your head. I’ll call the manager in the morning and tell him you hit your head on something so they can fix it. Next time, we’ll park in the other lot. Come on, honey, let’s go home and watch the 9 o’clock news…together.”
You know, that thing she does with her eyebrow really is kinda cute…
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
This week, the prompt was to write a story about having to face your greatest fear. The genre was horror. To me, horror does not necessarily have to include the supernatural. There are plenty of experiences that do not involve things that go bump in the night that would fill me with terror. Here is one.
What was in that drink? My head feels like it’s going to explode. Who knew an herbal cocktail from a shrink would be that potent? I don’t remember the rest of the session, much less leaving his office and driving home. How did I end up in my own be…
Wait a minute. What the Hell is going on here? Why can’t I sit up? Oh my God. I’m in some sort of a box. It’s dark and damp. That jerk is going to pay. By the time I get through with him in court, he won’t be able to practice anywhere on Earth.
Calm down, Jeannie Holcomb. Close your eyes and just reach up and push off the lid. Once you get out of this contraption, you’ll be able to take a deep breath of fresh air. When you open your eyes, you’ll see sunshine and blue skies. Okay. Push.
I can’t get the lid off. He’s probably got something on top of it. Screw the courts. I’m going to knock that bastard out and stuff him in this box. I need to get out of here. I can’t breathe right. I can’t think straight. I can’t… Please… Don’t let me…
“Miss Holcomb. I’m so glad you’ve come to see me. My views on therapy are considered controversial by some, but I’ve helped many conquer their fears. My recommendations may seem unusual, but I assure you, with your cooperation, it won’t be long before you will be free of the demons that haunt you.”
“Dr. Sullivan, I appreciate your seeing me on such short notice, but I can’t take this anymore. My friend at work, Susie, recommended you a few months ago. You were helping her with her fear of drowning. She must have moved because she doesn’t work there anymore, but when I last saw her, she seemed to be better at dealing with her fear. I didn’t think I needed therapy until I met this fella, and he was really terrific. I could see our relationship going somewhere; that is, until the other night. All was well until it was time for us to fall asleep. He turned out the lights and kissed me gently. Everything was fine until he started to move on top of me. I freaked. I could feel myself literally being smothered.
“He couldn’t take me home fast enough and I’m sure he’ll never call me again. I acted like a lunatic - crying and begging. I tried to tell myself I was being ridiculous, but I was so scared. It happens all the time when I’m covered with something and the lights are off.”
“Why don’t you sit back and try to relax. So, what you’re telling me is that you are claustrophobic – afraid of tight spaces?”
“Oh, no, doctor. You don’t understand. What I’m afraid of is that I’ll be buried alive.”
“I don’t see how…”
“Let me tell you how this all started. When I was little, my brother came in my room when I was sleeping. He took this huge Teddy Bear my dad had given me and pushed it on top of me and woke me up telling me that’s how it felt to be buried alive. He kept pushing it on my face over and over and I couldn’t breathe. He laughed and laughed, and told me that happened all the time. People were just sleeping very soundly or they weren’t well, but doctors thought they were dead and buried them. When they woke up in their coffins, they clawed and clawed, but they were underground so no one could hear them and they died.
“I told him no one was going to bury me alive, and he’d better get that bear off me because I was going to tell Mom and Daddy on him. Good luck going to the Skate Park next Saturday once they find out what he did to me. He told me if I told, next time they went out and left us at home, he would hit me on the head and then bury me in the back yard for real. I never told. But it didn’t end there. Every now and then, he would pull the same stunt, and not just with the bear. Sometimes he would use a pillow, but he would always put something on me or sit on me himself so I couldn’t move.”
“My, my, how terrible. Surely you realize that was just a cruel joke played by a sibling? Tell me how this has affected you.”
“Well, first, my Mom died a few years later. She had been very ill and died in the hospital. At her funeral, they wouldn’t open the coffin for me because they said that shouldn’t be my last memory of her. But I told them I had to make sure she was really dead. What if she woke up and clawed and clawed and no one could hear her? They said I was being disrespectful and no way were they going to violate her that way.
“When my father died, they wouldn’t open his either since he had been in an accident. My brother kept telling me neither of them were really dead and I would hear them clawing late at night. I do, you know, even with all the sleeping pills. When my brother died last month though, alcohol poisoning, I never asked for his coffin to be opened. I hoped he clawed his fingers raw.
“Now, I can’t stand to be in the dark even with blankets on me. You have to help me doctor. I need to get over this somehow.”
“I can help you, Miss Holcomb. As I’ve said, my suggestions may seem odd, but the only way to conquer a fear is to face it head on. When you go home tonight, I want you to turn out all the lights and sleep under your bed. This will simulate a kind of burial, and when you awake in the morning, you will see there was nothing to fear.”
“What? I’m not going to sleep under my bed. That’s not odd, that’s crazy. There must be some other way.”
“Alright, what about spending the night in the trunk of your car safely locked in your garage? Make sure before you close it that you know where the release lever is.”
“That’s even more insane. What kind of therapy is that? I understand trying to face my fear, but setting myself up for a nervous breakdown isn’t what I was looking for.”
“Miss Holcomb, you need to trust me. These are unconventional to be sure, but they do work. Your co-worker Susie, for example. She faced her fear and is now very comfortable being in the water. My methods do work. Perhaps with you, we need to take a different approach. I’m going to give you an herbal drink. This will help you to relax, and we’ll talk further.”
A different approach? Sure was. He drugged me, then sealed me in a box and buried me. I have to try to calm down. Need to keep my eyes closed, and not get agitated. I can do this. It is getting harder to breathe though. Why would he…
“Miss Holcomb? This is Dr. Sullivan. I hear you breathing very heavily so I assume you are awake and have realized your setting. Let me explain. You are locked inside a coffin 12 feet underground below a building on one of the properties I own. I have many, and I use them for what I like to call extreme therapy. I could see this was necessary for you, as it was for your friend Susie and a few others. When a patient refuses to follow my recommendations, I must use the ‘tough love’ method. If you won’t do it on your own, I will do it for you.
“I placed Susie in the cistern on my property used for water phobias and after a few days, she no longer felt fear of any kind. I arranged for her final resting place to be Halpern Lake. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. It is lovely there, and so peaceful. Quite fitting for her, as I’m sure you’ll agree.
“I’ll be back in a week for you. You’ll be surprised how smoothly and quickly the time will pass for you. If you breathe slowly and don’t panic, it will be much easier and you’ll have more time to realize how silly your fear really was. I’ll try to arrange a plot for you close to your family. Try not to worry. I cure my patients no matter what.”