KEITH BURKHOLDER - SHORT-STORIES
Keith Burkholder has been published in Creative Juices, Sol Magazine, Trellis Magazine, Foliate Oak Literary Journal, New Delta Review, Poetry Quarterly, and Scarlet Leaf Review. He has a bachelor's degree in statistics with a minor in mathematics from SUNY at Buffalo (UB).
Her Ghost reincarnates at night from the lake
She was known in these parts as the famous spiritualist. She was able to tell people about past lives and the lives of the living.
She died two years ago, and her spirit still lives on. People from around here have seen her ghost rise from the lake where she was buried.
She was cremated by her loved ones. This was the way she wanted to be buried when she died. Her ashes were scattered in the middle of this lake where she lived.
The townspeople knew her well and have seen her ghost rise from the lake only at night. She would rise from the lake and wave to others as they passed by. She is not destructive at all and loves how the living still see her.
This ghost will always be a part of this lake and community. People have seen her rise from the lake and wave to others numerous times.
There have been others after being cremated whose ashes were spread in the lake, but nothing happened. It was completely different for this person.
It is as if fate is giving her a second chance at life. However, her second life is as a ghost not in a human state.
Death is a hard concept to really understand. However, it can be harsh or in the case of this former spiritualist, good, because she is able to come back and see others as a ghost.
In her new state, she can fly around the lake and see society this way. She can see people and experience life as she will. After some time, she disappears and goes back to where she came from while dead.
The lake is vast, but not overwhelming in size. It is a beautiful sight for those who see and is enjoyable to be around when the weather is decent.
This ghost would never scare or harm anyone. While she was alive, she was noted mostly for her kindness and compassion from others.
Decent people are hard to find in this world. This woman was decent and really cared about others in general.
The people in this town were greatly saddened when she died. They will always remember her and have great feelings toward her as well.
Her ghost is a reminder of her other life. She is still alive in some way to others and her ghost comes up frequently during the nighttime.
Ghosts are very hard to pinpoint. They come in various ways. They can scare others or just lookout for them and be friendly.
In the case of this spiritualist, she is friendly and caring. Her ghost will remain this way as a reminder to others. Her home is the lake where her ashes were spread.
Keep an open mind when you think about the dead. This is truly the case for this woman. This is how it is and will remain as time continues forward now and until the end of time.
He lives on planet Earth but wants to leave this planet. His level of anxiety is great due to the constant wars that happen on this planet.
He needs to leave planet Earth and go somewhere else in the solar system. He has updated his passport and wants to go to Mars. Mars is a place that is pacifistic in nature.
He needs his passport to go to this planet. He is tired of the constant tensions on planet Earth and needs to live elsewhere.
He is alone and wants to get to a new place. He has always wanted to go to Mars and now is the perfect opportunity for him to do so.
Mars is the world for pacifists. It is a planet that does not believe in war and people there want to keep it this way.
Earth is known to the Martian world as unpredictable. It can be safe one moment and then destructive the next.
This Earthling needs a major change in his life and Mars is this. He can’t wait to leave Earth and change homes and live on Mars.
He is single and has no children. He believes that anything good can happen to him on Mars. This is a place where he needs to go to and spend the rest of his life there as a new citizen.
He is now ready to leave Earth. He was living at a shelter because there was a war in his town and bombs destroyed his home.
He will leave Earth via his space pod. This is really the only thing he owns and his passport. His space pod is parked in a garage near the shelter.
He has told the shelter owner about his intentions. He can leave Earth because he has transportation and his passport. He has enough fuel in his space pod for him to reach Mars with no problems at all.
It is now morning and the war is still waging in his hometown. He is safe at the shelter and will leave here immediately.
He is excited about leaving Earth and wants a new home in a safe world. He has had enough of the wars that have taken place on Earth while he has lived here.
Planet Earth has really gone downhill over the years. It was peaceful at one time, but constant tensions have caused numerous wars on the planet.
The anxieties have caused this person great frustration and he needs to curb them by leaving the planet altogether. Mars is the perfect place for him to go to.
This man goes into his space pod. He is happy to be out of the shelter and is now ready to leave Earth.
Once he enters space he will travel at warp speed until he reaches the atmosphere of Mars. Then he will be able to gently land on the surface of that planet.
He is going solo and this suits him fine. He wants to leave Earth and go someplace where he can find a sanity in his life.
He has entered his space pod. He will now program it to leave Earth. He will then fly up into the atmosphere and then over time will leave Earth and then travel at warp speed until he reaches the planet of Mars.
The whole process of leaving Earth is working well for this person. He is doing everything as planned and he feels great now.
He has left Earth and has reached the atmosphere quickly. He will now travel to Mars at warp speed until he reaches that destination.
He likes to travel at warp speed because he gets to his destination much faster. He is now doing this and can’t wait to land on Mars.
Again, when he reaches the atmosphere of Mars the warp speed will stop and then he will land gently when he reaches the surface of that planet. His space pod is programmed to do all of this for him.
He has reached the atmosphere of Mars. The speed has slowed down greatly, and he will land carefully on the surface of Mars when he gets there.
It is so quiet up here in the atmosphere of Mars. This person wants to see Mars and live somewhere where he doesn’t have to worry about his safety. This person wants his life to get better and needed to leave Earth to do this.
He doesn’t miss Earth at all. In fact, he is very happy to have left the planet. He wants to start a new life for himself on Mars.
People come and go from places in the solar system. This is how it for certain people. People want to have great lives for themselves wherever that may be in the universe.
He is now going down from the atmosphere and will eventually reach the surface of Mars. He is excited to finally be here. It was a quick trip for him.
Mars feels very peaceful to this person. He feels like a weight has been lifted taken off his shoulders because he is here.
Over time, he does land on the surface of Mars. He is ecstatic to be somewhere else and to be in a world that does not believe in war and destruction.
He has landed in a quiet place on Mars. This is a very popular landing area for people that come to this planet.
The landing was soft and perfect. There is peace all around him as he landed. He now opens the space pod, so he can get out.
Mars looks a lot different than Earth. However, the main language spoken here is English. He will fit in well here.
He is out of his space pod and uses a remote to make his space pod disappear from being seen.
When he goes to a different location on Mars he can use his remote and the space pod will reappear in front of him there.
He is now ready to walk to the town nearby. This is a new experience for him, but he is glad he made it safely to this planet.
He is now walking toward the town nearby. It is about a half a mile away. He can see it in the distance and is eager to go there.
This town is relatively large. It is a place where people are friendly and there has never been a war or any disturbances of the kind there.
He continues his walk to this town. The sun is still shining outside, and it is a warm day here in this part of Mars.
He likes being alone while walking to this town. All kinds of optimistic thoughts fill his mind as he continues his way to this town.
After a short period of time, he reaches the town’s limits. He is now in the town. This is one decent looking place.
People seem to care about one another here. This is appealing to this person as he continues to walk through it.
This town has a lot of interesting buildings and other establishments. The life on Mars with regards to people resembles Earth closely.
Martians look identical to humans. This is very appealing to this person and he will now go to what looks like a mall close to where he is in town.
This person explored this town heavily, including the mall. He got used to being here on his own and eventually purchased a home and is now working.
Mars is where he will stay, and he has had enough of planet Earth. During this time, wars continue to wage on Earth.
He will never go back to Earth. The life he has on Mars is what he wants to live with. He has made a few friends in the process, too.
The town he lives in is great and he loves the fact that he has freedoms here that did not exist on planet Earth. Mars was his true calling as well.
There is nothing more to add about this person’s life. Mars is his home and it will be until he dies. Peace is hard to come by, but on Mars it is a reality and he loves this and wants it to remain here. His future remains open and he hopes it continues to be bright as time passes one day at a time.
NICHOLAS SKODA - THE AMAZON
Nicholas Skoda lives in east Tennessee. He is a writer of short fiction and his day job is with a weekly newspaper. He actually kind of likes it, too. He finds solace in the strange and cultivates the off-kilter in his work.
It would only take about 20 minutes for the jungle to strangle and kill someone like me. I’ll be the first to admit it. Maybe not even 20 minutes. I could break the world record for fastest anyone has ever been killed by a jungle. Not even an animal of the jungle, just the jungle itself. An animal would probably liven up the process though.
The vines would tangle around my arms and legs and the air would condense to a point of unbreathability and I would melt into a sloppy mess on the jungle floor. My eyes would still work so I could see it all happening. I would seriously hate to lose my vision. I’d be moss food. I love moss; the scent and the feel of it. Sometimes I lay my head on moss even if I’m not tired. So it would be appropriate for me to become moss food. When I was a kid I was a boy scout. We learned how to use moss to survive. I don’t remember how now, though.
Who would miss me? I’ll tell you who. My constituants is who. That’s just what I call them. My fans, my diehards, my readership. I am a writer. A journalist. A reporter. People rely on me, see. People rely on my words, they rely on my mind and my ideas. So i can’t go off dying in some jungle.
I’m a writer, did I say that. I write for a newspaper, The Daily Post-Athenian, in Athens, Tennessee. Honestly, it’s one of the best newspapers you can get your hands on. My opinion column is really something else. But that’s just my opinion.
Sure, it is a small town. Not many people, backwards societal views and all, but man, some peculiar shit happens.
Like this one time, I did a story on this old Native American fellow that was importing peyote buttons and selling them to high school kids. It was really good stuff, from what I heard.
Another time, I covered a grave robbery, while it was occuring. The grave robbers were super cool about being interviewed and everything. As far as I know they are still at large.
Anyways, There is this family here in Athens: the Mulgrews. They’re a weird bunch, but brilliant. At least people say they are. Papa Mulgrew, that’s his real name, was a scientist. Only Mulgrew left is Old Spencie Mulgrew, again, his real name. He’s got to be a thousand years old by now. Old Spencie lives on top of a giant cliff and pisses off it about every night. I don’t even think he’s waxed when he does it.
Old Spencie followed in his father’s footsteps and became a scientist, a damn good one to boot. He studied all things living. Plants, animals, people, maybe even fish. He’s gone and retired now though. I guess he doesn’t feel like researching any of those things anymore. I don’t think I’ll ever retire. Don’t make enough money to. And also I couldn’t do that to my constituents.
Well, if you follow the news, you’ve probably heard about the Amazon Jungle. It’s in South America. Not like southern America, because that’s where I am but South America, the continent. Honestly, I love the Amazon Jungle. Without it, my stories wouldn’t have anything to be printed on. Apparently it’s in a lot of trouble, though. Not only are all the trees being cut down to make newspapers, but the people are losing their minds and eating each other. It’s goddam far out, if I do say so myself. I can’t imagine eating someone but sometimes I can kind of imagine being eaten.
Apparently there is something in the water of the Amazon River, which is a river in the Amazon, that is causing the villagers to go all berzerk. A microorganism? I think that’s what the reporter on channel 6 said. I wonder if he writes his own stories? Probably not. What a damn sorry excuse for a guy. This world is going to hell in a handbag.
So there is this Amazonian Microbe that is making people eat each other and the U.S. Government has gone and gotten themselves involved. It makes sense though. I mean if that Microbe travels up the Amazon into the ocean then into the Gulf of Mexico then into the Mississippi River, we are all up shits creek. You’ll see Mother Teresa munching down on Sammy Hairston. He’s a baseball player. Only baseball card I ever owned. He died on Halloween. Probably wasn’t eaten to death by a nun but I guess I can’t rule that out either. I may have something there, what a headline that would make. I’ll run it by my editor. He likes stuff like that, says it sells.
Back to the point though, the U.S. has gotten all mixed up in this ordeal and when that happens, the U.S. brings in the big guns, the specialists. Not many scientists specialize in Cannibalistic Microbes in the Amazon, I wouldn’t think. But take a guess at who does. Old Spencie Mulgrew, the bastard. In classic Mulgrew fashion, he is the only son of a bitch alive the government could find that had any potential familiarity with the Microbe. How’d he even come to specialize in that anyways? Well, I guess it is my job to find out.
I called Old Spencie up on my office phone. I’ve got a really nice office. Two desks, one wood, one metal, so I can choose which I feel like using on the day. No window though. Not much to see outside, anyways.
“Old Spencie, how’d ya do sir. Its Broussard at the Athenian. Seriously How’ve you been? Remember I did that story on your ferret a few months back?”
“Eh? What the hell are you talkin’ about, ferret? I’ve never had a damn ferret in my life.”
I’m almost certain I’d done a story on Old Spencie’s ferret.
“Anyway, Old Spencie pal, I heard the Government has got you comin’ out of retirement for one last shindig? What do ya say? Up for an interview?
“Eh? Bring some beer. We can share but I drink real fast. Say 3 o'clock.”
“Ah, Old Spencie I’m not much of a drinker, but what the hell, I’ll be there at 3 with some beers.”
“Eh?” With that, Old Spencie hung up.
“What the hell is this crap?”
“Well, Old Spencie, that’s beer.”
Old Spencie threw back three cans while I nursed one. I feel like I conduct interviews better when I’m sober. Not that I’ve ever conducted one drunk, but sometimes you just get those feelings like you just know. Maybe I’d conduct interviews better when drunk. I figured I owed it to myself to find out. What if I had been holding myself back by never drinking before interviews. I started sloshing em’ back and before I knew it was at the gas station picking up more. How the hell I got there is beyond me but I had a four-legged walker from Old Spencie’s house so I had my theories. Man I was waxed.
“So, Mr. Spencie. You ever eat anyone?” It was something I had to know if we were going to go forward with the interview.
“Please, call me Old. And no, I don’t believe I have. Seen someone eat somebody though. Down there in the Amazon. Yeah, they cooked him up medium rare and with scallions.”
“Were you down there studyin’ this Microbe?”
“Sure” Old said.
“What can you tell me about the Cannibal Microbe?” The alcohol seemed to be working.
“Well, honestly, not that much. That’s why they want me to go down there. To learn more about it.”
“Have you ever had your heart broken?” The alcohol was definitely working.
“Listen, you seem like a smart kid.” I wondered what he meant by seem like.
“As you can probably tell, I don’t function like I used to, physically speaking. Mentally, I’m fine. But I am going to need someone to help me with my research in the Jungle. Now, I know your editor and I think I could talk him into letting you come, not only to help me lug around my equipment but to cover it. Write a story about my journey. Our Journey.”
I agreed because that would be the biggest story of the year, and I didn’t really have anything else going on. It may make national headlines. I could become a syndicated columnist. Then I threw up on his rug.
I woke up to the brightest light I’d ever seen. I wondered if maybe the Earth had moved closer to the sun or something, but I couldn’t think too hard because it was hard. I got into the office late but nobody seemed to notice. The metal desk was the colder of the two so it was the one I used.
“So you want to follow Old Spencie down to the Jungle do ya?” said George Swaller, my editor. Never had I met anyone else with a name like that. I hated the way it sounded so I just called him George, or editor. “Not much in the budget for transcontinental travel and living expenses, these days.” Editor was studying me with a look that would have made Elvis proud. “But it’s your lucky day, kid. Old Spencie is covering the whole cost. Just bring me back a story. A good story. Nothing about pygmies though. The Sentinel ran a story about them last month. We don’t want to look like a bunch of rookies do we?” Was that a trick question?
“Got it, no pygmies.” I said. I was going to be in real trouble if it was the pygmies that were eating each other.
That day went by pretty slow. I wrote a few stories on the events of a City Council meeting from two nights before. Really boring stuff. Some lady wanting to save a water tower. A water tower for God’s sake. Claimed it was a ‘historic landmark and benchmark of the cities identity.’Fair enough. Whatever. She was a decrepit little thing but she had this monster of a man accompany her to the podium. I guess to assert dominance. It was probably her boyfriend.
I got a call from Old Spencie around noon to ask if I remembered agreeing to accompany him on his Amazonian retreat. I didn’t remember a damn thing.
“Yeah Old Spencie, I’ve never remembered anything so vividly in my life. Every word of it, stored right up here.” I was tapping the phone receiver against my head to indicate where I had it all stored.
The plan was to leave from Old Spencie’s house at 9 p.m. that night. We were flying out of Nashville. After work, I packed a few bags, fed my cat, Gary, and pedaled my Huffy up the mountain to Old Spencie’s. He greeted me with a tomato to the head. He was waxed.
There were dozens of small bags laying all around the property. They looked like camera bags. I owned a very nice camera. A Nikon. My pictures got in the paper most every week. It feels really good when not only you have a story in the paper but a picture too. To be honest, I couldn’t wait to take pictures of the Amazon. But not of the pygmies. According to Old Spencie, I probably wouldn’t end up being able to get a good shot of the Cannibal Microbe due to its small size. I’ll snap the photo either way. It’ll just look like I’m really far away from it.
The bags didn’t contain cameras. They contained various gadgets and gizmos. Some of them contained rabbit or deer scram. One contained a verocerepteratorer. I’d never heard of one but Old Spencie clarified what it was. It has a secret purpose though so he couldn’t get too specific. We packed all the bags into his vintage Chevy “Tail Blazer.” He had the original emblem replaced. I offered to drive, seeing as he seemed pretty out of it. I mean who just throws a tomato at someones head. Someone who is out of it is who. I could have driven my Huffy right off his cliff. He probably would have pissed on me while I was falling.
He ended up driving. He had to have killed at least three birds, probably more. It was like they were attracted to his car. Bird after bird, they’d just swoop down out of nowhere and play chicken with us. I wonder if they’d take offense to that chicken comment?
We made it to the airport pretty much safely. I’d never been to an airport so it was pretty cool. My favorite part was the luggage check, where they weigh your bags. Crazy stuff. I got a cup of coffee with six creams and six sugars. Old spencie disappeared into the Tennessee Tavern. Whatever. I let him go. We were pretty early. Our flight wasn’t supposed to leave for another 20 minutes.
I got on the plane and pushed my way through all the fatsos to get to my seat. Fatsos are always in my way. I heard a ruckus coming from the front of the plane. Old Spencie was trying to get a bottle of whisky on to the plane and the ladies at the door didn’t like it.
“Come on, I’ll share with ya. We’ll have a good old time.” he said. One of them chuckled, but only a little bit so he wouldn’t get the wrong idea.
“We should have taken off half and hour ago, dammit!” It was the captain. He took the bottle from Old Spencie’s hand and launched it halfway across Nashville. My god, if Old Spencie didn’t just about cry. I had to console him until the sweet ladies came by with drink carts.
“There is something so satisfying about sadness.” Old Spencie told me. “But I never can put my finger on exactly what it is because I just have another drink.” I felt like maybe that was a strange way to live, but I mean, Old Spencie Mulgrew was a damn scientist, so, it must have been a good way.
“One for me as well, please.” I said.
“No.” said the lady in blue. The nerve of this woman. I had even said please for God’s sake.
“Why the hell not?” I asked.
“I’m only kidding, honey. What would you like”
I hate when people I don’t know try to joke with me. How am I supposed to understand it’s a joke if I don’t even know them.
“No.” I said.
“What?” Now she seemed confused.
“Oh, I’m only joking with you, darling.” I laughed.
“Hmm. Mhm. Ok then.” I could tell she was trying so hard not to laugh.
“A light beer please.”
“Eh?” said Old Spencie.
“I wasn’t talking to you.”
Old Spencie made the lady a little uncomfortable so I let her know it was ok to go on to the next passenger. No tip though, she wasn’t that great and her joke was awful.
Sometimes, I questioned whether Old Spencie was cut out for this mission, but then he would hit me with facts about jellyfish mating seasons or male pattern baldness in goats which totally set me straight. The man really was a genius.
The flight lasted about fourteen hours. I watched maybe twenty episodes of this show called “Best Not To Ask.”
A government agent met us at the airport terminal. He was a weird son of a gun. Dirken Prompenah was his name. I’m sure it was a fake one, specially assigned to him for this mission. I gave us fake names as well.
“I am Azon, and this is Mike Robe. Pleased to meet you Dirken pal.” I gave him a wink so he knew we were cool.
“I’m glad you made it down here safely, Mr. Mulgrew.” he said. I immediately panicked. Our cover had already been blown.
“I wasn’t aware you’d have company.”
Neither of us could tell if Old Spencie was even awake behind his sunshades.
“Eh?” Finally he broke the silence. “Ah, yes. This is my research assistant, Broussard. He is going to help me lug around my gear and write a story about it.”
“Write a story about carrying your equipment? Sounds like an exciting read.” said Dirken. “And then I handed the magnifying glass to Professor Mulgrew. But it wasn’t the magnifying glass he’d asked for.’ Riveting stuff.”
“No, dammit. Write a story about my, our findings. And also carry all my stuff.”
With that, Dirken led us to a blacked out Lincoln town car that drove us to a mountain man in a jeep, that drove us to a jungle man in a Bronco.
“Gas mileage, am I right?” I said from the backseat to the Jungle man driving the Bronco. I don’t think he spoke English.
We rode for hours, along densely overgrown Jungle roads. Snakes were jumping from tree to tree and jungle cats were everywhere. I saw a crocodile chewing on a monkey. I had never seen so much green in my life. And everything was damp too. Wet and green. Everything was as vivid as it could be. The light reflected off the water that soaked everything’s surface, making everything seem like it was glowing. I was taking pictures of everything I could see, except for pygmies. And they were everywhere.
“Here we are.” said the Jungle man driver. I guess he hadn’t heard my joke. He showed us the trailhead and left us. Just like that, it was only Old Spencie and I, and a few pygmies. They didn’t seem to be eating each other. I sighed with relief: story was still alive.
I had three backpacks on. Two on my back and one on my chest. Is it always a backpack even if it’s on your chest? I guess I had two backpacks and one chestpack. Two of them contained all the random equipment necessary to complete the job. One backpack, it was actually the chestpack, was locked. I had no idea what was inside it. I figured it was the verocerepteratorer, which I figured was the device we were going to use to kill the Cannibal Microbe in our final confrontation with it. This was panning out to be Hollywood type stuff. God, what a story I’d have.
On we hiked, through the underbrush and sometimes, the overbrush. The bush and thicket. I would name a newspaper The Bush and Thicket. Or maybe a clothing line. I’m usually not good at naming things, but that one just works on so many levels. Mostly ground level.
We were looking for the source, where the Cannibal Microbe originated. Old Spencie figured he knew where that was. He said there was this natural pool type thing where three different rivers met that was notorious for having nasty things like dead animals in it. He said that was likely where the bacteria mutated and infected its first victim. Whatever. I’m just carrying his shit.
After hiking for a while, we finally stumbled across the Amazon River. We took a few samples and set up camp. I was in charge of building the fire. I’d never built a fire before. Is a fire something you build? I collected as much dry-ish wood and leaves as I could find and threw them all in the pit it put together. I lit it and it burned wonderfully, for about 15 seconds.
“Old Spencie, what’s in that chestpack?”
“That doesn’t concern you. Its for later.”
I figured maybe he could teach me how to use the verocerepteratorer, but he clearly wasn’t in the mood. He was looking at little pieces of glass through a microscope.
Lugging Old Spencies equipment around wasn’t that tough for me, or not as tough as I thought it might be. Maybe he packs light or maybe I’m really strong. I do have excellent endurance. In high school, I ran a 5 minute mile in gym class. No one knew why.
I managed to get a pretty impressive fire going and that night we ate piranha over a bed of Macaw eggs. I wasn’t crazy about it. I’m not a big fish guy. I wondered if we couldn’t find a cow somewhere and use the verocerepteratorer on it.
We awoke the next morning to the sound of animals dying and animals being born. I guess the jungle is as hard on its tenants as it is on its visitors. I was drenched in a mixture of sweat, morning dew and other various unidentifiable yellowy green liquids. I smelled really good. We mustered up a quick breakfast of roasted dung beetle and we were on our way up river.
“What are we going to do if we find this thing?”
“We take it back, stateside, and run tests on it and create a medicine that combats it. Once we have it back in the U.S. it’s easy. Isolating it in the wild will be the most difficult part. The only evidence I have to go on is one sample from one singular case. It could have already mutated by now for all we know.”
Old Spencie seemed more tuned in than he usually did. Sure he was old as hell and retired, but he could really get that brain of his cookin sometimes.
“Why’d you retire?” I asked him. He ignored me so I asked again. Still he ignored me. I’m not as good at prying as I once was. The jungle was really getting to me.
After a while, we took a break on the river bank. A gang of crocodiles laughed about something on the opposite side. I took out my notepad and pen and thought I’d get started on my story. The hardest part is getting started. I put pen to paper but nothing materialized. The jungle canopy must have been blocking my brain power.
“Look at that!” said Old Spencie. A crocodile was eating one of his compadres across the river from us. “Hurry, we need to kill it and collect a blood sample and its brain.”
I wasn’t overly enthused about having the job of killing the bastard but I couldn’t let Old Spencie try. He was ancient and delicate. I took the bowie knife and waded across to where the action was. A crocodile being eaten by another crocodile is so much more disgusting from up close. I jumped on the infected crocs back, for some reason, and it threw me off like I was an umbrella in a hurricane. Next thing I knew the croc was on top of me, biting at my face. It’s arms were so strange feeling. I feel like that is what my cat Gary’s arms would feel like if shaven. Gary is a real son of a bitch.
The bastard had terrible aim and I was just as safe as can be, other than possibly being crushed. I’m pretty thick, though, so that wasn’t too much of an issue. I freed my knife bearing hand and jabbed the croc through the bottom of the head. That made him so damn mad. I thought I had hit his brain but I must’ve been way off. He got off me and we squared up. I kicked him in the snout. Then again. That didn’t seem to have any effect. I’m not the best kicker. He grabbed my leg in his mouth and swung me like a baseball bat. “A swing and a miss.” I heard Old Spencie laughing.
Enough was enough. I love animals. I love nature. I want them to succeed and be alive all the time. Zoos are immoral and donate to nature preserves. Veterinarians do the lord's work but in that moment, I was to that croc what Enola Gay was to a salaryman. My Little Boy was the bowie knife.
“Goddam boy.” Old Spencie was still laughing. “You are one cold-hearted, bad mother fucker.”
“I could have been killed, you know. Then what? You’d probably be dead too. Who would carry your shit for you? Huh. You sure as hell can’t carry it you old son of a bitch.” I was so angry for some reason. I didn’t usually get so angry. Old Spencie came and collected a blood sample and cut the poor bastards brain out while I cooled off. I could never be a doctor. That kind of thing makes me cringe. I guess I couldn’t be a scientist, either. Or a gator wrangler.
We kept moving with the river. I felt much different than I had a few days before. “The Jungle’ll do that to ya.” said Old Spencie. He kept looking at me with a really menacing looking smile.
I can’t explain in what way I felt different, it was unexplainable. I felt like that yellowy green liquid I had woken up to had seeped through my skin and turned me into a Jungle blood. I felt like I should have twigs for toes and moss for hair. Maybe that was the moss survival technique: substitute the moss for your natural hair? It wasn’t a bad thing, it was just so different.
“So, we have our sample don’t we? We can leave now.” I said.
“We have a possible sample. We need more than one, just in case.” Old Spencie said.
Again I tried to start the story: What do you call a crocodile eating another croc… No. The Amazon River. Home to billions, probably trillions of Microorganisms. But how many of those make you want to eat someone? According to Scientist Old Spencie Mulgrew, a lot. Getting there.
Four days had passed since the Jungle man had dropped us off and left us. I was beginning to sort of lose it. On multiple occasions, Old Spencie had curled up in a ball and pretended to die. I wouldn’t let him though. I picked his ancient and delicate ass up by the collar of his striped polo and put him on his feet so we could keep moving.
That night we fell asleep without dinner. Sure I was hungry but I had a job to do. Carry equipment. I decided that I would focus on taking as many notes as I could down in the jungle then write the story when we got back to the States. Old Spencie had been progressively acting weirder and weirder. I saw him licking the bark of a tree. He tried to make love to a toad. It was when I woke up in the middle of the night to him hovering over me that I kind of felt like he was really losing it.
“Howdy there, Old Spencie. Can I help you?” I could only see the outline of him because it was so dark and the only light was from the moon shining through the tent. He didn’t say anything but grunted a little. I also think he drooled on me, but that could have been the yellow green jungle goo or a monkey pissing on the tent.
Old Spencie grabbed my arm and took a big bite out of it. Blood was everywhere. He was lunging for another bite but I wasn’t really happy about the first one so I figured I’d better get the hell out of his way. He fell face first on my pillow and got blood all over it. “Great, you ruined my tempurpedic” I thought. Third one this year I’d gone through.
I ripped open the front flap on the tent and scoured the campsite for something to cover up my wound with. Pygmies were beginning to crawl out of holes in the ground and swinging down from vines. I had just finished wrapping my wound with a Old Spencie’s striped polo when he tackled me to the ground and began biting at my neck. The Pygmies were cheering him on. Or cheering me on. I think they just wanted a good fight.
I hurled him off of me and grabbed the first stick I could find which turned out to be a human leg. I have no idea from what human it was removed. I guess Old Spencie had been out hunting all night. And we couldn’t have even looked for a cow?
I picked it up and there was an anklet around the stiff, cold ankle. It was stitched with the word “Promepenah,” with a heart on either side. Not valentine, cartoon hearts either. Anatomically correct hearts, down to the last valve. I was more concerned about why Dirken Prompenah wore an anklet with his last name and two hearts stitched in it than I was about how Dirken Prompenah’s leg wound up seperate from his body in the middle of our campsite in the Amazon Jungle.
I battered Old Spencie with the leg, which he quickly began chewing on. I gotta give it to Old Spencie, in the face of adversity, he does not give up, even when he’s on his last leg.
Again I had to search for something to protect myself with. Then it hit me. The leg that is. Old Spencie hit me with the leg. Then it came to me. I remembered the only weapon we had lugged down there with us: the verocerepteratorer. Finding the chestpack was easy, opening it was not. There was a padlock securing the zipper shut that was 2 inches thick.
Old Spencie threw a flying kick at me and in protection of myself I lifted the chestpack up in front of me. Old Spencie kicked right through the padlock. Didn’t even break a toe. Amazing. I pulled the verocerepteratorer out and fired it up. It made a noise like a weird synthesizer might make from a Spacemen 3 song. I only know Spacemen 3 because my old neighbor Paul Gascoigne used to do cocaine and blast their music through this giant speaker he borrowed from me and wouldn’t return.
I fired it and my god the beam of light was almost blinding. The sudden burst of light really illuminated the campsite, showing just how many creatures were in attendance. I missed by a foot and incinerated a pygmy. That really shut em up. It had to reload. How do you reload a death ray? What a shitty weapon. Might as well have been a severed human leg.
It took too long and Old Spencie knocked the verocerepteratorer out of my hand with Prompenah’s leg. I was fucked. This was the end. My story would never make it to the front page. I would never write about celebrity sex scandals for The Guardian or write articles about UFO sightings for New York Post. All that hard work for nothing. I have to say, I really didn’t want to die like this. Clubbed nearly to death with an FBI agents severed leg then eaten by a Mulgrew. A Mulgrew of all the people that could eat me. Out of nowhere, a familiar blinding light whizzed by my shoulder and reduced Old Spencie to rubble. I turned to see a pygmy with one eye and a cigar in his mouth holding the verocerepteratorer. “Munch on that, asshole.” he said. I cringed.
Apparently the pygmy I had accidentally turned into dust was a real son of a bitch that none of the other pygmies liked. He’d been sleeping with everyone’s livestock, if my translation serves me correct. So that ended up working out. We ate some mushrooms and danced around a fire for the rest of the night. Old Spencie had ruined my sleeping bag so I found an anaconda skin to keep me warm through the night. I woke up the next morning with a new appreciation for my life, and covered in the secretion of the jungle.
I guess the bask of crocs was thankful that I’d stopped their cannibalistic compatriot as well, and allowed me to float on their backs all the way up the river to where the jungle man escorted me to the mountain man who escorted me to the blacked out Lincoln that took me to the airport. Reacclimating to normal life was going to be hard. I thought about buying a monkey to piss on me and a snake to curl around my throat to make the transition easier.
I wrote the story and, my god, it was fantastic. More details than there actually were in real life. That’s how you write a good story for the paper, by finding more details than there actually were. And I wrote a little piece on the pygmies, too. I promised Escobar I would. He had saved my life after all. I owed him the eternal glory of being the subject of one of my stories. And Editor even accepted that story. Said he hadn’t read a better pygmy story in all his life.Then I took a bite out of his neck. Blood was everywhere. My publisher said he’d never seen so much blood in all his life. Maybe that’s always been my problem. I always have to be the best at whatever I do. Like right now. I can’t help but want to eat more people and spill more blood than anyone has ever done before me. Sometimes I tell myself, “No, it’s ok to just be good.” But today is not the day to just be good. Today is the day to be god damn great.
JUSTIN ALEXANDER - THE RIDE
Justin Alexander is an American author and an Oklahoma native. He is a father to four boys ages 11-18. He is a pianist, painter, and storyteller. Currently a student at Full Sail University online, Justin is attending the Creative Writing for Entertainment Bachelors Program. His dreams include continuing to write flash fiction, and someday operating a small blogging business that covers several topics simultaneously about the art of writing.
He stood there for what seemed like an eternity, thumb up, waiting. The weight of his duffle bag becoming more than he could bear. People just kept zooming by. The air thick with their vehicle fumes, pushed into him hard as each vehicle passed. In his boredom he had made a game of trying to figure out how fast each car was driving. “Am I invisible,” he thought. “They Either don’t see me, or don’t care.” Then as quickly as he had found himself in this situation, his suffering looked to be coming to an end. Finally, after hours of walking, somebody appeared to be stopping. The semi-truck could have been a pinto at this point. Zach simply didn’t care anymore, he just wanted a ride. “Any ride will do,” he said out loud.
Zach had never been in an 18-wheeler before and wasn’t quite sure what to expect. As he climbed aboard he smelled a faint odor that seemed familiar. The stale odor grew and became nauseating. He thanked the driver for stopping, no reply. Settling in he realized the smell is what he thought it was, the smell of alcohol on the driver’s breath. That musty smell of people who drink often and in large quantities. The smell that often-reminded Zach why he quit drinking to begin with.
As they plummeted down the highway he felt scared. He had many reasons to be scared. This was the furthest he had ever traveled for one, and he had lost everything else already. He hoped his life would not be one of them. He feared for the driver. “How much has he been drinking?”, he muttered. There seemed to be an invisible barrier between the two as not a word had been uttered by either, with the exception of Zach’s gratitude when the driver had stopped. .
Now the stale smell of truck stop food seemed to rise up from the depths of the cabin. The smell, along with that of the alcohol was overwhelming Zach and he started to feel sick to his stomach and more and more uneasy. He turned to the driver and asked him to pull over. “Hello, Mister, could you stop please, I don’t feel well?” No response! He repeated his request. “Mister, hell I don’t even know your name…I’m Zach, and if you don’t want me to hurl in your truck than could you please pull over for a minute?” Still nothing, it seemed as though the driver was in some sort of trance. “Maybe it’s the alcohol,” Zach thought. He tried once more to get the drivers attention to no avail. “Mister look I beg you to pull over, HELLO!” Due to the strangeness of the whole thing Zach began to pay more attention to his surroundings in hopes of making sense of the driver’s actions.
With the way this trip is going, Zach wondered if he would make it to California alive. He became frantic and started to beg the driver. “Sir, look whatever you want, I’ll even get out and walk!” Still no answer. “Stop this truck now damnit,” Zach yelled at the driver, “I am serious!” He looked around at the cab more carefully and started to realize a horrible truth. He was going to die. The cabin was adorned in the furs of various animals, and the rear-view mirror looked to have human ears on it. The cabin was multi colored, and at second glance Zach realized it resembled fire. In the dash, like some Louis Viton bag, was etched Hell Highway and the numbers you would associate with the devil!
Zach reached for the handle on the door thinking that somehow, he might be able to get out. To his surprise there were no interior handles. “What the hell is this?” Zach was screaming now. “What kind of sick demented bullshit is this?” Then he saw it.
In the distance a train seemed fast approaching. The train’s trajectory implied that it would cross the highway they were on soon. Zach’s anxiety was through the roof now! They were headed straight for it. Scrambling now in fright and horror Zach tried to break the glass. The glass spiderwebbed everywhere but wouldn’t break free. He looked around to see if, perhaps, there was a way to roll down the window, but he was too late. The cabin erupted in flames and the driver finally acknowledged him saying nothing more than “Wake Up!”
Zach rubbed his eyes, coming back to consciousness and yelling at the driver, “Wake up, what in the hell?” Realizing that it had all been a dream, he started to relax just a bit. Still reeling in his head from the toppling truck. He came back to the real world and looked around. Horror filled him instantly.
He was right back in the truck with the driver.
Peter first fell into fiction penning stories to amuse his grammar-school classmates, which helped him overcome his shyness, but resulted in very few completed homework assignments.
He is an avid fan of horror movies, especially those with a sense of humor, food served from carts and roadside shacks, and the music of The Ramones, The Replacements, and other bands of like-minded misfits who found a way to connect with the world through their music and their words. He was raised and currently resides in the Chicagoland suburbs with his wife and cats and his writing has appeared in various publications including: The Delinquent, Crack the Spine, Apiary, Cemetery Moon, Sanitarium, The Literary Hatchet, Graze, Ink Stains, Whatever Our Souls, Dodging The Rain, and the No Trace and Dark Laneanthologies.
You can visit him online at: http://ravenpen.wixsite.com/authorsite
MEETING BESIDE A CREEK
They’d played there as kids when they first met and it instantly became their place.
Cheryl and Maddie down by the creek that ran alongside the park behind Maddie’s house. Catching bugs, garter snakes, and even the occasional slow-moving fish near the bank, exploring the storm drains as far as they dared, and of course there was the train trestle that ran above it all. A construction materials business bordered the opposite side of the tracks and the trains that stopped there picking up or dropping off loads were always slow moving making them ideal for hitching. They never rode for long, having to jump from the boxcars before the crossing so no one saw them, but even those brief minutes felt incredible.
When Maddie thought about that time it always made her smile. Kids want to grow up and become adults so badly, but it’s only because they don’t realize what’s waiting for them. If they only knew how comforting it could be to have someone there to tell you what to wear, where to go, and what to do, they wouldn’t be so quick to want it all gone. Maddie’s parents had always been supportive and encouraging when she was young. They weren’t permissive pushovers that let her get away with anything, but they backed her up when it mattered, like when she tried and failed to play the saxophone, and when she tried and eventually succeeded at learning illustration.
Cheryl was the one with the cool parents, the kind who wanted to be your friend.
Maddie had been so jealous of them growing up. They’d sit with her and Cheryl and watch TV with them while they all scarfed Doritos together. Cheryl’s mom would talk to them about clothes and which boys they liked and Cheryl’s dad would go through his record collection with them pointing out bands he thought they’d dig or movies they should go see at the revival theater downtown. He had even given Cheryl a couple of cigarettes for her and Maddie to try when they were fifteen “just to see what all the fuss was about”.
Her parents had smelled the smoke on her clothes when she got home and didn’t believe her when she said it was from Cheryl’s parents smoking near them. They grounded her for a month and forbid her from seeing Cheryl again. Maddie had cried harder that night than when her grandmother passed away.
It didn’t work of course. They still saw each other at school and whenever Maddie could sneak away under the guise of soccer practice or tutoring sessions. After a few months the whole thing blew over and Maddie’s parents rescinded the restriction, but during those weeks their friendship had become this forbidden thing and had changed for both of them. After that they weren’t just best friends, they were a tribe, a clan that consisted of only the two of them. They began holding hands in the hall between classes and the rumors started up right away, but it didn’t bother them. There was never anything sexual between them; it was different than that, special. When Cheryl started dating a senior named Tim Davis their junior year Maddie didn’t think twice about it. They never discussed him when they were together and after a few weeks Cheryl broke it off mostly because she was spending all of her time with Maddie anyway.
A year later they attended Senior Prom together, Cheryl in a strapless black dress with a chiffon skirt and Maddie wearing the same design in emerald green. There were barely disguised whispers and snickers behind their backs and an endless stream of sidelong glances during the dance, but none of it touched them and they had a blast.
They applied to the same colleges, each getting into their collective second choice where they signed up to room together. It didn’t even seem like a specific plan to them so much as the natural progression of something that was supposed to happen the same way the sun rose in the east and set in the west. Most of that summer had slipped by in a post-graduation haze as they spent their days at the beach or going to the mall to see movies and grab posters for their dorm room.
It was only three weeks before school started that Cheryl said she needed Maddie’s help with something, but wouldn’t tell her what it was over the phone.
“So what’s the big mystery?” Maddie said, taking a swig from her coke as they walked through the scruffy yellowed grass that served as the football team’s practice field.
Cheryl put the pencil she’d been tapping on her hip between her teeth and massaged her forehead with the heel of her hand.
“You okay?” Maddie said.
“I need your help with something...something big.”
“Yeah, that’s what you said.”
“It isn’t just big, it’s something bad, like really, really, bad.”
“Cher, what’s going on?” Maddie said, taking hold of Cheryl’s hand.
“It’s my dad.” Cheryl said, looking up at the moon, which had just started to peek through the clouds.
“What did he do?” Maddie said, already knowing the answer.
Cheryl’s father was a big, gregarious guy with blue eyes that were so bright they almost seemed fake. He had insisted that Maddie call him Richard instead of Mr. Layne and was affectionate in a way that was the polar opposite of her own father. Maddie had always thought it was simply the way he was, the way Cheryl’s mother was as well, but a part of her had wondered. Those hugs that lasted a little too long, the squeeze of a shoulder or brushing of a hand across her arm. Maddie convinced herself it was just her imagination and would never have said anything that might cause Cheryl grief.
They sat there in the field for a time, neither saying anything. Maddie cupped Cheryl’s face in her hands as tears ran down Cheryl’s cheeks and over the tops of Maddie’s fingers. Cheryl curled up into Maddie’s arms and they stayed that way until it was time to head home.
Cheryl didn’t say anything about that night for the next few days, but Maddie knew that she hadn’t changed her mind. There was a look in her eyes that hadn’t been there before.
On Thursday Cheryl called Maddie and asked to meet at their usual spot at four that afternoon. When Maddie arrived Cheryl was sitting on one of the concrete slabs that supported the train trestle, her legs dangling over the side as she pitched track stones into the creek.
“...I can’t ask you to help me...it isn’t fair.” Cheryl said, not looking up.
“You aren’t forcing me into anything.”
“We’re not just talking about juvy. This could end in jail time or worse if we get caught.”
“Have you thought about going to the police?”
“I can’t. It would destroy my mom.” Cheryl said, tossing another rock into the creek. “I wish I could just get through this month, go off to college, and pretend it never happened. But every time I close my eyes I see him standing over me.”
Maddie sat down next to Cheryl.
“The truth is that I don’t know if I can go through with it, and I don’t think I can live with it, so where does that leave me?” Cheryl said.
“Let me take care of the planning; I’ll figure it out and tell you what you need to do.”
Cheryl gave a single nod as she watched the ripples from her last throw slowly radiate outward until they disappeared back into the water.
Maddie stayed off the internet for her research. There was no private browsing or incognito mode back then and she didn’t want to run the risk of someone finding something on her computer. The library had everything she needed and she made sure to commit it all to memory, leaving no checked-out books or scribbled notes in her wake. She knew she had to keep the setup simple enough that things could be quickly hidden or easily explained away if the attempt didn’t work. The crucial part was making sure nothing could be traced back to her or Cheryl. It was mostly just a matter of sorting out the details.
The planning didn’t faze her the way she thought it would. She knew that it should, that she should feel the same uncertainty Cheryl did, but there was no empathy in her for the man who had sat cheerily beside her eating popcorn while they watched movies together, all the while pretending that he wasn’t a monster.
When Maddie thought about what he had done it made her vision go gray and her temples pound.
‘How could she not have realized this was happening to her best friend?!’
That she had somehow missed all the signs made her sick inside.
An idea finally came to her after she remembered Cheryl talking about her mom and how angry she was with her dad for constantly forgetting about bottles and cans that never made it into the recycling. There was a shed in the backyard that was there when they bought the house, but Cheryl’s family used a landscaping service so Richard turned it into a man cave with a stereo, a small television, and a mini-fridge stocked with beer. Cheryl had mentioned him spending hours out there after work strumming on an acoustic guitar while three sheets to the wind.
Maddie assumed the little structure was weather proof, but doubted that it was hermetically sealed. She figured it wouldn’t be difficult to find a place to slip in a small hose with the other end attached to an exhaust pipe. Do it on a night when he’d been drinking and she was sure he wouldn’t notice anything before the drowsiness kicked in. It would be quick and painless, which is more than she thought he deserved, but it was something they could pull off.
She made a mental note of the supplies they would need and the next day drove to a hardware store two towns over where she paid in cash. She put all the items into a small canvas bag she’d purchased and when she walked through the front door at half-past eight and her mother asked her where she’d been, she automatically said the movies without any hesitation before heading up to her bedroom. Ever since her grounding Maddie had become a master at keeping her parents at ease.
It was difficult to resist the urge to call or at least email Cheryl, but she knew it wasn’t a good idea. Maddie lie in bed half asleep until rays of pale light came slanting in through the window.
Maddie waited until they were underneath the trestle to tell Cheryl the plan.
“He won’t feel anything. He’ll just fall asleep and won’t wake up.”
“What about the police?” Cheryl said. “Won’t they do an autopsy to see how he died?”
“They might, but even if they do there won’t be anything to lead back to us. We’ll wear gloves and the only thing we need to get rid of is the hose and possibly some tape; I got painter’s tape so it shouldn’t leave much of a residue. We just have to find a spot in the shed to slip it in and we have to make sure that your dad’s been drinking a while so he won’t notice the lightheadedness from the carbon monoxide.”
“We won’t have to worry about that part; drinking is pretty much all he does out there. Mom doesn’t like him doing it in the house because she thinks it sets a bad example.”
“She really has no idea about him, does she?”
“No...and I need to make sure it stays that way.”
“...I’m so sorry Cher....”
“I should’ve sensed that something was wrong.”
“You’re my best friend Mads, and I love you, but you aren’t psychic. I did a really good job at hiding it.”
“Can I ask why?”
“Because I didn’t want it to be true, and I knew that telling you would make it real.”
Cheryl put her arm around Maddie and they stared down at the muddy water of the creek, their reflections distorted by the current still flowing strong from yesterday’s storm.
“My mom has a conference coming up. She’ll be out of town all weekend.” Cheryl said. “You could tell your parents you’re sleeping over.”
“You’re sure about this?”
“Then I am too.”
Maddie didn’t see Cheryl much during the next two weeks. It wasn’t that they were consciously avoiding each other, but it felt like there was some sort of force between them that might collapse if they met before it was time.
She began checking the canvas bag under her bed obsessively, making sure the tape and rubber tubing were still there along with the latex gloves and the awl she’d picked up in case the shed was more secure than they’d anticipated. That afternoon Cheryl had sent her an email about going to a movie that night. She hadn’t mentioned a particular time or theater, or the specific name of a movie, which would make it easier to fill in the blanks about their whereabouts if it ever came to that. The plan was to head to Cheryl’s house a couple hours after it got dark, enough time for her dad to be well into his weekend unwinding. She checked everything over again, zipped the bag shut, and held it in her lap as she sat on the edge of her bed. Outside her window the trees were swaying gently in the breeze, silhouetted by the aluminum pole-lights that bathed her street in their yellow glow. It was the kind of perfect summer night that makes you feel like you’re living in a dream. Something felt wrong about that. It seemed to her that it should have been storming outside; that the clouds and the wind should’ve known what they were up to and reacted accordingly.
Maddie thought about turning back.
She saw herself convincing Cheryl to call the whole thing off, but deep down she knew it was because she was scared, not because she’d changed her mind. The vision of Richard came to her unbidden and she could feel her head beginning to ache.
She had failed Cheryl before.
She wouldn’t make that same mistake again.
“He’s been out there for about an hour.” Cheryl said as she ushered Maddie inside.
“How long does he usually stay?”
“Depends on how bad work was or if he gets caught up trying to figure out the chords to Black Dog or Stairway To Heaven.”
“Do you have the keys to his car?”
Cheryl patted her front pocket.
“Alright.” Maddie said and took Cheryl’s hand as they headed out the back of the house.
The backyard was relatively small compared to the house itself and the shed took up nearly a quarter of it. Maddie always thought it looked more like a little cottage than a shed; the structure was made of wood instead of aluminum like she always saw at the hardware store and it had a rectangular door with hinges rather than the kind that slid open on tracks and always seemed to warp after a few months.
Through the walls they could hear Santana playing Oye Como Va and the volume was so loud the walls were vibrating.
“I can’t believe your neighbors don’t complain.” Maddie said.
“It’s a corner lot so we only have the one neighbor that’s really close and dad has always been generous with his beer.” Cheryl said as she unlocked the side door of the garage.
Maddie closed the door behind them and Cheryl turned on the light. There were windows on either side of the garage, but the shed was windowless and Cheryl said that her dad liked it that way since he sometimes did more than just drink beer out there, something her mother also disapproved of.
The car was an old Volkswagen that ran on diesel and Maddie worried the exhaust smell might be more noticeable, but hoped that Richard would be too inebriated to notice. She opened the bag and grabbed the tubing and roll of tape. She had tested it out on her parent’s car and it had fit nearly perfectly, but the Volkswagen’s exhaust pipe was a little larger and she started to tear off pieces of tape to help hold it in place.
“Madd.” Cheryl said, but Maddie seemed not to notice.
“Maddie.” Cheryl said, touching her shoulder. “Stop.”
“I know this is hard, but it’s almost over.”
“It is over.”
“Killing him won’t erase what he did.”
“...he can’t get away with it....” Maddie said and began sobbing.
Cheryl took Maddie in her arms. “I love you for wanting to make things right, but this isn’t the way. I just need time and to be away from here for a while.”
Maddie let out another choked sob and Cheryl stroked the back of her head. They took a few minutes to collect themselves and then put the things they’d brought back into the canvas satchel and started towards the house. As they were passing the shed Maddie tripped over an uneven corner of the patio and the contents of the bag came spilling out as she landed hard on the concrete skinning the tops of both knees.
“Hey girls, what are you two up to tonight?” Richard said, ambling out onto the lawn. His speech was slightly slurred and his eyes appeared glassy.
“Not much, probably just going to see a movie.” Cheryl said, turning and stepping in front of Maddie.
“There’s supposed to be some new French horror film out; I know how you girls love those scary ones.”
“Sounds good Dad, we’ll check it out.”
“You okay there Maddie?” Richard said.
“I’m fine.” Maddie said, picking herself up with her back to them. The palms of her hands were hot and she could feel tiny pieces of gravel embedded in them.
“You girls....” Richard said, staggering forward slightly. “You should always stay friends. I lost touch with my best friend from when I was a kid and I’ve always regretted it.”
“That’s why we’re going to college together Dad.” Cheryl said.
“That’s good sweetie.” Richard slurred, putting his arm around Cheryl. “That’s real good.”
Maddie didn’t remember grabbing the awl from the ground, but it was there in her hand. She looked at Cheryl, just for a moment, and then lunged at Richard. The tip of the awl sunk into his right shoulder just below the collarbone. Richard let out a startled bark and stumbled backwards landing on his butt.
There was someone shouting, but it sounded distant and muffled to Maddie, like trying to talk underwater. Richard stared at the black plastic handle protruding from him, a blossom of red quickly spreading over the front of his shirt. Maddie knew that she should be doing something, but didn’t seem to be able to move. Cheryl was suddenly there at her father’s side pressing a towel against his shoulder -when had she gone into the house? Some time after that Maddie heard sirens and with them came a flurry of movement flitting in front of her eyes and then they were taking Richard away on a stretcher.
People were asking Maddie questions, but she couldn’t answer them; she was still frozen in place and felt like she might stay that way forever. Cheryl was looking at Maddie with wide eyes and her hands visibly trembling.
Maddie tried again to speak, but the muscles in her mouth refused to obey.
She wanted to say, “I’m sorry.”
She wanted to say, “I love you.”
At the police department Maddie was eventually able to talk and she told them what happened, though by then they already knew.
Her parents came to the station red-faced and yelling telling anyone who would listen that they had it wrong, that it was all some terrible mistake. When Maddie told her parents that it wasn’t, her mother broke down and wept and her father looked at Maddie as though he’d never seen her before.
She wasn’t allowed to go home, which was something of a relief, since she couldn’t imagine being there right then. Before her parents left they said they would handle things and that everything would be all right in the same tone they had always used when trying to persuade her not to cry as a child while getting a shot at the doctor’s office. They hired a lawyer, but since Maddie had confessed there wasn’t much to defend. What made matters worse was her refusal to tell them why she’d done it. The lawyer implored her, her mother pleaded with her, and her father tried to make her see reason, but she remained silent.
After several rounds of closed-chambers bargaining, her lawyer managed to keep her out of both prison and juvenile detention, instead having her remanded to a mental health facility for a year. Maddie assumed the only reason the deal had gone through is because Richard had lived. He’d have a nasty scar the rest of his life, but Maddie had missed both the carotid artery and jugular vein, not that she’d been aiming for them...at least she didn’t think she had....
Maddie wondered about Cheryl.
‘Did she think about her stuck up in the looney bin the way Maddie thought about Cheryl walking around in the regular world?’
The not knowing was the hardest part for Maddie. She hadn’t seen or spoken to Cheryl since that night and it tore her up to imagine that Cheryl might hate her or think that she was a monster. Sometimes she wasn’t sure what to think herself. It had all happened so fast; seeing Richard with his arm around Cheryl, that slack grin on his face as he stood there talking to them like he hadn’t done anything. That moment lived with her, constantly lingering at the periphery of her mind and popping up without warning, especially during those first weeks in the institution.
It didn’t take her as long to adjust as she thought it would. The truth was that the Sycamore Grove Wellness Facility wasn’t all that bad. When she first got there she had half expected something out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but it was more like being at summer camp. She spent her days doing crafts, keeping a journal of her thoughts and feelings, and sitting in a circle each afternoon for group therapy with a councilor and the other patients in her ward, one of whom did bear a striking resemblance to Cheswick.
They had her on medication that made her head feel fuzzy, which she assumed was some kind of antianxiety drug or other mood stabilizer, possibly even an antipsychotic. She was just grateful that whatever it was didn’t make her nauseous or give her explosive diarrhea. It wouldn’t do any good to try and explain to them that she didn’t actually have psychotic thoughts, because then she would have to explain why she had stabbed a man in the neck completely unprovoked. Her one-on-one sessions always fluttered around this topic, though Dr. Morris had never actually come out and asked Maddie why she did it. She was sure that Morris was simply biding her time assuming that Maddie would tell her when she was ready, and Maddie was happy to let her keep believing that, occasionally letting slip little intimations and allusions that she hoped made her seem receptive and open to treatment.
Being “open to treatment” was the only way she was getting out of there at the end of the year. That wasn’t explicitly stated in the deal her lawyer got her, but Maddie knew she had to show progress if she had any chance of seeing the outside world again. She spent most of her nighttime hours lying awake in bed trying to think of some possible reason to explain her actions that wouldn’t get her recommitted or betray Cheryl.
As she drifted off to sleep Maddie thought about the movie Richard had mentioned and wondered if Cheryl ever found out what it was....
“How are you feeling this morning?”
“Okay.” Cheryl said.
“Are you still having difficulty with the diazepam?”
“The occasional dizzy spell, but it’s better than it was before.”
“Your body will fully adjust over time, it just takes a little while.” the man in the gray sweater and khakis said and gave Cheryl a sympathetic smile. “How are you doing otherwise?”
“Still struggling with some of my classes. It’s been kind of hard to concentrate without letting my mind drift.”
“To the events of that night?”
“Do you want to talk about that today?”
“I’ve already told you everything that happened.”
“You’ve described the incident, but we’ve never discussed the reason you think Maddie attacked your father.”
“You’d have to ask her.”
“I’m asking you. Surely you have an opinion on her motivation for engaging in such a violent and seemingly random act?”
“Alright then, how about the fact that your parents petitioned the judge for leniency? Why do you think they did that?”
“Because I asked them to.”
“And that doesn’t strike you as odd behavior?”
“Maddie’s my best friend.”
“The best friend that tried to murder one of your parents.”
“You don’t understand.”
“I understand that she’s very important to you.”
“I think you know exactly why Maddie attacked your father, but you’re afraid to tell anyone.”
Cheryl looked down at her shoes.
“Everything you say to me is confidential Cheryl. I’m legally bound to keep our conversations just between the two of us.”
“...my dad...he isn’t the guy everyone thinks he is....”
Three months into her stay at Sycamore Maddie received her first piece of mail. She was fairly sure that it hadn’t come from either of her parents; her mother had stopped visiting a few weeks after she got there and her father had never come to see her. There was only one other person who could possibly be writing to her and her hands trembled as she opened the envelope.
Large portions of the letter were obscured by thick, black lines from a felt-tip pen, but Maddie was grateful even for the words she couldn’t read.
I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to write. Things have been kinda hectic here.
The campus at Concordia is really beautiful and I think you’d like it a lot. Classes have been interesting, but they aren’t as different from high school as I thought they’d be. I’m hoping that it’s just because they’re gen-eds. I think my favorite thing so far is the cafeteria in the dorm. I know, I know, big surprise coming from me. It’s really cool though having so many different foods to choose from every day, not to mention not having to wash the dishes afterwards. J
I wish that you could be here with me right now and that things hadn’t turned out the way they di. I understand why you did what you did and why you felt you had to do it. I know that you were just trying to protect me and I’ll never be able to express how much your friendship means to me.
More than anything though, I just miss hanging out with you and can’t wait to see you again.
Thinking of you,
Maddie read the letter again, what little of it hadn’t been censored, and smiled at the signature. Nancy was the name of the protagonist from one of their favorite movies, A Nightmare On Elm Street. Maddie didn’t know how much the staff who monitored the mail had been told about her, but it was smart of Cheryl not to sign with her real name. She was glad that Cheryl had made it to college and that her parents hadn’t delayed her or made her commute to school because of what happened. At least one of them had gotten to go. Maddie figured that higher education was no longer in the cards for her. Her criminal conviction and stay in the facility might be sealed by the court because she was still a minor at the time, but even if that turned out to be true, all the scholarships and grant money she’d lined up was long gone. Besides, it wouldn’t be the same without Cheryl, and by the time she got out who knows what things would be like between them.
The idea terrified her, but she couldn’t keep it out of her head. She clutched the folded piece of paper to her chest like a talisman, hoping that it could somehow ward off a future she feared was inevitable.
Sleep eluded her again that night and while she lie there staring up at the ceiling she thought about Cheryl up at school and wondered if her discussions with the other coeds ever delved into the lack of tapioca pudding in the commissary, dealing with persistent skin rashes from sheets laundered in institutional-grade detergent, or coping with intrusive/deviant thoughts, which were all popular topics among her peers during their group therapy sessions.
When she finally managed to get to sleep she dreamed about attacking Richard again, only this time she didn’t stop. She stabbed him over and over until blood completely covered his body and obscured the features of his face.
She woke coated in a sheen of sweat that made her shiver and caused the skin on her arms and legs to break out in goose flesh. Her heart was pounding in her chest and she could feel its pulse in her ears like some distant drumbeat only she could hear.
Between the insomnia and the endless nightmares that came whenever she slept, she was really starting to identify with the kids on Elm Street.
A thin ledge of snow had begun to accumulate outside the barred window in Maddie’s room.
It was strange spending the holidays in a place like Sycamore. They decorated the arts and crafts area and the group therapy room with colored tinsel and cardboard cutouts of Rudolph and Frosty and had even set up a small, plastic Christmas tree in the visitors lobby, but it all felt forced and fake, like a car salesman dressing up in a Santa suit to sell you a used Ford Fiesta. In group that morning Dr. Morris had tried to get everyone to sing carols together, but two verses into Little Drummer Boy, Desmond, a paranoid schizophrenic and one of the funniest people Maddie had ever met, started singing his own lyrics which were deemed extremely inappropriate and everyone was instructed to return to their rooms.
Maddie had always hated singing, or more specifically had always hated the sound of her voice whenever she tried. Cheryl could sing, like really sing. She had one of those willowy, ethereal voices that made her great at covering stuff from Kate Bush and Tori Amos. One of Maddie’s favorite things was when Cheryl would put on the stereo and sing Happy Phantom to her. She understood why people at school had assumed they were a couple. In many ways they behaved as such and regarded each other as soul mates, just of the platonic variety. Maddie had always considered this a strength especially given how many romantic relationships broke up over seemingly minor misunderstandings or petty jealousies, hearts and hormones turning mundane situations into scenes of Shakespearean grandeur that never ended well.
Not that she and Cheryl didn’t fight or have disagreements, but their arguments were never histrionic or nasty; that sort of drama was something they simply didn’t have to deal with, or hadn’t until she decided to blow everything all to hell....
She watched the falling flakes as they slowly drifted down from the sky. They were large and fluffy and if she looked hard enough she swore she could almost see the intricate latticework of each flake as it tumbled to the ground.
There was a soft knock from behind her.
“Excuse me Maddie, it’s time for our session.”
Maddie turned around and sat on the edge of her bed while Dr. Morris took a seat in the chair opposite the small desk situated in the corner of the room.
“What were you thinking about just now?” Dr. Morris said.
“Nothing; just watching the snow.”
“Do you like this time of year?”
“Yeah, it’s pretty with everything covered in white and I always enjoy sledding and ice skating, even though I’m no good at it. Last year Cheryl and I got in this snowball fight and I knocked her hat off the top of her head and it got stuck on a tree branch. We spent the whole afternoon trying to get it down.”
“You think about her a lot.”
Maddie nodded, though it hadn’t been a question.
“What happened with you and Cheryl that day?”
“We finally managed to snag the damn hat with a stick and then went inside and made hot cocoa.”
“That’s not the day I’m referring to.”
“I’m not sure I follow you.”
“The day that you attacked Mr. Layne.”
“You know all that stuff already.”
“I know about the event from the police report and your statement. I want to know what happened before that.”
“Nothing really. We had plans to see a movie that night.”
“What were you going to see?”
“We hadn’t decided.”
“I spoke to your mother shortly after you were admitted and she said that you and Cheryl frequently watched films that were gory and contained disturbing subject matter.”
“They’re horror movies; that’s kinda the point.”
“There is evidence to suggest that repeated viewing of violent imagery heightens the aggression response and can contribute to acting on violent impulses.”
“Don’t tell me you’re one of those?”
“One of what?”
“Those people who attribute everything a person does to some random outside influence. I didn’t do what I did because of movies, or books, or videogames, or because I ate too many Twinkies.”
“Then why did you do it?”
And there it was...the question Maddie had been dreading finally come to the surface.
“It doesn’t matter.”
“I know you don’t really believe that. Right now your actions seem completely motiveless, and I don’t think that’s the case at all.”
Maddie sat there in silence for several minutes before finally answering.
“This is all bullshit, isn’t it?”
“I don’t understand what you mean.”
“Ever since it happened, the only thing that you, the lawyers, the police, and everyone else wanted to know is why I did what I did. And you all act like telling you is somehow to my benefit.”
“Letting people understand your version of the events and the thoughts behind them is often beneficial to the therapeutic process.”
“But that doesn’t help me. No matter what I say it won’t actually change anything. It’s not like I can suddenly claim self defense.”
“That’s true, but it would give you the opportunity to explain your actions.”
“You mean it would give me the opportunity to explain them to you. That’s what all of you want, for me to remove that burden so you can file this whole thing away and forget about it.”
“The authorities have already made their case, that’s why you’re here. I can assure you they no longer care about your reasons. I care because it’s my job and I’m trying to help you.”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t really see how you can.”
“Be that as it may, I’d still like to try.”
“Well you’re going to have to do it without an answer to your question.”
Maddie never gave an answer; not during that long winter or the spring that followed.
Dr. Morris kept trying and Maddie kept demurring, though by the end of May she’d told her just about everything else, including the fact that she thought she may be asexual. Dr. Morris told her that there was plenty of time to figure out the intricacies of her sexuality and whom she was attracted to and Maddie could tell that Morris didn’t think she was being sincere, but that didn’t particularly bother her. She wasn’t looking for validation of the things she confided during her sessions, but having a sounding board to hear those thoughts out loud did help to get her head around them.
Halfway through June Dr. Morris revealed that Maddie’s treatment hadn’t progressed as far as they’d hoped. Implicit in this statement was the knowledge that she would likely be staying at Sycamore for however long they deemed necessary. Maddie could see herself ten years on still making the same popsicle-stick birdhouses during craft time and having the same conversations in group while she shambled around the place in a tatty bathrobe as the rest of the world went on without her. In those moments she often wondered whether she would do it all again and always came to the same conclusion, though if given another chance she’d have aimed better.
July was unbearably hot and the humidity was stifling, but it was still better than being cooped up inside, so she spent as much time as she could outdoors working on the communal garden weeding and planting with a plastic hand spade that was so dull and flimsy it was virtually worthless.
“Suppose they don’t want to give us anything we might use to do ourselves in.” Maddie grumbled, though she reckoned she could probably get through her wrists with the little, yellow shovel if she snapped it in half in just the right way.
Suicidal thoughts had become a common occurrence for her. In high school she’d sometimes mused at the possibility with the kind of existential ennui that only a fourteen-year-old can conjure, but it never went beyond the realm of idle fantasy even during her angstiest days when the soundtrack of her life had consisted largely of The Cure, Mazzy Star, and The Smiths. Now these notions didn’t seem so melodramatic to her, if anything she thought of them as being sensibly pragmatic. There were certainly worse fates, life-in-prison for one, but living a stagnant existence at Sycamore didn’t seem much better to her. The possibility that she might eventually be released lingered in the back of her head, but she knew not to get her hopes up. The truth was that if they extended her committal, which seemed inevitable at this point, they would likely go right on extending it. After all, she hadn’t exactly given them a compelling reason not to.
‘Snap out of it Maddie!’ she admonished herself.
She couldn’t do that to Cheryl or to her parents, even if her mom and dad seemed to have forgotten about her.
She’d have to figure out some way to manage and in the meantime try to keep the confines of her head from looking like a Harold Chasen montage sequence.
The sessions with her therapist had been intense since Cheryl revealed what her father had done.
It was easier telling a stranger about what happened. There were parts of it she’d never have been able to say to anyone she knew, even Maddie, but talking to Dr. Brewer was almost like confessing to an empty room. Occasionally he would ask a question, but mostly he just sat and listened.
“So can you....” Cheryl said, tapping her foot nervously on the carpet. “Do that thing I asked about?”
“As long as I have your consent.”
“And my mom won’t find out?”
“You’re legally an adult, so I don’t need her permission. And because I’m revealing this information to another licensed medical professional the chain of confidentiality is preserved. You don’t have anything to worry about.”
“Do you think it will help Maddie?”
“If she hasn’t told them herself, then it will certainly add a missing piece to the puzzle, but that doesn’t guarantee it will change the outcome for her. Either way I think it’s an important step in your recovery process.”
“Maddie hasn’t told them.”
“How do you know?”
“I just do.”
It happened completely unexpectedly.
There was no final session with Dr. Morris or a meeting with any of the other staff at Sycamore. They didn’t even ask her to sign anything, though she supposed her parents would have to do that since she was still a minor when they admitted her.
Early on the morning of August twenty-eighth an orderly ushered her from her own room into another room and then left, closing the door behind her. Inside there was a wooden bench affixed to the wall and a small table that had two clear plastic bags on it: one contained the clothing she’d worn the day she arrived at Sycamore and the other held her gym shoes. She changed out of her institutional garb, which were basically just hospital scrubs with a large sycamore tree stenciled on the back, and put on her jeans and t-shirt, both now considerably looser than they had been a year ago. According to her most recent physical she’d lost seventeen pounds since arriving, though considering how lousy the food was she was surprised it wasn’t forty.
After she finished changing she peeked her head out the door and the same orderly was there waiting for her. She led Maddie to the lobby where her mother was sitting in a chair staring down at her lap like she was lost in thought.
“...hi Mom....” Maddie said.
“It’s been a while.”
“I know it has....” her mother trailed off.
“So why are you here? Am I on summer vacation or something?”
“I’m here to take you home.”
Maddie knew this was the likely answer. It was the only thing that explained her mother being there, but hearing the words still didn’t make it register with her.
“Why? Why are they letting me out?”
“You’ve served the length of the court sentence.” her mother said, as if Maddie was somehow unaware of how long she’d been there.
“But I didn’t give them what they wanted.”
“I know this is all probably a lot to take in, but I promise it’s true. C’mon now, let’s get you out of this place. Are you hungry?”
Her mother took Maddie by the hand and she let herself be led out the door and across the parking lot to their old, gray Subaru station wagon. The sight of it seemed unreal to her and she touched the passenger window with the tips of her fingers to prove that it was actually there.
They stopped at a diner a few miles down the road that Maddie had first noticed on the day she came to Sycamore. She remembered wondering if they had good French toast. It turned out they did. They also had good pancakes, good waffles, and excellent bacon and eggs. She didn’t know yet about the sausage or hash browns, but planned to find out before she left.
She kept alternating dishes, taking forkfuls from different plates trying to taste as much of it as she could. Her mother hadn’t said anything when she’d ordered and had only gotten coffee for herself.
“I’ll be back in a minute.” Maddie said as she got up and headed towards the restroom.
Maddie looked at herself in the bathroom mirror; streaks of egg yolk and maple syrup were smeared along the sides of her mouth and there was a big dollop of whip cream resting on her chin.
She burst out laughing and then gripped the sides of the sink for support as she dissolved into sobs. The whole year seemed to flow out of her as tears streamed down her face and she vomited into the sink.
The room was blessedly empty at the time and after she’d finished rinsing the contents of her stomach down the drain and cleaned herself up, Maddie walked to the far end by the toilet stalls and leaned back against the wall. The tile felt cool against her neck and she let her legs go limp as she slid down to a sitting position. She hugged her knees to her chest and closed her eyes. She could hear people entering and exiting, but no one spoke to her and Maddie was happy to be ignored.
She wasn’t sure how much time passed before she heard her mother’s voice.
“C’mon honey, let’s get you up.”
“Why did you stop?” Maddie said without opening her eyes.
“Stop what, sweetie?”
Her mother remained quiet for several moments.
“...it was awful...seeing you in that place. You have no idea what it’s like having your child taken from you and realizing there’s nothing you can do about it. My heart broke every time I had to leave you there and facing it, knowing that it was coming, became too much for me.”
“So your solution was to abandon me?! Dad never even came once!”
“Your father has had a difficult time processing all this. It’s put a strain on his work, on our marriage, on everything.... We separated two months ago. He’s living in an apartment across town.”
Maddie opened her eyes at this. Her mother was facing away from her.
“I know that I screwed everything up.” Maddie said, trying to keep her voice from cracking. “I didn’t mean for it to happen...I’m sorry Mom....”
Carol Evenson turned and sat down beside her daughter, kissing the top of her head.
“I’m sorry too baby....”
It was strange for Maddie being back home. Everything looked familiar, but it all felt artificial, like she was standing inside a movie set of her house. The posters on her bedroom walls and the stuffed animals on her bedspread seemed like they belonged to some other girl.
“Can I get you anything?”
Maddie turned around and saw her mother standing in the doorway, her eyes still red and puffy from crying during the car ride home.
“I’m okay. Think I’m just going to rest for a while.”
“Alright...just let me know if you need anything.”
“I will, thanks Mom.”
Carol gave a ghost of a smile and closed the door.
Maddie glanced over at the phone on the bedside table and her first thought was to call Cheryl, but she didn’t know her number at college or if she was even up there yet and not still home for the summer. She wasn’t comfortable calling her house and risking her mother answering or even worse Richard. There had been five more letters from “Nancy”, but none of them had given her new contact information. If any of them had she almost certainly never would’ve received it and the correspondence might’ve ceased altogether. The letters had mostly been filled with the everyday minutiae of life, but Maddie cherished them along with all the censored words that changed into something new each time she read them. It had kept her tethered to reality on those days when she wanted to float up inside her head and stay there. Spending too much time daydreaming was seen as regression and was strongly discouraged by Dr. Morris. Lying there in her bed gazing sleepily at a stuffed unicorn on the opposite pillow, it felt like this might all be a dream and that when she woke she’d be back in her real room staring out the barred window.
She pulled the blankets up over her head and closed her eyes. It was warm and the sheets smelled like spring flowers the way she remembered. If this really was a dream, she hoped she could stay in it awhile longer.
Cheryl’s parents told her about the restraining order the day she was set to head back to school.
She hadn’t even wanted to come home for the summer, but couldn’t manage to land a job on campus before the semester ended. There was also the slim chance that she might get to see Maddie before she went back. Her therapist hadn’t told her the outcome of what he’d shared, but now she knew.
“How could you do this without telling me?!” Cheryl shouted.
“We did this to protect you.” her mother said. “That girl is clearly unstable. I can’t believe they let her out after what she did. I knew we never should have spoken up on her behalf.”
“C’mon now Beth.” Richard said. “It was the right thing to do. Maddie’s a good kid deep down. She’s just going through a rough patch.”
“Then why did you take out a restraining order?” Cheryl said.
“What did you expect, for us to do nothing? To just pretend like none of this ever happened and wait for that psychopath to come back and try it again? I honestly don’t understand how both of you can be so blasé about this. They should have kept her in that place. People like that shouldn’t be allowed out on the street.” Beth said.
Cheryl looked over at her father, but said nothing. She went upstairs to her room to finish packing and didn’t come out until it was time to go. The two-hour car ride up to Lakeland University passed in silence expect for the droning of the radio. When they got to her dorm Cheryl let her parents help her unpack and settle back in. They all went out to dinner together and Cheryl apologized to her mother for earlier.
When it came time to say goodbye she hugged her mother tightly and let her father embrace her, though her arms stayed limply at her sides. She told them both she loved them and waved to them as they pulled away.
It was the last summer she ever spent at home.
Maddie figured it out after the third letter came back with Return To Sender stamped in red across the front of the envelope.
She’d found out from a mutual friend what Cheryl’s school address was. She thought maybe she’d gotten the name of the residence hall wrong, but after the most recent letter came back she’d done some digging and discovered that the post office had likely put a block on them. In retrospect it had been stupid for her to use her real name, even after she’d been released, but it simply hadn’t occurred to her that Cheryl’s parents would’ve gone to those lengths.
‘Of course they did. How else are they going to keep their daughter safe from the monster?’
Maddie was sure they were monitoring Cheryl’s outgoing mail as well. When she’d first gotten Cheryl’s address Maddie had wanted to go up there; it was only the lack of access to a car or money for a train ticket that had stopped her. If she had gone she probably would’ve gotten tackled by SWAT strolling through the quad or apprehended by FBI agents walking up the dormitory steps. At least that’s how the movie version in her head always played out. She could see herself being gunned down in a fiery blaze screaming, “You’ll never take me alive Coppers!” in her best James Cagney.
She pressed her palms over her eyes to try and stop the tears from coming, but it didn’t help.
The drops trickled out from beneath the heels of her hands and landed on the drawing she was working on. She blotted at it with a tissue, but the forms of the two characters sitting on a bench had begun to bleed together.
Maddie took the tip of her finger and smeared the ink around until the figures were indistinguishable from one another.
She smiled at it for a moment before crumpling up the piece paper and getting a fresh sheet to start again.
It was a beautiful brisk Fall day and Maddie could smell burning leaves off in the distance as she walked along the tracks picking up ballast stones in her gloved hand and pitching them against the steel rails so they sparked.
The trail leading down to the underside of the trestle was steeper than she remembered, and she almost lost her balance as she half-jogged, half-stumbled down the slope.
“Easy there girl. You’re gonna break your ankle and then I’m gonna have to carry your crippled ass outta here.”
“Hey, that was downright graceful for me.” Maddie said, stepping from the dirt and leaves onto the concrete abutment.
“Sad but true my dear. You never were the nimblest of creatures.”
“Right, and you were Anna-fucking-Pavlova.”
“Touché your Fumbliness.” Cheryl said and took a swig from the large metal thermos she was holding.
“Whatcha got there?”
“That’s what I thought. Hand it over sister.”
“Alright, alright, keep your shorts on. First things first though.”
Cheryl put down the thermos and pulled Maddie into a bear hug and they stayed that way for a long while listening to the sounds of chirring insects and birds calling back and forth to each other from the braches.
When they finally let go Maddie gave Cheryl a crooked smile. “I think you cracked a rib.”
“It’s okay, totally worth it.”
“So...what’s new with you?” Cheryl said with a nervous chuckle.
“Same old. Still working on the storyboards for that movie I told you about.”
“How are your folks?”
“Mom’s good. She’s gotten really into knitting since retiring from the bank.”
“And your dad?”
“He’s still working at the insurance company, though I think he’s some kind of regional manager now.”
“What about the two of you?”
“It’s still complicated, but we’ve talked through most of it; we’ve even seen a therapist together a couple of times. I’m not sure it’ll ever be like it was, but it’s getting better.”
“...you never told him....”
“I never told anyone. Did you?”
“Only my shrink because he said it might help get you out of that place.”
“Well that explains it.”
“I could never figure out why they let me go. I thought maybe my mom had petitioned the judge or appealed to some higher-up at Sycamore, but she wouldn’t talk to me about it. You never mentioned that you’d helped get me released.”
“I wasn’t sure if it had even done anything, and we weren’t communicating much back then.”
“Yeah, your folks kinda put the kibosh on that. Thank the tech gods for disposable cell phones and anonymous email.”
“You really think the cops didn’t know who Nancy Thompson and Laurie Strode were?”
“I think they probably had better things to do than play Sherlock on a restraining order that stayed mostly off their radar for five years.”
“Feels like longer than that.”
“So what about you? Anything new and exciting?” Maddie said.
“I stopped working for the high school last month. Subbing for a different subject every few weeks was exhausting and I got tired of waiting for a permanent teaching position to open up. I actually just started at a shipping company. Technically I’m in I.T., but that’s only because I’m one of three people under the age of sixty in the office, so they assume I’m some sort of computer guru. Mostly I track delivery routes and make sure the drivers end up where they’re supposed to and arrive on time.”
“How’s the old personal life?”
“You’re assuming I have one.”
“There’s a guy I’ve seen a few times. He’s nice and funny, but I don’t know if it’s anything serious.”
“Sounds all right to me.”
“Yeah, I guess. What about you?”
“There are zero signs of love-life on Planet Maddie.”
“It’s my own fault. I’ve been keeping my head pretty low. It’s taken me this long to get back to some semblance of a normal life.”
“...because of me....”
“That’s not true.”
“Of course it is. And this whole time I never even said....”
“How sorry I am for everything that happened.”
“You didn’t do anything Cher; I’m the one who did it. You tried to stop me.”
“But I was the reason you were in that position to begin with. I’m the one who asked for your help. I should’ve just kept my mouth shut.”
“I’m glad that you told me. I just wish I could’ve protected you from him.”
“...you did...” Cheryl said, sitting down on the cement ledge so that her legs dangled out over the creek. “...he never went near me again after that night....”
“Do you still see him?”
“When I have to...to keep up appearances for Mom.”
“Do you think she ever suspected?”
“No. And I hope she never does.”
“Jesus, I really know how to bring down a room.” Cheryl said.
“You always were the showstopper of the duo.”
“One of my many talents.”
“Do you remember Freshman year when Bobby Schenck kept calling me a priss and pulling the back of my bra strap in math class?”
“Kinda, I guess; that was a really long time ago.”
“So you don’t remember cornering him during passing period, pushing him up against a locker, and telling him that if he ever so much as looked at me again you’d turn him into a castrati?”
“I may have some vague recollection of the event.”
“You looked out for me too. I never needed to ask, you were always just there.” Maddie said and sat down next to Cheryl.
“Hey, what are friends for?” Cheryl said and intertwined her fingers with Maddie’s as they gazed at their reflections in the murky water.
A thought flitted through Maddie’s head and was gone. She wasn’t sure if she could trust it, but let the trace of it linger as they sat together on the cold concrete listening to the leaves rustle.
All she knew for certain was that for the first time in a long time it felt like she was home.
ALGINET "ALLY" GRAHAM - THE ROOM
Alginet “Ally" Graham is an aspiring screenwriter who currently attends Full Sail University. She hopes one day to turn her stories into a feature film. She’s still on her journey and hopes readers will enjoy her first publication, it’s just the beginning.
Icy blue eyes followed as he straightened his tie and leaned forward, picking up his glass of scotch and taking a sip. The older woman with short blonde hair didn’t say anything for thirty-seven seconds.
“What exactly are your plans for my daughter?” she asked.
“Would you like the honest answer?” he asked, taking another sip.
He set his glass down and swung his left leg over his right.
“Mrs. Eden, your daughter is in love with me,” he said.
“She’s a naïve eighteen-year-old who thinks a grown man is interested in anything more than a “pretty young thing” as the young kids say. You’re interested in my daughter because when her father passed, six months ago, when you two first met, she became the sole heir to her fathers fortune. Hell, I put up with the man, murdered him and all he left me was that lousy house,” she said.
She took a sip of her drink before heaving a heavy sigh.
“She speaks very highly of you. The second mother who didn’t judge her for how her mother died. The way I see it she only has us to trust so if you still want your due diligence I suggest you remain in her good graces. She’s far from stupid,” he said.
“Mr. Valentine, do you even love her?” she asked.
“Don’t start acting like a mother now,” he said, pausing as she frowned, “your daughter is an amazing creature and to be honest she’s a fresh of breath air. When I see her, all I can think about is who will try and take her from me. It drives me fucking crazy.”
He shook his head staring at the cloudy glass design of the round table.
“It’s the Eden effect. Before you know it, Mr. Valentine, the money won’t matter, and unlike the rest of your blood sucking family, you grew up with my son and believe it or not, you’re not as callus at the other Valentines. I don’t believe this is a rouse anymore, you said it yourself, just the thought of her away from you drives you crazy, right?” she said.
“Wouldn’t that be something, a Valentine actually loving an Eden woman, rather than selling her to the highest bidder or beating her to near death. Ana is the last woman of her family, thanks to your family and I made a promise to her father to keep her alive and uncorrupted, if you know what I mean, Avery. I brought you here because I did love her father. He knew exactly why we had met but, in the end, that man gave me everything and anything and I still took his life. The least I can do is look out for his daughter because I am an Eden woman first,” she said.
She set her glass down, almost tossing it, letting it slide a few inches on the table. She crossed her right leg over her left and both her arms rested on her knee as her fingers entwined with one another.
“You and Ana have my blessing, my support and love. I may not have my husband or his fortune but I have my daughters love and six brothers who are more than willing to return to prison for me once again. Ana is to be cherished, if not loved and above all you lay a finger on her I will murder you next Valentine. Don’t fuck with what’s mine,” she said.
He nodded setting his glass down as well and uncrossing his legs. He leaned forward locking his eyes with hers.
“You have my word. I want Ana. I’ve always wanted her and knew she’d be mine from a young age so hurting her is not an option, physically, mentally or emotionally,” he said.
“And your family? Do they know you’re marrying Ana?” she asked.
“Not yet. I wanted to speak to you first before I even proposed. Ryan thought it was a good idea to,” he said.
“Of course, he did, he’s my son and her brother,” she said.
My mother sighed. Avery smiled and glanced at his watch.
“I’ve said my piece, Valentine, and I’ll begin preparing for her wedding. Now if you’ll excuse me,” she said.
They stood, and she followed him through the room, passed the two queen beds, and up to the front door. He stopped looking around the room for a moment, then at my mother.
“Can I ask you something?” he asked.
“Sure,” she said.
“Why here? Why did my father kill her mother in this room?” he asked.
She looked around stopping at the bed closest to the door, then looked back at him.
“Because this is where the first Valentine killed an Eden. Ask your father why. You know your family loves traditions,” she said.
She opened the door and he stepped out rejoining the two men waiting for him.
“I’ll expect you at the wedding?” Avery asked, looking back at her.
“Of course, red riding hood was warned before entering the forest,” she said.
Her door slammed shut.
DL SHIREY - DENTAL CASTING
DL Shirey lives in Portland, Oregon, writing fiction, by and large, unless it's small. He has been caught flashing at Café Aphra, 365 Tomorrows, ZeroFlash, Fewer Than 500 and others listed at www.dlshirey.com.
"You right-handed or left?"
The woman jumped at the voice behind her. She had been concentrating on her work and would have been as easily startled had it been Ray or Yvonne, but the other technicians had left promptly at five. She took a deep breath and did a slow spin on the stool to face the man.
Why is he dressed like he works here? What is he up to? she thought. Her eyes darted from side to side as if in her mind she was flicking through a playbook, trying to decide how to handle this.
"I said, right-handed or left?"
It was Johnny Cimano, easy to recognize with his skinny frame and crazy-long arms. Usually, when seen on the street, he wore one of those cheap polyester off-the-rack jobs, with sleeves long enough to fit his monkey arms. But now he was ill-suited in one of the lab's white coats, the cuffs a good four inches above his hairy wrists.
"Right. Or left?" he demanded.
Johnny swiped the shaggy brown hair from his forehead and an idea lit his dark eyes. He picked up the nearest object, a dental casting, and examined the upper and lower plates balanced on his palm. The plaster teeth were close enough for him to kiss, but Johnny pulled back his lips in grim imitation. He turned his dead grin back to the woman.
Johnny coiled back to hurl the plaster jaws and snapped his elbow as he would a fastball. He didn't throw, but the momentum of the fake pitch unseated the two plates in Johnny's grip. They squirted from his fingers and fell to the ground like badly tossed dice, the lower jaw snapping in half.
He flinched a squint of regret, but Johnny got his question answered: the woman pulled up her left arm to shield her face.
"A lefty, okay. Boss wanted me to break the pinkie of your other hand, so not to affect your ability to settle your debts. When you do decide to make the next payment—and you will make the next payment—Boss wants to make sure you still have an income to do so."
Her platinum hair was almost as white as the lab coat sleeve she slowly pulled down from her face. Her eyes were streaked with creases of fear and expensive mascara. She had a fresh French manicure on the hand now resting on her breastbone. The white-tipped nail of the index finger pointed at the name embroidered on the jacket: Tamella.
"We can do this the easy way or the hard way," threatened Johnny.
Tamella placed both hands in her lap. Even under the duress of a surprise visit she sat like a lady; legs demurely crossed at the ankles, thighs pressed together and posture perfectly upright. It was from that position she raised gracefully off the workbench stool, splaying her fingers to smooth the fabric of her short, black skirt.
As she stood, the weighted pockets of her lab coat jingled. The six rings she wore when she wasn't at work shifted with the change in gravity. These were in her left pocket. The right contained a six-inch plaster alginate mixing spatula. She wished to God it was a Fahen knife, but she had to make due. She needed something dramatic.
Tamella flicked the spatula from her pocket, flipping it from one hand to the other, back and forth like a back-alley switchblade. She hoped the black handle, stainless shaft and blur of movement would hide the spatula's bland, round edge.
"I may lead with my left," she purred, "But this thing is ambidex..."
Johnny cut her off. "Okay, Tamella. The hard way."
To shield himself, Johnny grabbed what looked like a blue plastic layer cake: a lazy Susan with about fifty holes in the top to hold the delicate Dremel attachments that Tamella used to grind and buff and smooth the replicas of people's teeth.
"Not that. Please," she pleaded, "You want me to have a job, fine. But they'll fire me if you break my tools."
Johnny made a show out of returning it carefully. "Now you put the knife down."
When she swiped the blade through air, Johnny arched backwards and grabbed a clipboard instead. Tamella flipped the six-inch blade into her palm and wrapped her clear-coated nails into a fist.
"Throws just as good as it slices," she said.
When he saw that the mettle in her eyes didn't match the steel in her hand, Johnny smirked. His teeth were the same gray-white color as all the plaster casts grinning from the shelves around him.
"I don't believe you. I can see you're acting."
Tamella's hateful gaze melted. She lowered her eyes. Johnny lowered the clipboard.
"Really? I thought we were doing so good," she said, watching him shrug off the lab coat.
"I just didn't believe you would throw that knife at me," said Johnny, "The goal of improv is to commit fully, act in the now, be authentic,"
"That's what you teach in this acting class of yours? Sounds kinda lame."
"Come on, you'll see." Johnny motioned to the door. "I'll even take you for coffee after."
"Can't. Now that you've broken Mr. Jordan's mouth, I gotta come back and pour another casting."
"Oh, yeah. Sorry about that. I got caught up in the moment."
Autumn Olsen is a creative writer who spends her free time with family, deepening her faith, and volunteering as a media assistant at a local ministry.
She discovered her passion for creative writing while creating scripts for sketches that were performed at her previous youth ministry located in Jacksonville Florida.
Follow her on Twitter @Autumn3597.
BLESSINGS IN DISGUISE
“Let’s go, I need to leave for my interview,” shouted Jude.
“I’m coming, you act like we're getting evicted,” replied Nevaeh.
“I know we aren't, but if I don’t pay our rent, we will be, so get in the car.”
They got in the car, and Nevaeh’s dad started it up, as they headed to their destination.
“How do you know if your’re even gonna get this Job?”
“Can’t you just have some faith and believe in God that I will?”
“Faith? How can I have faith when we barely have any food? Mom left us, plus you haven’t gotten a job from your past four interviews.”
“Look, I know we’ve been in a tight spot lately, but God has always been a way maker for us in our past struggles, so just have some hope.”
As they approached the turn on, Sara Lee Boulevard, that leads to, Mount Valley Real Estate, they realized it was blocked off, so they switched paths, and took the long route.
“Of course it’s blocked off. Why wouldn’t it be?” she said
“I still have twenty minutes; hopefully, I can still make it.”
Fifteen minutes passed, and they were two minutes away. As they reached the parking lot, Jude bust open the door and ran to the building. He had gotten to the doors, but they were locked, for he was too late.
“Ugh, not again.” He walked back to the car, and got in. “I missed it, but maybe this just wasn’t the right one.”
Nevaeh said nothing, as she looked out the car window with a blank face.
“Tell you what, you hungry? I got about seventy five dollars left. How about we get some groceries from Hy-Vee?”
They left for Hy-Vee and arrived ten minutes later. They entered the store.
“This is a stick up!” said a guy on a bullhorn. A man at every register stepped out of line, pointed a gun at the cashiers with one hand, and held open a bag with the other.
Before Jude and Nevaeh could escape, there were men blocking all the exits.
Could my life get any worse? “What do we do now?” asked Nevaeh.
“Get on the ground and pray!” replied Jude.
“Really, pray? I think I’ll just get on the ground.”
“I’ll do it then,” he said. Why God why? He prayed as they got on the ground and waited for the robbery to be over.
“Put your money in their bags!” the man said to the cashiers.
They did as he said.
A woman on the ground took out her phone, and without being noticed, she texted her father, who is the head of the police department.
Her father responded and alerted his team of the situation, as well as the location.
Minutes later, the sound of sirens are heard in the distance.
The robbers automatically sprinted to the back doors and exited the premises, but before the leader of it all could escape, his mask slipped off for a second, and Nevaeh got a glimpse of his appearance.
“Dad, I saw what the robber on the bullhorn looked like!” said Nevaeh.
“Are you serious? That’s great! Let’s try and get a hold of the police once they arrive, so you can tell them his appearance,” replied Jude.
Seconds later the police arrived, yet they noticed the thieves had escaped. They checked on everybody to make sure no one's injured, while the chief made an announcement on the intercom.
“Attention customers, interviews for the appearance of any of the thieves will be held up front! A seven thousand dollar reward will be given to whoever can give us an accurate description of one of the robbers!”
Some customers lined up one by one, each making up descriptions, trying to get some money in their pockets. After most of them were done giving the chief fake explanations, Nevaeh approached him.
“Hello, officer. I would like to let you know that before one of the thieves left the building, his mask slipped off for moment, so I was actually able to get a glance at his face.”
“Perfect. Would you mind telling our sketch artist, so we can run it through our database, for facial recognition?”
“Of course, he had an oval shaped head and orange hair with thick orange eyebrows, as well as a scruffy beard. He also had a stubby nose, yet thin lips. His ears were kind've pointy, and his eyes were green, but he had this scar above his left eyebrow that was the shape of a crescent moon.”
As soon as she finished the thieves description, the sketch artist was done, and he showed her the picture.
They ran the sketch through their database, and minutes later, they had a match. Immediately, they used their devices to track his cell phone in order to find his location and hopefully the other criminals as well.
“Thanks for the information, young lady. You will be notified once the thief is arrested, and will receive a check from the state soon after. ”
“Thank you so much. God bless you!”
“We can finally pay our rent!’’ said Jude, as his eyes filled with tears.
“I know right, plus we can fill our fridge!”
They exited the store and drove home. When they reached their house, they entered and turned on the TV. The news was on, and it was in the middle of breaking news.
“There was a major accident today on Sara Lee Boulevard that occurred at 2:00 p.m. Many vehicles skidded into a twenty car pileup. In other news, Mount Valley Real Estate has been participating in corporate fraud. The owner and his employees will be sentenced to prison,” said the reporter.
“Oh my God! We would have died, if we were able to take that turn earlier,” said Jude.
“And you could’ve worked for criminals if you would’ve been hired by that company! God really does come through for us,” said Nevaeh.
LASHAMPA HALL - SILENT BILL
LaShampa Hall is a Customer Service Representative at TruGreen, where she is consistent and exceptional in her work. Hall is studying at Full Sail University, learning to perfect her craft in creative writing. She is currently working towards her bachelor’s in fine arts in hopes of a career in narrative story writing, copy editing, and teaching. Hall first noticed her gift for writing when she achieved her very first academic recognition for writing short stories in high school. Hall’s most recent work can be found in the Scarlet Leaf Review, and wordpress.com/capturedinamiracledaze. Before entering school, and working with TruGreen, Hall was employed as a Registered Pharmacy Technician by the state of Florida and holds an update registration. She has also served as a substitute teacher for the orange county publice school system. Throughout the years she has earned a Degree of Pharmacy Technician and plans on getting her master’s in creative Writing. Hall loves giving back to her community and always looking for a way to help like in 2018 when she volunteered at the International Christian Film and Music festival, and Ms. Lemon’s Neighborhood daycare where she tutor elementary students in reading, phonics, and math.
“Damn, there he is.”
“Excuse me, sir, could I take just a few moments of your time?”
“Are you registered to vote?”
“Yes, I have got to go now.”
She finally got to look the bastard in the face. Long days and longer nights had led to this moment. As he continued down 13th street, the distance between the two grew in greater numbers. She clenched her fist and bit down hard on her lips. The reflection from the hood of the car revealed her brown eyes in plain view.
“You let him walkaway,” she said, slamming the car door. “I could kill him dead on the street, right now!” she said to herself.
Peeling off the black leather jacket, her shirt was sopping wet, she had sweat through dark grey, double breast sports bra. Walking towards the window, she watched as a mother and her child came up the sidewalk around 18th Ave. The mother was wearing a green dress, sunglasses and white hat. The child was consumed by a shiny red race car in the display window. The woman had not noticed the presence of her child missing. She turned the corner without ever looking back.
In many ways she felt like the child. Consumed with mere displays with shiny objects, only to be left behind, as the world passes by. The need to linger near the window felt comfortable. The tip of her big toe tapped on the window ceil and the floor opened, revealing a spiraling staircase.
The cherry wood floor panel opened up just enough to see the first three steps. “woo these steps are cool,” said aloud. When the staircase was first installed she wanted it to go up, but she could only go down. You had to pass three spider webs, five dead lizards, and two flatten lifeless frog bodies, but it was worth the sight.
Down in the basement is where she studied him, found what he takes delight in and those in which he detests. “Barry, come down.”
Out of the shadows appeared a man of steel, frosted rose gold arms. Barry is highly intelligent and often comes to aide Billy in her work. “Yes, Madam Daze, how was your day?” he asked.
“It could have gone better, I choked when I saw him. My palms were clam, but my heart a leapt off the deep end, and I froze faster than a popsicle in an igloo.”
“Seems like you were a bit preoccupied.”
“Seems so, Barry, seem so.”
“What is the matter, Billy?” Barry asked.
“I can’t seem to wrap my head around the idea of actually killing him. I mean I saw it in my dreams, I have thought about it, but when the time came, I could not.”
“Why do you think that is so?” asked Barry
“Promise not to tell anyone?” she asked.
“I am bound by the law of my code to never betray you,” Barry replied.
“I believe I may grown to feel something for him,” sheShe said putting her face in hands.
“Your emotion must not become a distraction,” Barry said.
“The only distraction here is me,” she replied.
JACCOB MARRERO - THE BODY
Jaccob Marrero is a sci-fi, fantasy, drama author. Currently, he is a Full Sail student aiming for a Bachelor's degree in Creative Writing.
“And that’s that,” said Georgie. He tucked the smoking gun back into his jacket. “All right, so who’s getting the body?”
Paul looked up from his plate of rigatoni and said, “Not me, man. Hell no. I just dumped one last week.”
Randy slurped up a noodle before speaking. “What? What happened?”
“You’ve got body duty,” said Paul. He gave Randy a pat on his back, then went back to eating.
“Wait, don’t I get a say?”
“Afraid not,” Georgie replied. He diced his grilled chicken into small pieces. “You’re the new guy. We’ve done this before. I wanna know you can too.”
Randy threw his hands up and said, “But, I’ve never done it before!”
“How do you not know how to?” Paul said, laughing. “You find a secluded place, dig a hole, and chuck the damn body in it. Not that hard.”
Randy’s face reddened. “What if I get caught?”
“Well, you know what happens if you do.”
Paul pointed at the bullet riddled body on the table.
“Goddammit,” said Randy. He threw the napkin on the table and stood up.
Rookie, Georgie thought.
“This should be good,” Paul said. He turned and shook his head at the meal next to him, which had now been tainted by the pool of blood. “Shame. That ziti cost $25.”
“Really?” asked Georgie.
“I didn’t know that. I don’t look at the prices.”
Randy pulled the dead man’s chair. The body dragged the blood-stained table cloth and the deep-dish ziti as Randy continued to pull.
“Hey, hey, hey!” Georgie pointed at the plate with his fat finger. “Careful! Don’t wanna make a mess!”
Randy hauled the fat corpse off the table. Once he saw the three holes in the face, he gagged and dropped the body right back into the food.
“What the hell?” said Paul. He wiped at the mixture of tomato sauce and blood that sprayed on his $500 suit.
Randy continued to gag. Veins bulged against his red neck.
Paul shook his head and smirked. “Pussy.”
“Relax, kid,” Georgie finished a mouthful of chicken. “You ain’t ever seen a dead body before?”
Randy shook his head.
“Don’t think of it as a guy,” said Georgie. “It’s a deer that you mowed down on the highway.” He pointed at the table. “It’s caught in your front bumper. All you gotta do is remove it. Then, to pay respects, you bury it far away, so it can reconnect with Mother Nature.”
Paul snickered at the childish analogy. Bits of rigatoni escaped his full mouth.
“I’ve never heard of deer burials,” Randy said. Tears streamed his face. Sweat seeped through his lime colored shirt.
“Hippies do them,” Paul said. “They love the earth and the animals and all that shit.”
“Okay.” Randy took deep breaths. His hands shook uncontrollably. “I got this.” He nodded his head. “I got this.”
“Atta boy” Georgie lifted his glass of sangria. He watched Randy like a lion watching its cub practice the hunt.
Randy lifted the body off the table. His eyes veered away at the wall. Fuck me, he thought. Muscles contracted as he pushed the overweight corpse back into the chair.
“Good,” Georgie said. “You’re a strong kid. Carry him out to the trunk, find a spot, and bury him.”
“Okay,” Randy adjusted the body again. His arms wrapped around the fat man like anacondas. Once more, muscles tensed and veins bulged.
Paul whooped at the show of strength. “Goddamn, kid. Momma been feeding you right!”
Randy said nothing. He hauled the body out of the dining area and towards the back door.
“Can you imagine that he comes back to life?” Paul asked.
“I’d like to see that,” replied Georgie.
“Just pops out like a fuckin’ Jack-In-The-Box.” Paul widened his eyes and spread his arms and went, “Surprise!”
Once the laughs subsided, Paul’s face became stern.
“I dunno about him, though.” Paul buried his fork into his rigatoni.
Georgie sipped his wine.
“He’s young, got a heart. Too soft. In our line of work, people with hearts are vulnerable. They’re always the first ones to go. Only way to live is to live without a heart.”
Georgie nodded and said, “Give it time. We were all like that. Soft, ambitious. Stupid.”
Paul shrugged his shoulders as he chewed. “If you say so.”
Somewhere secluded, Randy thought. I dunno anywhere secluded. Every bit of a land is a Goddamn Wal-Mart or an apartment complex.
Three cars sat under the yellow halo of a street light in the back. An old wood fence kept any curious eyes blinded.
Randy struggled to reach in his pockets for his car keys. His right arm took all 200 plus pounds of the body. “Fuckin’ hell.” His car, a red Sedan, beeped. “Why do I need to bury this body? I didn’t pull the Goddamn trigger.”
The trunk greeted him by opening.
“Seriously, how am I gonna bury this fat ass.” Randy dragged him toward the trunk where an empty blackness awaited the corpse. “I don’t even have a shovel! Dammit!”
Randy made it to the trunk. His car bounced when the corpse dropped inside. The slam of the trunk door echoed. He slid inside his car. That pleasant floral scent he loved didn’t seem to calm him down.
His palms slammed on the steering wheel. What if the body gets dug up once I bury it? I’ve seen Goodfellas. I’m not going through what Henry did. How can Georgie trust me with anything if I can’t get rid of one fat guy?
One thought chained to another. He thought about what the Goodfellas would do. Then, specific scenes, procrastinating until he realized how hungry the movie made him.
“Food.” he said. “Food.” He looked at the trunk. “Food!” Everything’s gotta eat, Randy. “Even the gators in the swamp!” He smiled and put his car in reverse, shifting the gear with newfound confidence.
RICHARD - KRAUSE - URBAN TALES
Richard Krause’s collection of fiction, Studies in Insignificance, was published by Livingston Press, and his epigram collection, Optical Biases, was published by EyeCorner Press in Denmark. His second collection of epigrams, Eye Exams, is scheduled for publication by Propertius Press later this year. A collection of his fiction called The Horror of the Ordinary has been accepted by Unsolicited Press for publication next March.
It includes "Out of State Plates, or Decapitation 101" that first appeared in Scarlet Leaf Review. Since 2017 his fiction has appeared in Hackwriters Magazine, ink&coda,Cold Creek Review, Subtle Fiction, and EXPOUND, a Nigerian magazine. He has also had three prose poems accepted by The Courtship of Winds. He teaches at Somerset Community College in Kentucky.