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.