YES, SHE IS MY MOTHER
The letter arrived in the mail. Mother remembered to put in her hearing aids, opened up our electric garage door and trudged down the big driveway to the mailbox.
The usual junk. Ads for new windows from Window Wizards, Clipper Coupons, and pleas for donations from the likes of the Southern Poverty Law Review, Robert Redford asking you to check off how much you wanted to give the Sierra Club. How about $10,000?
Mother placed her walker “just so” on the mottled driveway, which needed to be repaved. Tiny weeds grew out of the cracks.
“How do? Mrs. Reed,” called Mailman Dante across the street.
“Hanging in there,” she called. She waved which almost toppled her over. Her balance was still good. Long ago, she was a gymnast in the Olympics.
Who knew the hidden secrets we all possess?
After reading the mail, she passed out in the street.
Mailman Dante had been asked to do many things not on his official job description. He comforted a woman who could not stand her new baby telling her his own wife had suffered from that and she needed to see a good doctor.
Another woman asked him what to do about raccoons living in her attic.
“I’m so afraid they’ll crash through into my living room.”
He told Mrs. Willoughby to call Wildlife Pro and they’d be out within a day or two.
“Mrs. Reed, Mrs. Reed,” he said softly. Her mouth was open, her white hair a mess, and she could indeed have been dead. He took the liberty of reading the letter clutched in her hand.
On Marine Corps stationery with a golden eagle and wings was a note stating her son, Colonel Kyle Johnson Reed, had been killed in Afghanistan, but more they could not say in a letter.
She would personally be visited by two Marine Corps officers.
Dante, the first African-American mailman on their street, brought Mrs. Reed, or Janice as he knew was her first name, safely back into the house – she had revived as he half-carried, half – well, dragged – her into her enormous home.
And then into her bedroom on the first floor.
Not that it mattered, but houses on Glenmore Road in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, were great tippers at Christmas time.
“Dante, I can’t thank you enough,” said Mrs. Reed. “One favor please. See that green and white shawl across the room…”
“Not a problem, ma’am,” he said, covering her over.
“You are a good man,” she said, closing her eyes.
Slow tears squeezed between her eyes.
“Dear Lord,” she prayed. “Say it isn’t true. Say it isn’t true. And help me get through this latest travail.”
She was not young. She would be celebrating her ninety-first birthday this very month, February. And that damned son of hers was – what? – sixty five.
She prided herself on living alone. Her burglar alarm made her feel safe. But should anyone come in, she wouldn’t hear them, as she did not sleep in her hearing aids. They itched.
Putting on her reading glasses, she read that the two Marines would come by between 2 and 6 pm.
The hell you will. You will never find me. Never.
She allowed herself to lie there for five more minutes, hearing the ticking of the clock in her bedroom. As always, when she looked in the mirror, she was appalled.
She hobbled into one of three walk-in closets, reached up up up and pulled down a box. There it was. A lovely wig. First, she put on the “stocking cap” and then carefully fitted her curly red wig on top.
Mrs. Reed selected a packet of cut apples and soft cashews and put them into her back pack.
Why, I’ll look like a teenager coming home from school.
She laughed and proceeded with her plan.
She did have a plan, but didn’t realize it.
Selecting some peppermint Tic-Tacs before she left home, she steered her walker down the street to the widower’s house. Like her, he didn’t own a car. Elderly people were not allowed, by their families, to own cars.
How would she make it up his hilly driveway.
By grit. The same grit my Colonel Kyle Johnson Reed used in that goddamned Afghanistan.
She rapped on the side door.
“Hold on,” said a voice. “I’m not in the New York City Marathon, you know.”
She stood waiting in her gorgeous red curly wig.
“Why, hello, Mr… “
“Just call me, Russell,” he said. “Come in, come in.”
Before she did, she stooped down and picked a yellow chrysanthemum still blooming in February. She sniffed it.
“A very pungent smell,” she said. “Like an over-ripe banana.”
They both laughed and in she went.
And didn’t leave for two whole weeks.
Brian Lee Yeary has spent much of his adult life in pursuance of artistic endeavors including music composition, culinary arts and writing in one form or another. He was formally educated at Johnson and Wales University in Norfolk, VA and Arkansas
State University in Jonesboro, AR. He currently resides in Little Rock, AR. where he works as a professional chef. In his spare time he plays multiple musical instruments, writes and records original songs in the jazz-rock genre, enjoys hiking, kayaking, photographing nature and also watching a good re-run on television. He is forty-nine years old.
Buick Of Random Blue Color
He took down the keys from a hook on the wall. His slip-on leather loafers were waiting for him near the front door. His hair was still wet as he looked in the mirror and ran a comb through. He made sure the collar on his pale blue button-up shirt was without wrinkle and the points were edged straight down forming a fine tip. He peered out of the window overlooking the small wooden table in the kitchen.
Vick Rose would be arriving soon. Otherwise known as State Prisoner Number 0027126, from D house in the Palmer unit, or as the inmates called it, easy money. This was in reference to the fact that once you had made it thus far in your stretch of sentence, it was all downhill from there.
When he returned from the supermarket with the carpet steam cleaning unit, Mr. B. was there to greet Winston at the door. Winston slipped the loafers from his feet, one at a time, and placed them neatly against the base board of the wall. He hung the keys on the hook near the door. Mr. B. purred and walked tight circles around his ankles, rubbing against the hem of his khaki slacks. He bent down to pet the cat then pushed him gently to one side. On the wooden table under the window there was a lint roller. He pulled a fresh sheet into place and began brushing the leg of his pant.
He looked at the watch on his wrist. The clock on the wall in the kitchen was two minutes fast. He moved the hands to correspond with his wrist watch. Both were now showing ten after four. If the bus arrived on time, depending on traffic, Vick should be there soon.
In their pen pal correspondences, Vick had mentioned his family were none too pleased after his most recent arrest and incarceration, and he had asked Winston if it would be all-right for him to come and visit for a short while, maybe even look for some work while he was in the area. Of course, Winston had agreed, why not.
The knock at the door startled him. He opened it slowly, just enough to peer outside and while the safety chain remained in place. A man he assumed to be Vick Rose stood on the steps with a travel bag in hand. He stood tall with broad shoulders and looked around the neighborhood from the front steps of the duplex apartment. Winston pushed Mr. Biggles aside with a gentle foot.
“Vick?” he asked.
“Winston, that you?” Vick peered with a bulging eye through the crack separating the door and the frame.
“Yes, please…do come in.” Winston removed the chain from the door and opened it wide so Vick and his bag could pass. Mr. B. inspected the new guest’s pant leg.
“What’s her name?” he bent down to pet the cat. Winston took the bag from his hand and closed the door behind him.
“It’s a he. I mean, I call him Mr. Biggles.” Winston fumbled his words. The two men sized one another up as Vick reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a pack of smokes. Before Winston could protest, he had one lit and resting in the corner of his mouth. He was muscular and sinewy with cheeks drawn in around a patchy beard of three day growth that had started to gray prematurely. Winston finally found the courage to ask if he would please smoke out of doors, directing him to a pair of high-backed chairs with floral cushions on the other side of a sliding glass door leading to a sitting area in the back yard.
Winston watched him stand there and smoke. He hoped he had not offended his new guest. After smoking a cigarette and taking a long, hot shower, Vick sat himself on the sofa next to Kitty and observed his surroundings with the keen eye a convict develops over time from watching over his shoulder or carefully sizing up a situation in hopes of discovering a weakness he might exploit. The apartment was very tidy, with a place for everything and everything in it’s place. Although it was small, only one bedroom and one bath, it felt comfortable and cozy and Vick was pleased to be there.
Winston pulled a roast of beef from the oven and took the lid from atop to let it cool. He picked fresh rosemary and a sprig of thyme from a window sill herb garden which he added to the roast at the last minute. He poured a glass of tea over several cubes of ice for himself and one for his guest. The two sat at the small table in the kitchen, across from one another. Winston took pride in the meal he had prepared. He forked a large serving of meat into the bowl in front of Vick along with some carrots, red potatoes, sweet onion and natural pan juice. Vick took a sip from the tea and placed the glass on the table.
“That’s good. Do you have any sugar? I like my tea sweet.” He tore a hunk of meat from the bottom of the bowl using his bare hand and a salad fork, then chewed it aggressively and quickly. Winston went into the kitchen and brought back a ceramic jar in the shape of a colorful, plump farm girl filled with pure cane sugar. Vick wasted no time spooning heaps into his glass until it seemed there would be no where else for it to go. When he had finished, Winston placed the jar back on the countertop and returned to his seat at the table where Vick now swallowed the last of the vegetables and slurped the pan gravy from the bottom of the bowl. He felt Winston staring at him as he drank the last of the sweet tea.
“Sorry. You barely even started. I’m so used to slamming down chow so I can get me some yard time… I guess that’s something I’ll have to get used to again, being able to sit down and enjoy a meal without being rushed.”
Vick finished his second bowl in the time it took Winston to put away half of his first. He thanked his host and complimented him on how goddamned tasty it was. On his way to the patio he lit a cigarette. He left the sliding glass door open and pulled the sliding screened door shut so he could continue to talk to his host.
“So, how long you been living here?”
Winston carried the dirty dishes to the sink and began to fill it with hot, soapy water.
“I moved here in April of the year before, around the same time I started clerking at the book store.” The water began to rise in the compartment on the left. Bubbles started to form and take shape. He washed the silver first, then the plates and bowls, next glassware and finally, pots and pans.
After the dishes were dried and put away in the cabinet, the two men sat on the sofa and watched the television until Winston excused himself to the bedroom in the hopes that he might get a decent night’s rest. Before going to bed, he offered Vick a clean sheet and a patchwork quilt to bed down with. They each surrendered quietly to a cool, comfortable slumber, while Mr. B. vanished into darkness, laying low, out of sight.
By the time Vick decided to raise from the sofa and untangle himself from the warm quilt he was wound in, the sun had been up for a while. On the floor next to him lay his shirt in a crumpled pile. In the pocket of the shirt, he found a half empty pack of cigarettes. He had left a can of cola on the coffee table the night before but it had been removed and the entire table had been wiped clean. Winston had done his best to clean up after his guest before leaving for work.
After dressing, Vick went to the patio and took a seat on one of the high-backed chairs. A large dog could be heard growling from the underside of a wooden fence directly behind the small flower garden Winston had planted in the common area. The coming spring had coaxed little buds to the outer leaves of the stem where they awaited several hours of sun and April showers to continue pulling them from their timid hiding places. A dog’s frame could be seen in shadowy silhouette between the cracks of the wooden fence. Vick walked slowly to the garden. He plucked a young flower and held it to his nose. He then tossed the bud over the fence in the direction of the dog, who growled at the scent of the intrusion.
Vick kicked the fence in the place where the dog stood guard behind. He mimicked the growl which now came from deep in the animals gut. For a moment the dog fell silent. The two listened, one for the other. Mr. Biggles joined Vick at the side of the garden by the fence to investigate the back yard neighbor. Vick reached down to pet the cat. The dog snarled and fumed from behind the fence. The cat lost interest and began a retreat but Vick bent down and snatched him up by the scruff of the neck. The cat writhed and scratched, trying to free itself, but with one fling from Vick, he was up and away, kicking and screeching through the air on its flight into the neighbor’s yard where the dog’s aggression and fever were reaching a zenith pitch.
There was a brief skirmish. Vick listened, amused. Screams and distressed howls echoed from the other side of the fence. He plucked another premature bud from the garden and tossed it over. In no time at all the dog was silenced and the cat as well. Vick bent at the waist to see what he could see from the under side of the cracks in the wooden fence. The dog had strolled back to the steps that led to the back door of his owner’s home. Mr. B. could not be seen. Deep cuts from the sharp claws of the cat were bleeding in straight lines down Vick’s wrist and between the knuckles of his right hand. He wiped them clean on his pant leg and shirt tail. He looked all around the place but the cat was nowhere to be found. Vick returned to the high-backed chair on the patio and lit another cigarette.
On the counter in the kitchen there was a thick, yellow phone book. Vick thumbed through the pages to find a number for a local service that offered affection and discretion from young demimondes and flirty debutantes of the variety you may dream of while awaiting the arrival of an afternoon train or musing other prospective perversions an erstwhile libertine might be persuaded to ponder. After speaking with a receptionist who helped guide him through the process, he made an appointment to meet a young lady who called herself Violet. It was agreed she would meet him at Winston’s address the following afternoon.
For the remainder of the day he disassembled Winston’s tidy duplex, room by room. He was searching for anything of value; money, coins, jewelry, credit cards, safety deposit box keys, anything he could leverage. The only thing worth attention was what appeared to be a set of car keys to a Buick. The key to the trunk was also on the ring and what looked to be a spare to the front door was on the ring as well. Vick tried the key and found it did in fact unlock the front door of the duplex. The drive way in front of Winston’s side of the duplex was empty. However, right next door, parked under a lean-to variegated aluminum carport, there sat a long, slightly rusted Buick of random blue color, of the four door sedan style.
Vick Rose took a long drag from a cigarette. He dropped the butt on the front porch and smashed it with his heel. He stared for a while in the direction of the Buick in the neighbor’s driveway. As he turned to step back indoors he was startled to see Mr. Biggles sitting in the grass near a bush in the front yard. The cat looked no worse for wear, unlike the grooves still beading dried blood on Vick’s shredded forearm. He removed his shirt and used it to wipe the blood from his arm a second time, cleaning the wound as best he could. The cat, on the other hand, had not a hair out of place. It licked it’s paws nonchalantly with a quick flick of the tongue. Vick was so bemused he almost hadn't noticed the front door to the adjoining duplex opened and a man in a wheeled chair had rolled himself onto his own front porch and was now watching Vick and the cat stare one another down. He didn’t speak, nor did Vick. Mr. B. walked gingerly over to the man on the porch next door and brushed against his leg. The man reached down and ran his hand over the cats arching back, never taking his eyes from the man on the opposite porch. Vick waved. The man did not. Mr. B. spooked himself and ran around the corner of the duplex, darting and juking in and around tall grass, zig-zagging in the direction of the back yard until he was out of sight.
When Winston returned from the book store that evening, he could immediately smell cigarette smoke. The magazines on the table in front of the sofa were not where they had been neatly stacked earlier. The candle on the end table had been misplaced. When he hung his house keys on the hook in the hall he noticed the glass bowl where he kept his loose change looked as if it had fewer coins than before, though he would have to actually spill them out and count each one to know for certain.
Mr. Biggles hurried to him, weaving himself in and around Winston’s feet as he removed his shoes and placed them carefully near the baseboard, toe level with toe, heel against heel. Winston bent down to pet his friend with both hands. Vick was on the patio reading a magazine. He did not hear Winston come in.
Winston began putting things back in order. He sprayed air freshener all around to expel the distasteful aroma of the stale cigarette smoke. He wiped down the coffee table with a clean towel and the end tables too, placing the candle and the magazines in their rightful place. He fluffed the cushions on the sofa and swept the tile in the kitchen. As he was about to begin running the vacuum over the living room carpet, the sliding glass door opened and Vick stepped in.
“ Hey man! Been waiting on you. Wasn’t sure what time you would get in from work,”
Vick walked in the sliding door and sidled past Winston quickly, into the rest room where he stuffed the blood stained shirt into his travel bag and zipped the outer seal tightly. Winston said hello politely and started to work on the rug. Vick went to the refrigerator and helped himself to the last of Winston’s orange juice. He flopped on the sofa waiting for his host to finish vacuuming the floor.
“ You know what we need?” he posed a question to his host.
“ We need some Vodka. Give the juice a little kick, you know?”
He finished the last sip of his juice. Winston looked up from his chores and reminded Vick that he had just drank the last of the orange juice and even if he had not, Winston kindly reminded him that he was in a twelve step program for alcoholics as he was sure he had mentioned in their previous correspondences. Of course, Vick remembered. He apologized and suggested the two go out for some fresh air instead, get a look around town, check the action.
“ Not tonight. Maybe another time.” Winston continued to tidy things up. He suggested Vick go for a walk while he finished the house chores. Vick thought about it and then asked,
“ Don’t you have a car? I mean, how do you get around, you know, to work and all?” Winston thought twice before answering his guest. He was sure he had mentioned in their letters about losing his driving privileges due to over-indulgence. Perhaps Vick had a short memory. It wasn’t discussed frequently as Winston was prone to embarrassment of the subject. He reminded Vick once again. Of course, he remembered. “Yeah sure, I knew that”, he said.
Vick decided to take a look around on his own. He walked up the sidewalk and waited near the main road for a taxi to come by. In a short time he had flagged a ride. He asked the driver to take him to the beach, he didn’t care where, he just wanted to see the ocean. From the back seat he watched young girls in bikinis ride cruisers down front street. Summer was just around the corner but the girls were in a hurry. The water was still too cold for swimming but they were hard at work on their first layer of bronze skin and sun-bleached curls. They smiled and peddled along with young breasts bobbing in tight swim suits. Just over their shoulders the great blue Atlantic could be seen rolling behind the dunes. Vick had not seen such in a very long time and could not help from becoming excited.
“ Ten bucks, even.” The taxi driver said, reaching a hand to Vick over the top of the front seat. Vick acted as if he were having trouble removing the wallet from his pant pocket. He asked the driver to please wait a minute while he stepped out to wrestle the wallet and retrieve the money. Before the driver could answer, Vick threw open the door, scrambled to his feet, turned up the street and ran at full sprint in the direction of the nearest alleyway. The driver sped around the block with the door of the taxi flying open as he turned the corner to try and block the exit. He threw open the driver’s side door and leapt from the vehicle giving chase to the man in the alley, who now turned on a heel and bolted in the opposite direction. The taxi driver found an empty bottle of beer near a dumpster full of last night’s trash and hurled it toward Vick. It connected with the back of his head, ripping a gash that immediately poured blood down the neck of his clean, white, V-neck tee shirt. He slowed for a second to look around, then continued sprinting down the alley until he reached the other end and escaped in a crowd of lazy-eyed, half drunken beach-combers, bumping into them, then becoming a part of their throng as they strolled down the sidewalk shading themselves with cheap sunglasses and up-turned straw hats.
He ducked into a dark, musky bar a few doors down. After telling a well seasoned man behind the bar a harrowing story of being mugged by three ruffian bums in fishnet stocking masks, his sympathy garnered him free drinks and some first aid by a middle aged woman who had seen her better days. She drank fast and cleaned his wound with a bar towel between toking fast on cigarettes and slobbering dirty jokes in the direction of the other patrons.
She introduced herself as Madge. She had a place a few blocks away, if he would like to walk her home? The two could share a steak she had in the freezer along with a half bottle of dark rum, like the pirates used to drink. When his sympathy drinks expired at the bar he agreed to go home with the woman. The two walked to her modest bungalow nestled near the dunes. She began to thaw the steak in the sink and poured them both a glass of rum with two ice cubes. Madge turned on the radio and lit a smoke, speed-sucking nicotine as if it were pure oxogen. She kicked off her shoes and stretched out on a wicker couch. Vick took a hard draw from her cigarette, pulled a hefty swig from the rum, then fell on top of her, attacking her mouth with wide open kisses. She returned the passion. The two quickly landed on the hard wood
floor where Vick finished her off with command and expertise. She was not disappointed. It had been a while for her as well. She poured them each another rum and they took seats in a swing on the deck outside waiting for the steaks to thaw.
Madge licked the fingers on her left hand after swallowing the last bite of her supper. She washed it down with a swill of cold beer and lay across a wicker chair facing the window watching the powder blue shear drapes float away and then fall back around the frame, waiting lazily for the next breeze. Her belly pushed it’s way out from under her tight cotton coral-print blouse. She pulled it down and stretched it into place but it rolled up and over her bloat like a night shade flapping off the guide roller, and this time she left it there, exposed and unashamed.
In the background a television could be heard playing from the direction of the bedroom. The smell of the burnt steak’s juices and drippings cooling in the iron skillet overpowered the smoke rising from Vick’s cigarette. He watched her doze off in the chair, dangling her feet over the arm and resting a bottle of Milwaukee’s finest in her lap. While she slept he rummaged through her things. First her purse, which lay on the floor next to the wicker sofa. Next he made his way into the bedroom where he riffled through her collection of panties in a particle board chest of drawers. In a wooden box of black lacquer painted with red Chinese calligraphy, a collection of gold and silver rings, necklaces, bracelets and ear rings all mingled together. He wasted no time sorting them out. Instead, he scooped them up in one hand and shoved them into his pant pocket. Madge seemed to stir in the other room. Vick stood still and listened for movement. She cleared her throat, belched, rolled over on her side and was quiet once more. After clearing her medicine cabinet of all manner of barbiturate and sleeping pills, he sat himself down and relieved his aching bowels from the rare, over seasoned meat and sweet rum they had devoured after savaging one another.
The money he received from the pawn shop for fencing her jewelry turned out to be more than he had anticipated. She had better taste than he would have given her credit for. On his way back to Winston’s house, he bought a fresh pack of cigarettes and a half case of bottled beer. He opened two on the way home in the back of an unsuspecting taxi cab. When he arrived, he gladly paid the driver and even gave him a generous tip.
Winston met him at the door and gave pause as he took notice of the beer in Vick’s hand and the cuts on his forearm. As Vick walked by he also noticed the smeared blood on the back of Vick’s neck and the collar of his shirt. Vick said hello, walked directly past Winston and Mr. B. to the refrigerator where he placed the beer in the freezer before bringing one down for himself. Not wanting to seem rude to his host, he offered the first to Winston, who shook his head “No
thank you.” Winston asked about the blood and the wounds. Vick was quick to offer up a fanciful tale of attempted assault and robbery similar to the one he had regaled the patrons of the bar with, but by now he had had time to smooth over the conspicuous cracks in the scenario so that it seemed more plausible and slightly less ridiculous. Winston was skeptical, but for a time, assumed the possibility of truth. Vick shrugged his shoulders and popped the cap from the cold bottle, placing it too his lips and enjoying three long, gluttonous pulls. He licked his lips and exhaled loud from the back of his throat. Mr. Biggles started a purr in his throat that soon dropped to a roll from the rattling of his larynx. Vick smiled at him as he walked by the two of them on his way out to the patio.
Winston called to him as he opened the sliding door. “ I am frying chicken for dinner. I hope that’s O.K.?” Vick sat on the chair nearest the door and lit a cigarette. He blew smoke in a cloud above his head. “ Well, it’s not really my favorite. My old lady used to cook that all the time, greasy as all hell. Never was much of a cook, that one. But hey, I’ll eat it. I’m not one to complain.” He kicked his shoes onto the concrete patio and drank his beer.
The chicken fried in a deep pool of clean oil, every once in a while making a popping noise against the lid that covered the cut up bird. On the stove top a pot of boiling water awaited whole peeled potatoes for mashing. Winston paid close attention to the bird for fear of allowing it get too greasy. He watched from the kitchen as Vick drank his beer and smoked his cigarettes. He called from the kitchen...“ Excuse me Vick, I thought one time you told me you had quit, I mean that you no longer smoked cigarettes. Didn’t you tell me that once, a while ago, in one of our letters?” He asked while turning a drumstick. Vick smashed a butt on the cement beside the chair he was reclining in. He poured the rest of his beer on the ground, raised himself and walked into the house, easing the sliding door behind.
The beer in the freezer was almost too cold. Ice had begun to form near the tops around the lids of some of the bottles. He placed the remainder of them in their cardboard box on a shelf in the refrigerator near a carton of milk and a jar of salsa. Winston placed the lid back on the bird.
“ Well, let me see, friend. Fact is, I do recall something along those lines.” He pulled the pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket and tapped them on the palm of his hand three times, and then three more. He looked down the point of his nose as he tilted his head back. “ Tough habit to break, I guess. What about you, friend, you ever indulge? Not just smokes, anything. Women, dope, the ponies? What’s your shake? What gets old Winston wound up?”
Vick leaned back against the door jam. He put a cigarette between his tight lips but did not light it. Winston took the pot with the potatoes to the sink and drained them of the hot water. He returned them to the stove top and began smashing them with a large fork. A piece of potato jumped from the pot onto the counter top where Winston quickly wiped it clean.
“ Oh no, I never have tried to smoke. I used to drink a bit, but you know all about that. As far as women are concerned, well, I had a girl friend once, but she moved to Missouri and I lost touch with her. I never enjoyed gambling. It makes my stomach knot up.” He opened the lid and stuck a knife into the largest breast in the pan. The bird was done. He turned the flame off and pushed the pan of chicken to the back burner where the mashed potatoes were waiting for butter and milk and salt.
“ I guess I live a pretty boring life. But we’re happy most of the time, right Mr. Biggles?” He leaned down to pet the cat as it circled around his ankles. It was time for his dinner as well.
While the two sat at the table after dinner, Vick finished the last of the half case of beer. He told stories of life in custody of the state. He spoke of things funny and odd, ghoulish and frightening, unexpected and humorous. He told grand, sweeping epics that held Winston’s attention and stirred his imagination. The cat seemed marginally interested, agreeing with the occasional swoosh of his tail.
That night, Winston lay in bed re-playing Vick’s jailhouse dime-store tales over and again in his half-sleep. What outlandish yarns, he thought. Why had these grandiose anecdotes been overlooked in previous letters? After re-reading some of the penitentiary prose he had received, it seemed Vick had left out some details, even small seemingly inconsequential details, like the fact that he was in fact, a black man. It mattered not to Winston, he was just curious why Vick had never mentioned it before. But for all Vick knew, Winston was of color also. It’s not something that would be readily noticeable in a letter, especially since neither of them had exchanged photos of any kind. And what about the southern accent? Winston was sure Vick had mentioned more than once he was raised in the north, Maine, or Minnesota, he couldn’t recall, something with an “M”. He supposed being raised in the north did not mean he had not spent time in the southern states. He could have easily acquired the stereotypical drawl early in life and was simply unable or unwilling to rid himself of it, a matter of pride or heritage, perhaps? And what of the chicken? Vick had mentioned his mother had always prepared fried chicken for him on his birthday as it was his favorite meal. Winston supposed people grow out of things, even their favorite dishes. Either way, there were little fragments of Vick’s persona that ill fit the character Winston had envisioned of his pen pal all the while they had been exchanging letters.
While Winston pondered the puzzling details of his guest’s quirks and oddities Vick stretched out on the sofa counting what was left of the money he had received from the pawn shop after hocking Madge’s jewelry. He folded the bills in a neat stack and slid them into the rear fold of his bi-fold wallet. His head throbbed a bit from the cold beer. He was surely satisfied, nearly drunk and well fed. Tonight he would sleep like a man entombed.
Brubaker rolled himself down the hall and into the kitchen. The entire duplex had been constructed for him personally a few years back. It was created with extra wide-open spaces between the walls, around the toilet, through the closets and even out of the sliding screened door leading to a patio that mirrored Winston’s, being separated only by a six foot wooden planked partition. It was designed this way for ease of access while he moved about in his electric wheeled chair. He had been injured some time ago and was unable to walk or feel anything below the waist.
He sat on the front porch of the duplex and watched Vick throw small pebbles at the cat. One of the stones hit the Buick under the carport. Brubaker was quick to engage and scolded the man properly.
“ Hey pal, you there, stop screwing around before you ding that paint job!” Vick looked up to see the man in a rust colored terry cloth robe resting on an elbow, leaning to one side of his wheeled chair. The man scowled as Vick smiled at him, trimming his brow down to meet his eyes, which cut slim lines on each side of his gin-blossomed nose. Mr. Biggles scampered across the way to meet the man who bent at the waist to pet the cat without making much of a show of it.
“ Hey my man. Name’s Vick. What they call you?” he walked down the front porch steps and moved in Brubaker’s direction.
“ They call me a son of a bitch, and that’s my car your throwing rocks at,” he gently scooted Mr. B. from the porch and unlocked the wheels of his chair. After he entered his apartment, the front door could be heard locking and then the shades were pulled down as well. Mr. Biggles hurried beneath a small bush while Vick picked up another rock to throw at him. Before he could hurl the stone a checkered taxi-cab pulled into the driveway. A young lady in a tight skirt and halter top blouse exited the car and flashed a sexy, mischievous grin. The two got to know one another sitting on the patio and watching the cat chase dragon flies and dandelion spores blowing in the on-shore breeze. The young lady was all business at first, requesting her fee in advance before any further small talk. They soon agreed they were both thirsty and decided to walk up the hill to a small liquor store that operated out of a Chinese take-out shop where Vick bought more cigarettes and three bottles of cheap, chilled red wine.
A symphony on the vinyl record player was turned up loud and played in pitched crescendos reverberating off the walls from inside Brubaker’s side of the duplex, carrying the sound over to where Violet moaned and gripped the headboard of Winston’s bed with an Asian manicure fresh and tacky, with neon orange popsicle polish. This went on for the better part of the afternoon. In between sessions the two passed a bottle of cold red between them, not bothering to pour a glass, drinking directly from the dark green bottle, followed by sharing a smoke on the patio. When they had finished the last of the wine and were both nearly drunk and mostly satisfied, Vick banged on the wall that separated the two dwellings.
“ You can turn that mess off now, old man,” he banged on the wall once more.
Winston came home and hung his keys on the hook, placed his loafers next to the base board and pet Mr. Biggles as he rounded his master’s ankle. He wondered for the whereabouts of his guest. The sliding door was open and there was an empty bottle of wine on the coffee table next to the magazines. There was a funny smell in the air, perfume or carpet freshener. He tossed the empty bottle of wine into the trash bin in the kitchen. Vick and Violet were coming out from his bedroom, straightening their clothes as they walked past and went out onto the front porch. The bed was a mess and cigarette ashes were scattered on the bedside table.
Vick walked his friend to the end of the driveway where she could await a taxi-cab to pick her up and carry her back to the beach. He reminded her the two would soon take a drive, down the coast, to watch the sun rise over the palms. When the driver arrived to pick her up, she smiled at Vick, who stood on the stoop and watched her slide her tight skirt and partially aroused breasts along with the rest of her into the back seat of the cab. She smiled and waved out of the rear window, blowing him a kiss to remember her by.
When Winston returned home from a trip to the market, he saw Brubaker next door, parked in his wheeled chair on the front porch, wrapped tightly in his robe. He did not look well. He had been known for poor health as long as Winston had lived there, frequently having bouts of bronchitis and on one occasion a nasty case of walking pneumonia. Winston walked up the drive and asked his neighbor how he was feeling.
“ Been better,” he answered in a gravelly tone.
Winston walked closer to keep him from having to speak too loudly.
“ You look a little ill. Can I do something for you? Maybe a cup of hot tea? Do you have any medication you can take?” Mr. B. came to the porch and greeted the two men.
“ I have some pills and some cough syrup. Don’t do much good, though.” He began to cough as he finished the sentence. When he had coughed enough he asked Winston if he might be able to bring over some chicken soup, or whatever he may have in his pantry.
“ Of course. I have chicken and rice, I think. Will that due?” Brubaker shook his head then coughed from deep inside his chest.
Vick had spent all the money he had acquired from selling Madge’s jewelry. Now, he was nearing the end of his last pack of smokes and had drank most of the last of the wine and beer the day before. Winston’s home was dry for financial sourcing and Vick was now thinking of elsewhere as a means to supply himself with the vice and derelict distractions he so desperately desired. He asked Winston of the man next door. What about him and what of him. Although the two had lived next to each other for a time, Winston knew little of the man. He kept to himself, was polite if not slightly brusque most of the time and the two get along fine just that way.
“ I think he collects things.” This caught Vicks’s ear. Winston poured a nice serving of hot chicken and rice soup into a plaid thermos and tightened the lid.
“ Stamps, matchbooks, record albums…” Vick became less interested but was soon raised from the doldrums. “ And coins. He has a fantastic collection of coins from all over the world.” Winston concluded.
He was about to walk next door with the thermos of soup when Vick offered to deliver the good will and medicinal nourishment himself. Winston handed him the soup thermos and Vick carried it to the front steps to knock on the door. Upon seeing Vick standing there, Brubaker held a cotton handkerchief to his mouth and coughed with great force. He folded the kerchief and placed it in the front pocket of the big brown robe. He reached out for the soup and instead of handing it to him, Vick squeezed himself between the wheeled chair and the door face passing by Brubaker and walking into the living room. He immediately noticed a collection Winston had failed to mention; the case with the glass facade containing the rifles, shotguns, pistols and crossbow.
“ Sit that soup down on the butcher block,” Brubaker tried to hurry the man out.
Vick stood in the kitchen and sat the thermos on the table. He looked around trying to take inventory of the small apartment before being asked to leave. He smiled and nodded on his way to the front door. Brubaker jammed the deadbolt in place and twisted the thumb-turn on the knob as soon as the man had walked down the steps. He watched him from the window as he crossed through the carport and up the steps to the front door on Winston’s side of the dwelling. He took the thermos from the butcher’s table and warmed his mouth and calmed his aggravation with a slow sip of the hot soup.
The next day things did not go well for Brubaker. He awoke with a terrible fever. He took several aspirin but the fever would not break. The cough that had been a nuisance the day before was now an elephant sitting on the center of his chest, not allowing any air in or out of his lungs. After a long struggle to get to his telephone, he placed a call to a friend and asked for a ride to the nearest clinic.
Winston watched from his front window as the friend loaded Brubaker and his wheeled chair into the back seat of his car and the two drove away.
“ He must not be feeling any better. Probably going to the doctor today. Guess the soup didn’t help much.” He spoke to himself in the mirror and straightened his tie. One of the bookstore’s district managers would be visiting today and he wanted to look his best. He ran the lent brush over the leg of his pants before giving Mr. Biggles one last pat on the head. On the patio Vick sat quietly in one of the high backed chairs and listened to the car pull from the driveway. He heard Winston say goodbye as he started off for the bus stop. When Winston had left, Mr. B. ran past Vick on the patio and took cover in the garden.
Vick made a call. His new friend would take a cab and join him for a late breakfast. When she arrived, Violet knocked on the door and Vick quickly answered. “ Baby, ooh you look fine! Come on in here!” He opened the door wide and she strut her way past him sashaying into the living room. She mentioned he was now into her for taxi fare and any residual money she had to spend today, although her displeasure was outweighed by the anticipation and excitement of whatever the day may hold for the two. Vick promised her a good time and she was sure he would deliver.
First, they walked to the liquor store down the road where they bought more red wine, beer and cigarettes. Vick placed two sticks of beef jerky on the counter as well, after all he did promise breakfast. Violet was feeling lucky so she also bought a scratch off lottery ticket. Before they were out of the parking lot she had won twenty dollars. Vick persuaded her to buy more, which she did. This time, before they were too far away from the store, she had lost it all. Vick assured her this was not an omen of things to come and they each opened a bottle of beer.
After the two had drank almost a half case of cold beer and nearly two bottles of red wine, Violet removed her blouse and sat on the couch. Her breasts where perky and young and Vick felt pleasure and a little bravado from having such a nubile in his presence and seemingly at his command. He removed her skirt and the two of them laughed as they began to dance around the coffee table. The clock radio sang a tune from a tiny speaker. Vick twisted and popped, kicked and twisted. Violet glided smoothly around him. She moved in and began to rub his crotch. Before he could get fully aroused he stopped her and turned the radio off. He pulled her down beside him on the sofa and began to explain things as they were.
“ I was in the cell next to him. We talked, you know, to pass the time.” Vick opened the last bottle of wine.
“ He was a cracker, you know? From way up north. Michigan somewhere like that. Well, he started getting these letters from this dude. When he was through, I asked him to let me see them, you know? I was bored, real bad. Anyway, it was getting real close time for both of us to get sprung. On the same day, no doubt. Only I got no family, see. Nowhere to go, and he’s getting out, going to stay with this other cracker at the beach, you see?”
Violet took a long drink from the bottle. Vick continued.
“ I followed him to the bus station, told him I was going to see some people out west. We sat in the station waiting on his bus to get there. Next thing I know, he says he got to take a
piss. I say me too. We go to the restroom, and that was it. I didn’t really plan it or nothing, it just happened.”
Violet passed the bottle to him. He took a sip and led her by the hand to the patio where they both lit a cigarette.
“ I followed him into the stall. No one else in there, just us two. I reach out and grab him by the neck with both hands,” Vick held his hands out in a choking pose for her to see.
“ Like this,” he mimicked strangling someone.
“ He wasn’t too strong. He fell back on the toilet and busted his damn head. I squeezed as hard as I could around his neck. I could hear something pop in there. Then he stopped twitching and I laid him out on the floor. Real quick, I took his wallet and a piece of paper he had in his back pocket with the address of this guy, Winston. I came here, told him I was Vick, and that was that, no questions, nothing. So now, I’m Vick. Only Im tired of being this guy. Time to make some moves and get the hell up out of here.” He stood up taking Violet by the hand and began leading her around the makeshift patio dance floor as the tiny speaker in the clock radio buzzed along and kept rhythm.
The timing couldn’t be more perfect, he explained to her. The old hobbled up codger next door was gone to the doctor’s office, probably be gone a while. Winston would be at work the rest of the day. It was perfect. They would take the keys he had found to the Buick, bust in the sliding glass door to the son of a bitch’s house, take whatever they could load into the Buick and cruise on out, wherever they wanted to go. If, in fact she wanted to go with him? Why not? She could at least go for a few days and if she got bored, she could take a bus back to the beach. Why not, she agreed.
The sliding door opened easier than Vick thought it would. Once inside, he went straight for the guns. The case was locked but a swift kick to the glass gave them access. Violet helped him carry the rifles, pistols and shotguns to the Buick parked under the carport. Not being sure of how to use the crossbow, or what it might be worth to a fence, he made the decision to leave it behind. Next, they took the small color television set. The roll top desk gave him more of a fight than expected. The strong box busted easily with help from a hammer they found in a kitchen drawer. Vick left all the coins in the box and lay it in the trunk of the car. He told Violet they should check the bedroom before leaving.
In a sock drawer, some folding money and loose change were found. She took a gold bracelet from the stand next to the bed. The two were caught up in the excitement. They fell on the bed and began rolling around on top of one another. They did not hear the car pull up in the driveway. Instead of making an exit the same way they came in Vick decided to up the anti. He planned an ad-lib confiscation of the man’s wallet, credit cards, money and ATM card. He was a sick man in a wheeled chair. How much of a fight could he possibly put up? Violet was frightened of the idea of being caught. She kissed Vick on the cheek then ran out the sliding door to make her way back to Winston’s.
Brubaker’s friend’s car pulled from the driveway as he wheeled himself up the sloping planks of the handicapped ramp that led to the front door. He slid the key into the hole in the knob, jiggled twice and then turned the dead bolt in a like motion. He pushed the door open wide so his wheeled chair could pass through. As soon as he wheeled himself into the living room he could see the broken glass on the floor in front of the empty gun case. He also noticed the roll top of the desk had been busted as well. Now Vick stepped into the room. Brubaker tried to turn himself around but he could not retreat fast enough. Vick kicked him in the back of the head forcing him from the chair and onto the floor. He landed in a heap near the aluminum stand that once held the color television. He coughed hard, trying to clear his lungs and catch his breath.
Vick wrestled with the man to pull his wallet from the back of his pants. Brubaker was strong in spirit and carried much grit but proved no match for the street tough. From where he was laying, lodged between the con and the floor, he swung from the shoulder and connected with a short hook but this only provoked his attacker. After choking him briefly and smashing his face into the tile floor, Vick rummaged through his wallet and took out six dollars in cash, two credit cards and a local bank ATM.
Vick opened the refrigerator to find a half pint of vodka on the shelf in the door. His nerves made him thirsty and he finished it in one swallow. The man on the floor made grunting noises in discomfort and tried to pull himself up using the sides of his chair. Vick pulled the chair out from under him causing the man to fall face first, busting his nose and bleeding on the floor. Brubaker decided to lay still and hope his attacker would soon leave.
Vick slid the wallet into the back pocket of his own jeans. He gave a last look to the man on the floor lying in his own blood. He moved the chair away from the man to make it more difficult for him to go for help. He also ripped the phone cord from the wall and locked the front door and bolted the lock. Before he left the man once and for all, he pulled down the shades. He stepped over the man and walked out back onto the patio. Mr. Biggles stared at him from his hiding place in the garden. Violet nervously paced in the living room next door at Winston’s. The two gathered Vick’s belongings quickly. He scribbled a note on a pad and left it on the kitchen table.
-Thanks a lot. It’s been fun.-
Winston returned home around the usual time. The cat met him at the door. He slipped off his loafers and placed them next to the baseboard. He walked past the note on the kitchen table and headed directly for the coffee table where the empty wine and beer bottles were still scattered. He would clean the mess for the last time. He had decided on the bus ride home he would suggest to Vick that this situation was not in his best interest and perhaps the two should kindly part ways. It wasn’t just the drinking and the smoking, he was terribly untidy, not particularly appreciative of the meals and hospitality he was being provided and in general just not a very nice man. Winston hoped he would not offend his guest or hurt his feelings but he felt it was time for this conversation to take place.
Since Vick didn’t seem to be present, Winston decided to check on Brubaker. On his way to the apartment, he noticed the Buick was not parked in it’s usual place under the shelter of the carport next door. The car had not been moved since Winston had sold it to his neighbor, desperate to pay court fines and in little need of a vehicle for a time. He walked past where it should have been parked and stepped up onto the front porch. The blinds were pulled tight. Mr. Biggles walked close behind him. Winston knocked softly on the door in case Brubaker were sleeping. There was no answer. He and Mr. B. walked around the duplex and came upon the sliding glass door which was still open. Mr. Biggles spooked himself and ran toward the garden. Winston approached softly and stepped cautiously. He peered into the house as best he could, trying to see through the blinds shading the kitchen which were now closed tight.
Brubaker had crawled on his elbows across the floor until he had reached the gun case. He lay on his back where the glass was strewn on the carpet. He breathed shallow trying hard not to make himself cough. The blood around his nostrils had succumb to gravity and now ran
into the corners of both eyes as he rest his head on the shards of glass that fell from the shattered gun case to the floor. His heart was pounding in his chest, thunderous palpitations. He was certain who ever was creeping on the other side of the door would be able to hear the un-syncopated rhythm. He closed his eyes and tried to wish it all away.
Winston took one step inside. He stopped to hear what he could hear. From the other side of the butcher’s block he could see one of Brubaker’s orthopedic shoes attached to a foot curled in an unnatural direction. He took another step in to try and gain a better perspective.
He remembered the first time he engaged in a fist fight. It really wasn’t much of a fight. A young boy in his class had been picking on him. The boy followed him after school. At some point they tangled up like bramble vines, and began to throttle one another, although most of the throttling was taken and not given. He could still feel that first punch in the jaw. His head throbbed and his eyes watered as if to tear. The weight of the blow and the ringing in his ears amplified the impact until remaining conscious seamed nearly impossible.
Now here he was, in that moment again. A crushing power came pushing into the center of his chest. He immediately lost the ability to catch his breath. His mouth was open wide but no air entered there. His legs became as spindles of spider web. When he landed on the kitchen floor, his jaw hit the tile and that same sense of shock that he had received from that first punch in the jaw returned as if it had never retreated.
On the floor in the living room Brubaker lay with the bow across his chest. He closed his eyes again and exhaled a long breath he had been holding for some time. In the back yard, the
razor-tipped titanium arrow drove itself deep into a small sapling behind the patio. Blood dripped down the bark like molasses, slow and deep crimson, with shreds of torn flesh hanging there. Mr. Biggles watched from a safe distance, confused, hiding in plain sight, crouched low in Winston’s little garden.
Vick Rose and Violet drove the lonely highway south, down the coast for most of the night. By the time the sun had begun to climb its way up and over the tall, wind sculpted dunes and bent Dade palms, painting swaths of cloud with pink pastel and sea foam, they found themselves in the Keys. That long stretch of lonesome highway that separated scatterings of islands and placed one as close to the equator as could be imagined on U.S. soil, now carried them quiet and seamlessly to a destination yet to reveal itself. The slightly rusted Buick of random blue color churned along as if it knew the way.
Once in a Lifetime
I never believed that 1my dream of becoming a journalist would happen so fast. This all happen when I met this man who came into the diner one day. He was a short, elderly man with grey hair and a well-shaven beard. He was dressed in denim overalls and had a WWII veteran hat on the first time I saw him. What truly caught my eye about this man was his tattoo of a raccoon on his left triceps. I later found out that his name was Levi Armstrong. The first time I met Levi was when he entered the diner one Sunday morning. Levi ate by himself and I always felt bad for customers who did not have anyone to eat with, especially since he was a war veteran. After finishing his breakfast, Levi came up to the register to pay. I was working at the cash register that day and I began to treat Levi like any other regular customer. As Levi handed me his receipt and credit card I said, “How was everything, sir?”
Levi responded, “Just fine thanks. I’ve always passed this diner on my way to visit my son and this time I thought to give it a try.”
“Where does your son live?” I replied, trying to be as friendly as possible.
“He lives just a couple miles down the road from here,” Levi said
“Well, now you have a new place to stop and eat when you do get a chance to see him. I see that you’re a WWII veteran. That is truly amazing! Thank you for serving our country.”
The old man replied with a huge smile, “I guess I picked the wrong time to stop in huh?”
“Yeah, Sunday is our busiest day. Wait can get up to 45 minutes. A lot of people come to brunch after church.”
“I can see why. After all, the food here is good. I better get on my way. Have a nice day!”
“You too, sir! Thank you!”
As Levi walked away, I just couldn’t stop thinking about that tattoo. The next time I see Levi I will ask him why he picked that particular tattoo. Being a struggling college student studying journalism, working at the diner is a great opportunity. Although, the pay is awful and the tips are great, talking to the locals and visitors is one of the reasons why I love my job.
Two weeks later, Levi came back into the diner. He gave me a small smile and proceeded to his table. He had a cutoff t-shirt and jeans on this time, making his tattoo truly visible to all. After he finished breakfast, he came up to the register.
Without saying a word, Levi handed me his receipt. I was about to ask him if he was paying cash or credit when I notice the gun. For a moment I could not believe my own eyes.
“Give me all the money in your register,” Levi demanded.
“What’s going on?” were the only words I could mumble.
“You heard me!” Levi demanded once again.
“Hurry up!” Levi screamed.
“I’m trying.” As calm as I was, my hands were shaking. As much as I tried, I couldn’t stop fumbling with the money.
By now a few other customers realize what was happening. as I was faced with one of the most difficult moments in my life. I tried to keep control.
“Okay,” I muttered. Let’s just keep this between the two of us as I handed him the money. There I was staring death in the face but all I could do was smile. I was terrified but the adrenaline had me on high. At this point, the entire restaurant knew what was happening.
Levi turned around and waved the gun so no one would try to approach him.
Levi started to pull the trigger. “I told you to hurry up!” Levi yelled
Levi was tackled to the ground just as he pulled the trigger. I felt the heat of the bullet as it passed my cheek. I ran around the counter to kick the gun away from him.
After doing so, my manager locked the door and ensured the customer that everything is under control and to remain calm until the police arrive.
Now that Levi in cuffs and sitting in the police car, the customers were applauding me for my courage. Sitting in the car, Levi turned and looked at me and smiled, as if he was relieved. But what kept on catching my eye was the tattoo.
When Levi finally was out of sight, I started to write about what had just transpired, I wanted to be the one to write the story. An opportunity like this doesn’t happen too often.
The following day, Levi attempted robbery was all over the news. Several television stations and newspapers had interviewed me on how Levi had been so deceiving. However, the story written in the newspaper was my original story. The headline of the story was, “Sly as a Raccoon, Man Attempts Robbery at Local Diner.”
Kyrie Dunphy is an up and coming storyteller, writer, and experience designer. She particularly enjoys screenwriting for science fiction, fantasy, and horror for television, web series, and film.
She has been published in Disney Elite, CinemaCatharsis, Scarlet Leaf Review, and published her first e-book anthology, Fear the Lightning, in October 2018.
She lives in Orlando, and is a graduate of Full Sail University’s Creative Writing BFA program. Kyrie hopes to create new worlds and entertain people with her storytelling.
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Elf im Regal
Once he got to the house, Johnathan got out of his car and knocked on the door while gripping onto his briefcase and the present he had bought for his niece. It had been almost forever since he had last seen his sister and her family, so he planned to make this Christmas count to make up for other Christmases when he was away on business trips.
His sister, Minnie, answered the door and immediately hugged him.
"Johnathan, it's so great that you can make it!" she said.
"I missed you so much, Minnie," he said as they let go. "Is Gabby here? I've got a present for her."
Minnie nodded and gestured for her daughter to come say hello. A girl around ten years old walked over to her mother and looked up at her uncle.
"Uncle John?" she asked before running up to hug him.
"Gabby, it's great to see you. I got you a present." Johnathan said, handing her a small box.
Gabby opened it and grinned while pulling out a toy elf.
"I got it from my trip to Germany," he said. "What do you think?"
"I love it! Thanks, Uncle John!" Gabby said before running upstairs to put her new toy in her room.
"Why don't you make yourself at home? I'll let Duncan know that you're here." Minnie asked, letting her brother in.
Later, at dinner, Johnathan sat with his sister's family as Duncan, his brother in law, asked him, "So, how was your trip to Germany?"
"It was fun, I guess. I was only there for business mainly, but I took some time to go to the Christmas market to get Gabby's present." Johnathan said with a shrug.
"And that was awfully kind of you." Minnie said to him.
"The lady who sold it to me was really creepy and weird though. She said that I had to put a salt circle around it when the moon is full or something crazy like that." he said.
"That IS weird." Gabby said with a nod.
"I just thought she was crazy or putting on a show being mysterious. I just bought the elf. You know that I'm not superstitious, Minnie." Johnathan said.
Suddenly, he heard some sounds coming from upstairs and asked, "Are you not allergic anymore?"
"What are you talking about?" Minnie asked.
"I heard something upstairs. Did you guys get a pet and I wasn't aware of?" Johnathan said, gesturing to where the sounds were coming from.
"There might be something in the attic. You know, the little critters want to stay inside for the winter. We'll take care of it." Duncan said while shrugging.
Johnathan nodded and looked back to where the sounds were coming from as he tried to finish his dinner. Maybe it was just critters, or his imagination, but something upstairs bothered him...
The next day, Johnathan was immediately greeted with Gabby talking to Minnie and stepping out of her room.
"Mom, I have no idea what happened, but when I woke up, my dolls' clothes were missing!" she said. "They were on last night, but now, they're gone."
"We'll find them, sweetie. I promise." Minnie said.
Johnathan went downstairs to the kitchen where Duncan was looking at a mess on the kitchen counter: the hot chocolate mix was spilled all over and in different small lines with a straw next to them.
"What?" he asked his brother in law.
"Looks like someone thought it would be a good idea to use the hot chocolate as cocaine..." Duncan said. "I'll admit, it's pretty funny."
"Yeah, sure is." Johnathan said before hearing Minnie call his name.
He ran over to his sister where she didn't look happy at all. What was bothering her?
"Could you explain this, John?" she asked as she showed him Gabby's elf holding onto a hair dryer and pointing it directly at one of the snowman decorations with the air turned up too hot.
"I swear, I didn't move it!" Johnathan said.
"We used to prank each other when we were kids. Are you sure that you're not trying to get back at me from the times I pranked you?" Minnie said.
"Minnie, I touched nothing, I swear." he said.
She gave him a suspicious look and groaned, shaking her head as she left.
Later that day, Johnathan was fixing some of the decorations to make up for what had happened earlier, even if he didn't do anything wrong.
"Uncle John?" Gabby asked him.
"Yeah, what is it, sweetie?" he asked with a smile.
"I can't find my elf anywhere. Have you seen it?" she said.
He shook his head. Did Minnie decide to move it for revenge on the whole hair dryer mess? Before he could say anything, Duncan pulled him aside.
"John, could you PLEASE explain this?" he asked.
Johnathan looked and gasped when he saw the elf on his computer, which was opened to a porn site.
"Really, John? You have that up when we have a ten year old in this house?" Minnie asked.
"I didn't do it! My computer was shut off after I finished my work last night." Johnathan said as he cleared his browser history and got out of the site.
Minnie scoffed and said, "Don't make excuses. You're trying to get back at me for accusing you of moving my hair dryer, are you?"
Before Johnathan could respond, Gabby walked in and grabbed the elf.
"You found it! Thanks." she said before going back upstairs with it.
Johnathan looked at Minnie and Duncan who glared at him. This was going to be a long Christmas visit for him...
The following day, he was fixing his hair when he saw something written in red on the mirror: REDRUM.
"Murder? Real funny, Minnie..." he said to himself while taking a photo of it. "I'm guessing you want to get back at me for the porn fiasco."
He shook his head, thinking that she was being ridiculous and went on with his day.
However, at the very moment Johnathan got out of the bathroom, he felt someone was watching him. He looked around and didn't see any of his family members. Then, he saw the elf staring at him from Gabby's room before quickly disappearing. Johnathan gasped and ran downstairs to try to warn his sister and brother in law.
"The elf is alive, guys!" he said as he ran up to them.
Minnie and Duncan stared at each other and laughed at his claims. Johnathan frowned at this. Why wasn't anyone believing him? Was that lady he bought the elf from right all along?
"I'm serious, guys! I would NEVER lie about this." Johnathan said.
"Is it a full moon?" Minnie asked him.
"I believe it is," Duncan said.
Then, they just shook their heads at him and left.
Later in the day, Gabby had called them over the backyard where the elf was next to a hole where one of her dolls was broken inside. The dismembered body parts were scattered all over the inside and dirt covered some pieces as if it were a macabre gravesite. The scene made Johnathan want to gag.
Duncan glared at Johnathan and asked him, "Really, John? You HAD to break one of my daughter's toys just to get back at your sister?"
"I didn't even touch the doll!" Johnathan said. "Why is everyone blaming me?"
Gabby took the doll's remains out of the hole and picked up the elf, going up to her mother as she wiped the dirt off.
"Mom, do you think you can fix her?" she asked as she gave Minnie the doll pieces.
"I'll see what I can do, sweetie." Minnie said before going back inside with her daughter.
Johnathan groaned as he followed them inside with Duncan behind him. His own sister wouldn't believe him and his brother in law brushed him off while his niece had no idea what was happening. What was he supposed to do now?
That night, after dinner, Johnathan clutched onto his champagne glass as he talked to Minnie and Duncan. He had been quiet for most of the day after the doll got fixed and the elf was placed back in Gabby's room, but he had the feeling that he was being watched.
Before Duncan could finish his story, they heard Gabby scream. Johnathan immediately assumed the worse as he dashed to the kitchen with Duncan and Minnie. They saw her looking at the elf, who was crouched over one of the cookies she and Minnie baked earlier and over a Hershey Kiss.
"Why is it pooping on the cookies?" she asked. "Mom and I worked so hard on them and now, they're ruined!"
"It's only chocolate, sweetheart. The chocolate makes the cookies taste better." Duncan said to her.
"When I was your age, your uncle John and I used to do pranks like that all the time to each other. Go get some sleep, alright?" Minnie said.
"I didn't even do it, mom..." Gabby said while grabbing the elf and placing it in the living room on the couch.
"I'll talk to her." Johnathan said as he placed his glass down and walked up to her.
"Mom and dad said that you're convinced that my elf is alive and causing all this." she said to him. "Oddly enough, I believe you because I know you wouldn't break my dolls."
"Glad to know that we're on the same page, sweetie." Johnathan said, ruffling her hair.
"I'm going to go to bed. Good night, Uncle John." she said.
"Sweet dreams, Gabby." he said with a smile.
She hugged him and went upstairs to her room. Johnathan watched Minnie and Duncan follow her and walked behind them, hoping that nothing crazy would happen tonight after all the insanity these past days had brought.
When he got to the guest room, he immediately fell asleep, unaware of what was to happen to him next...
In the middle of the night, the sounds of footsteps woke Johnathan up from his sleep. He thought he was dreaming, but once he sat up, he heard them again. Immediately, he got up and went downstairs. Had someone broken in? Was it one of the critters Duncan was talking about?
Johnathan looked around and asked, "Is anyone there?"
He turned on the flashlight on his phone and walked through the darkened kitchen and living room in hopes of finding who or what could be moving around.
Johnathan had that feeling that he was being watched again when he thought he saw the elf on top of the fridge, but it moved out of sight when he looked back at it again.
The footsteps were quick and it just made him shiver when he heard them again. This wasn't normal at all! Why did this have to happen to him of all people? All he wanted was a nice Christmas with his sister's family without getting blamed for stupid things that he didn't even do.
I should've just listened to that lady and did the salt circle around it...Johnathan thought.
He went into the living room and looked around, his phone illuminating through the darkness. He felt a chill up his spine and kept looking until he turned and jumped once he saw YOU'RE ON THE NAUGHTY LIST written on the wall in red just like the backwards murder threat in the bathroom.
"Minnie, this isn't funny anymore! Now would be a great time to stop the pranks." he said as he heard the footsteps coming from the kitchen.
Johnathan looked around and saw shadows on the wall. Everything looked distorted due to the angle of the light. The smell of gingerbread got stronger as he approached the kitchen. As he went inside, he found the elf sitting near the cutting board with a knife in hand. On the cutting board, the words WANT TO PLAY were carved on it, much to Johnathan's horror. He glared at the elf and grabbed him.
"You little shit! You've been trying to ruin our Christmas!" he said.
Suddenly, the elf began slashing the knife at him. Johnathan dropped him in surprise as the elf began running around, knife in hand.
"GET BACK HERE!" Johnathan said as he chased after the demonic toy.
The elf was surprisingly quick, but Johnathan was able to follow it by listening to his footsteps and keeping his phone's light on it, even though it made grotesque shadows of his silhouette on the walls.
Because of the noise, Gabby woke up and went downstairs. She had no idea what was happening until she saw her uncle chasing her elf around.
"Uncle John, what's going on?" she asked.
"I was right! It IS alive!" he said while running around.
Johnathan continued chasing the elf until it noticed Gabby and walked towards her with the knife.
"Why is it coming towards me?" Gabby asked in fear. "I'm scared, Uncle John!"
Th elf then walked faster and faster approaching Gabby. She screamed. Johnathan gasped upon seeing this and hurried after it. He wasn't going to let his niece die to some stupid elf toy he bought in Germany!
"No, don't hurt her!" Johnathan said, grabbing the elf again.
The knife fell to the floor as Gabby picked up and said, "I'm going to put this away. Mom and dad will kill us if they see the knife out here."
Johnathan nodded and squeezed onto the elf hard to prevent it from escaping. The elf squirmed in his grasp. Johnathan grabbed the salt and poured it on the elf, which made him stop moving.
"Meet me in the living room, alright?" he asked her.
She nodded and put the knife away in the holder before meeting up with her uncle near the fireplace. Johnathan stared at the elf and at the flames while thinking about what he should do about it.
"I wanted to say thank you for saving me, Uncle John." Gabby said. "I can't believe that I was almost a goner there until you grabbed my elf."
Johnathan said to her, "You're welcome, Gabby. I think the best thing we should do for the elf is burn it. I'm sorry, sweetie, but it HAS to be done."
"I'm not mad about it. You can get me another present." she said with a shrug.
"Oh my god, you're so sweet and understanding...I bet you made the nice list this year." he said while smiling at her.
Gabby said to him, "I try my best. Should we get rid of it now?"
"Why not?" Johnathan asked. "On the count of three, we'll get rid of this together. One..."
"Two..." Gabby said.
"Three!" they said in unison as Johnathan threw the elf into the fireplace.
The two watched it slowly get consumed by the flames while Johnathan felt a huge weight get lifted off of his chest with that elf toy officially gone and not plunging his Christmas into complete and utter chaos. Maybe he should've listened to that lady...
"How are we going to tell mom and dad about this?" she asked him.
"Well, they listen to you more than they've been listening to me, so you can tell the story and I'll help you explain it." he said while holding out his hand. "Deal?"
"Deal." Gabby said as she shook her uncle's hand.
With that, they went back upstairs to finally get some sleep and not worry about the elf terrorizing them anymore...
With a groan, Hensley obliged, tiptoeing past the body sprawled on the floor. She wrinkled her nose as the stench of stale cigarette, beer, and musk hit her. She noticed paint chips on the floor where Gould stood on a faded brown spot of carpet in front of sliding doors.
“Ya good?” Gould asked.
“Yeah. It’s nothing,” Hensley said. She wasn’t taking a chance that Gould would kill her next. She had seen everything she didn’t want to know about.
“Ya sure? You’re pale. Shakin’. Sweatin’.”
Hensley shook her head, almost as though she needed to shake the image from her mind. “It’s fine. What are you gonna do now?”
Gould shrugged and peered out the window. There were sirens in the distance, but they were headed away from the motel. “Wait it out a beat, I guess. Didn’t use the silencer, so need to lay low.”
“Yeah. Prolly a good idea, Gould. But what about me? Where do I fit in with this plan?”
Gould looked at her, his eyes dark. “Haven’t decided yet.”
“So, you’re thinkin’ you’ll kill me too, huh?”
“Dunno, Hensley. I don’t wanna. I really don’t. Didn’t wanna kill Jimmy there, either. Sometimes there’s no choice. Sometimes your hands just get tied.”
“Why’d you do it if you didn’t wanna?”
Gould turned away. “There’s so much you don’t know, Hensley. You’re lucky you get to stay in the light. The rest of us? We toe the line between light and dark and get pulled into the darkness more than we wanna say.”
Hensley looked out the window, the sky was dark and not one star could be seen. “I’m not always in the light.”
Gould chuckled. “Ya coulda fooled me, girl. Ya always light up a room. That’s definitely not a trait of someone who walks the line.”
“Yeah whatever. I work in the morgue, but I’m a delight.”
Gould shook his head and pulled out his phone. “Stay put. I’m gonna make a call real quick.”
“Trustin’ me to do that?”
Gould glared. “I am.” He opened the sliding door to the patio and made his call.
Hensley sighed and slumped down to the floor in front of the dresser. She drew her knees to her chest and stared at the body across the room.
“Good news. I don’t have to kill you,” Gould said, easing the door shut. “But you gotta help me stage this and you gotta keep your mouth shut because you’re an accessory now.”
“Oh, is that all? Good thing you shot him in his damn head then, huh?”
“Just do it.”
“You didn’t use your police-issued handgun, right?”
Gould rolled his eyes and handed me the Walther PPQ he used on Jimmy. “No, I’m a fucking idiot and used the Glock, Hensley. What? You think this is the first time I’ve had to do this?”
“Unfortunately, no. I don’t think that’s the case,” Hensley said as she took a cloth and wiped down the gun before putting it in Jimmy’s hand and pulling the trigger.
“Wish it was.”
“Yeah…Me too, Gould. Me too.” Hensley said just before she pulled the trigger again, sending a bullet through Gould’s heart.
Leesa’s standing in the doorway, her face bunched up like a storm cloud. She glares at me for a moment and then slaps a cell phone to her ear.
“Never mind, she’s back now,” she says. A pause. “Twirling in the yard. Yeah. I don’t know.”
She throws me another scorching look.
If I hadn’t birthed Leesa, hadn’t wiped crap from her bottom, hadn’t heard her sing off-key during a school musical, hadn’t dried her tears when that joker Kevin dumped her, I might have quailed at that look. But since I did do all that, I’m not impressed. I just stop twirling and push past her into the house.
Leesa follows me inside, making uh-huh sounds into the phone. I can hear my son’s voice at the other end of the line, his words flying like bombs fragments: “…can’t keep disappearing like… seventy-eight years old...We have to..!”
Yeah, yeah, I think.
“Yeah, yeah,” says my daughter. “I know. Look, she’s soaking wet, I’ve gotta go, all right? I’ll catch you later.” The shrapnel’s still flying when she hangs up.
I don’t say a word to her, don’t even acknowledge her presence as I pass through the living room to head to my bedroom. She calls this “visiting” but I call them spot-checks. What will I fail this time? There’s always some petty crime, some smoldering wisp of a mistake that she’s ready to kindle into an inferno.
As she trails behind me, I know she’s taking in my damp, grass-stained dress and that I’m walking on the eggshell-white carpet with muddy shoes. I know she’s deciding on how to best approach me, as if I were a wild animal. Hah. Like she didn’t learn these tricks from me. She tested the hell out of my patience back in the day.
“Mom?” She’s going for gentle, reasonable. “Mom, why in the world would you…”
I pretend I don’t hear her–I’m sure she’s quite willing to believe I’m going deaf on top of everything else–and hurry through my bedroom to the bathroom. Even though she’s right on my heels, I slam the bathroom door and lock it, feeling a twinge of guilt. She means well. And it’s not her fault that she doesn’t understand. At least, not entirely her fault.
She thumps on the door, reverting to outrage. “Mom, cut it out! What is going on? You’ve been acting so...Where have you been? Why would you go out in a downpour? And with no umbrella? You’re going to catch a cold and–”
As she continues to barrage me with questions, I struggle out of my wet clothes, slip into a silky black kimono-style bathrobe, purchased last week, and plant myself in front of the mirror. Flipping the switch for the lighting, I study my reflection, turning my head this way and that.
Yes, I think. It’s really happening.
My eyes gleam like midnight itself. My skin looks plumper, smoother, less fragile. Even the folds of my neck look firmer. I wink at my reflection, then blow myself a kiss, like I used to when I was just a girl and the caramel voices of The Platters played on repeat. Hello sexy, I mouth at my image. Yes, you.
“Mom! If you don’t open this door–”
Huffing, I whirl around and snatch open the door so fast the knob flies out of my grip and smacks against the wall.
“I’m fine, Leesa. I just went for a walk around the block in the rain. Don’t overreact.”
She stares at me, open-mouthed, with such a concerned expression that I feel ashamed of myself. She is only acting out of love. Maybe I’ve been wrong to keep so much from her.
“Leesa, baby…try to stop worrying about me so much. To tell the truth, I’m better than fine. Actually I–”
But my daughter’s expression has grown from concerned to alarmed. I’ve made a mistake somewhere.
“Mama.” She pins me with her worried gaze. “You didn’t just go for a walk around the block. We were supposed to have lunch here hours ago. And I’m Selena. Not Leesa.”
Leesa. Selena. Name me a parent that hasn’t mixed up their children’s names. And these particular names–all those ee’s and el’s– what were we thinking? Even when they were little, we got them confused. It didn’t help that they looked alike, too, although Selena was a year older. Such pretty girls: my heart-shaped face, dusky brown complexion, and full lips paired with my husband’s reddish curls and freckles made for a striking combination. Everyone always asked if they were twins.
I guess some people would think that they’d be easier to keep separate in my mind now since Leesa is dead. Died with my husband almost twenty-two months ago thanks to some fool who felt the need to photograph his speedometer while going 90 miles an hour on I-66.
Of course, it would be Selena, not Leesa, carrying on like this. She’s always been the one to overreact. Even after I apologized for forgetting our lunch and explained that Leesa was on my mind because I’d been at the cemetery, she still insisted on calling Dr. Seth to discuss my meds.
“The forgetfulness could just be a side effect of one of your pills,” Selena says now, as if to reassure me. We’re in the kitchen. I’m sitting at the table like a good girl and she’s cracking eggs into a bowl to make omelets for lunch. “Maybe it’s the antidepressants or maybe even the sleeping pills. He’s going to try something different.”
I snort at this. Once you reach a certain age, there are no isolated lapses in memory as far as your children are concerned: all memory breeches are symptoms of Alzheimer’s or dementia. And if you’ve been doing things like not showing up where you said you’d be, taking long walks in the rain without an umbrella, and twirling in the yard, well, for them, that’s about as proof positive of brain degeneration as an MRI. What else could it be?
In my case, it’s Carl. If I told her about him that might clear things up. Or not. The way things are going, she might be ready to chuck me in a nursing home for good if I say I’ve been hanging out with a 69-year old retired grave digger every week at the cemetery. That we hold hands as we crunch through the clipped grass, him pointing out some of the graves he’s dug with the pride of an artist. That he first kissed me–lightly, respectfully–under the massive oak where he’ll lie one day.
Carl knows the most elegant mausoleums, the oldest families, the prettiest spots to watch the sunset–a privilege I only get to enjoy because I’m with him. Once as we were exploring, I made the silly remark that I felt like First Lady of the cemetery. The next week, he took me to an empty stretch of the grounds, full of mini-daisies. And we sat down on the grass, laughing because we weren’t sure how we’d get back up, and made daisy chains, a skill he’d learned from his granddaughters. When we were done, he put the crown on my head and pronounced me First Lady of St. Julian’s.
That was the day I first noticed that I was getting younger.
I am once again swept with an urge to tell all to Selena. She might not approve, but it would help put my so-called forgetfulness in perspective. I decide to test the waters.
“Selena, what if I told you that I was seeing someone?”
Selena’s brow furrows but she doesn’t look at me as she pours the beaten eggs into a sputtering pan.
“I didn’t say I was seeing someone. Just what if I was?”
She sighs, sprinkles grated cheddar over the eggs.
“I don’t know. Depends on who. I mean, you’re an adult, Mom, but there are a lot of crazies out there.”
“You wouldn’t mind?”
“Not if he was a good guy. So…?”
“Carl. A man I met at St. Julian’s.
Her eyes dart my way–sharp, wary. “Carl. Same name as Daddy. That’s... And you met him at church, you say? You’ve been going to church?”
“No,” I say, my heart pounding. “St. Julian, the cemetery. Where your dad and Leesa are.”
Selena carefully flips the omelet in half and lowers the flame beneath the pan. Her face has a frozen, frightened look. I can tell I’ve made another mistake.
“Mom, what are you talking about? St. Julian doesn’t have a cemetery. That’s where you got married. Daddy and Leesa are buried at Maple Hill, you know that.”
I stare at her for a second, then my face grows hot. This is no mistake. They’re buried at St. Julian and she knows it. She’s saying this to spite me. To punish me for calling her Leesa, for telling her about Carl.
“They’re at St. Julian.”
Selena jerks around to face me, knocking the omelet pan askew. It rattles on the stove burner as her fingers fly to her mouth.
“Don’t be like this Selena.”
“You just don’t want me seeing Carl.”
She stands there with shiny dark eyes, looking at me like I smacked her. Always theatrical, that girl.
“Carl, Mama?” she whispers. She turns up her palms. “St. Julian?”
“What? You think–you think–”
I stop. The things she thinks are too big for my throat.
As I push away from the table, she hurries over and tries to put her arms around me.
“It’s the medication, Mama. I’m sure of it. We’ll change it and you’ll be fine.”
I just shrug her off and stalk out of the kitchen. I want to get back to my mirror. Selena can think whatever she wants, but I know I’m already fine.
I know who I am.
I can see what’s true.
Hilario Lee Hernandez is an Army veteran who retired in 2018 after serving 11 years. He is the youngest of three siblings from Texas and was raised by his oldest sister. He enjoys reading, playing guitar, and painting Citadel miniatures. Besides a healthy obsession with the Warhammer and Warhammer 40k world, he also spends his free time as a script editor and short film maker. He is currently living in Orlando, Florida with his dog Rocko and his blind cat Dottie.
Leslie had seen the night that Charlie had destroyed the carport door. He had seemed drunk and had completely splintered the door frame where the latch sits. As she crouched there staring, she knew that was her way in. Charlie and his wife had moved in next door over a week ago and it seemed to Leslie that they had been more concerned with her comings and goings than your average neighbor. She had seen that nosy bitch watching her like six times. She had no idea what the lady's name was, but she had seen enough to know that she was nosy. Charlie's wife was a curtain peeker and it annoyed her to no end. So, she had decided she was going to find out what was going on with these creeps once and for all.
Leslie forced her way in with her trusty screwdriver, but was stopped dead in her tracks by what she saw. There wasn’t a single piece of furniture. She stood in the center of a kitchen that appeared as if it had never been used. The dining room had no table, and there weren't even lightbulbs in the fake hanging chandeliers. “What the?” she said to herself. She knew they had been living here for almost ten days, but suddenly her memory brought to her attention that she had never seen a single light from the house. Things were getting weirder, and weirder. The house was completely silent and to Leslie. It smelled of freshly peeled boiled eggs. She moved to what should have been the living room area, but it was also totally empty except for four silver storage boxes roughly the size of coffee tables. Leslie's short investigation revealed that the boxes were locked from inside. “How is that even possible?” she asked herself. “These things don’t lock from inside.” A hollow clang suddenly caught her attention, and she noticed the basement door was open. “Fuck my life, of course it came from down there,” she said, trying to contain her panic.
As she descended the stairs, Leslie's increasing feeling of this all being a bad idea was becoming more and more dominant as she tried to push her fear away. The closer she got to the bottom, the stronger the smell of old piss and what could only be something dead became. As she shined her phone light into the bare bones room, she noticed that there was only a dirt floor. Not the smooth and flat floor you would expect in a regular basement, but a series of mounds like graves and a general stench of spoiled meat. The room was much too big to be confined to the plans of the house. Charlie and his wife seemed to have dug their way into the basements of four other houses, but for what she couldn’t imagine. The further in she walked, the more prevalent the stink of old death and rotted meat became. Suddenly two of the mounds began to move and Leslie saw a dirty clawed hand reach out before dropping her phone in fear. In a panic and trying to grab her only source of light, she heard whispering. “Who’s there?” she asked, terrified.
“Leslie?” said an unfamiliar voice
“Who’s there!” Leslie said. “What the fuck is going on?”
“So good of you to finally come,” said the voice. “We have been expecting you.”
“Oh yeah? Who is we exactly?” Leslie asked. She was only thinking of the way she came in and the quickest way to get out.
“We have always been here, since the beginning,” said the voice. “We have no desire to harm you.”
“What do you want then?” Leslie asked. “Why have you been watching me?”
“Charlie has become too volatile and unpredictable. He has taken great care of us, but he is getting older and has become a liability,” the voice said. “We need you, Leslie.”
“Need me? Need me for what!?” Leslie asked. “What could you possibly need from me?”
“We need your young, Leslie,” the voice said in a sing song tone. “In order to survive, we need fresh lives and your children possess the most precious.”
Horrified, Leslie remembered the storage boxes upstairs. Those were children up there! A gut-wrenching nausea struck her and almost sent her to her knees. “Why would you do this?” she asked. “Why?”
“It is our right. We have lived for millions of years and have survived the same way. It is the way of your world for the strong to use the weak is it not?” asked the voice. “We created your civilization to serve us and it has faithfully, but these times are much more difficult,” the voice said. “Your kind has forgotten us, and we are forced to live like animals. For now.”
Leslie felt her phone, but before she could raise it to shine light on her conversationalist, it was knocked from her hand. She felt something slimy and strong climbing its way up her arm. It slowly wrapped itself around her like a snake. The tip searched her face. The thing acted as if it were looking for a way inside. She was horrified as she heard the voice inside her head. She felt herself falling into a deep chasm, where only the voice could be heard.
“We need you Leslie,” the voice crooned. “We need you to bring us life, for we must survive. We are not your enemy. We are your salvation,” the voice whispered.
Leslie Hall was no more. Leslie Hall was something new.
My Daily Route
“Where are you heading, little one?” I asked.
“Anywhere but here,” she replied.
“Well, what are you waiting for?”
She walked up to the passenger side door and stood there for a couple seconds before pulling on the door handle. The hinges creaked as she opened the door. I heard the old leather crack as she took her seat. She then closed the door behind her with strong intention.
“Off we go,” I said.
The first ten minutes was a quiet ride, and that isn’t a bad thing. She’s the third person I picked up this week, and they were all the same. Quiet. This long stretch of road is a very long and quiet road. I try to help people out along the way so that the ride is more bearable. Some accept and others refuse. You never know what happens to those who refuse. Several more minutes pass, and I glanced over toward my new passenger. She was staring out the window with a subtle scowl on her face.
“You okay, little one?” I asked.
She took in a sharp breath. Her eyes flicked left and right along with her head. After examining her surroundings, she sunk back into her seat. “Yeah,” she replied. “Everything is fine.”
“Ya know, if you’re going to be riding with me all the way to Pillow Creek, we should at least get to know each other,” I said.
“Pillow Creek? So that’s where we are going.”
“Is that a problem?”
“No, it isn’t.” Silence filled the truck again for several moments.
“Look, we still have about three hours until we get to Pillow Creek,” I said. “The radio hasn’t worked in this truck since twenty-one, so the only thing we have to entertain ourselves is conversation. Let’s start with names. My name is Reggie. What’s yours?”
She didn’t answer for several seconds. Her eyes were locked on the road. “Luna,” she replied. “My name is Luna.”
“Ah. That’s a beautiful name. So, Luna, how old are you?”
“Old enough to run away from home,” said Luna
A chuckle escaped from me. “That’s a good one,” I said. “How long have you been on the road for?”
“Long enough to be tired of walking.”
Another chuckle escaped me, but this one evolved into laughter. “Oh my. I didn’t realize you were on a secret mission.”
I turn towards Luna and notice that she is glowering at me. Then, our eyes locked. Slowly, I saw that look in her eye change. Her once colorless jet black eyes now had a subtle twinkle in them. She slowly relaxed and sunk back into her seat.
I began by saying, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend—”
Red and blue lights start to flash behind us before the words could come out. The high pitched screech made Luna jump.
“Damn it,” I said. “I wasn’t paying attention to my speed.”
I brought the truck to a stop and opened the middle compartment to grab my information. If I am lucky, Officer Murphy or Officer Miles is on patrol today. I definitely don’t need another ticket. I looked over at Luna and began to worry. She had cowered against the passenger side door and glued her face against the window. The officer came up to the driver’s side window. I didn’t recognize him. He must be new.
“License and registration, please,” said the officer.
I handed the officer my papers. “I am so sorry, officer,” I said. “I didn’t realize how fast I was going.”
The officer didn’t look at me. His eyes were fixed on Luna. “Yeah, yeah, I’ll be right back,” replied the officer.
I looked back towards Luna. I could see her heart pounding out of her chest. “Don’t worry, this’ll be over quick,” I said.
The officer returns to the window after several minutes and holds out my papers in his left hand. I reach out to grab them from him out of habit. I didn’t notice the gun in his right hand until he shot at me. I flinched and put my hands up in self-defense. I waited for the impact and the pain to come, but all I felt was the wind. I opened my eyes to witness the officer’s right arm dissolving to dust. Before long, the officer was gone with the wind.
I look over towards Luna only to find the passenger-side door open and the seat empty. The police car that the officer drove sped past me. The lights flashing. I sat there for several moments waiting for the punchline. When it didn’t come, I reached over to close the passenger-side door. That was when I noticed the folded paper on the floor. I picked it up, unfolded it, and saw the picture of Luna along with a substantial amount of reward money. It was then that I realized I let a once in a lifetime opportunity slip away.
ANN J. BRADY
BRIAN LEE YEARY
CARLOS A. ALMARAZ
CURTIS A. BASS
DR. PAT SPENCER
DYLAN "NITE" ORR
ED N. WHITE
ERIC D. GOODMAN
FERNANDO E. IRIARTE RIVERA
GARY P. PAVAO
HILARIO LEE HERNANDEZ
H. L. DOWLESS
RUTH Z. DEMING