Rick Hartwell is a retired middle school teacher (remember the hormonally-challenged?) living in Southern California. He believes in the succinct, that the small becomes large; and, like the Transcendentalists and William Blake, that the instant contains eternity. Given his “druthers,” if he’s not writing, Rick would rather still be tailing plywood in a mill in Oregon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The pale newborn flutters gracefully down from the Golden Gate; due to its insignificant weight, is borne in twists and turns by the onshore wind, and flies into the bay towards Alcatraz. The infant lands in an ebb tide, is carried back under the bridge and out towards the Farallones. A tight-swaddled blanket, too distant to determine whether pink or blue – inconsequential really – descends slowly beneath the chop, turns pale green possibly, and disappears.
The woman on the bridge tracks the first part of this flight as best she can through tears. But between the diminishing smallness of the bundle and her own shivering, initially grateful, loses sight of her child before she, or he – indeterminate, as only the parents know, – hits the water.
Too late to regret not traveling with the child, the woman mounts the railing and jumps. Her trailing feet just caress the edge of the suicide netting, tumbling her at first. Her unbuttoned London Fog coat capes above, straightening her, as she plummets, rather than floats, only slightly towards the island. She hits rather flat, knocking the wind out of her, and easing the drowning even before she passes under the bridge.
Much later the wind falls off, the tide turns and the famed San Francisco fog swallows the famous bridge, obscuring everything except the disembodied towers soaring above. Much later, at the Top of the Mark, the sodden man orders another and scopes out his newest prospects just as the bartender trumpets “last call.”
Charles Hayes, a Pushcart Prize Nominee, is an American who lives part time in the Philippines and part time in Seattle with his wife. A product of the Appalachian Mountains, his writing has appeared in Ky Story’s Anthology Collection, Wilderness House Literary Review, The Fable Online, Unbroken Journal, CC&D Magazine, Random Sample Review, The Zodiac Review, eFiction Magazine, Saturday Night Reader, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Scarlet Leaf Publishing House, Burning Word Journal, eFiction India, and others.
Drifting on the water, turning like a tardy second hand on a mirrored sky of cirrus, we park our canoe paddles and watch the steep timber slowly spin. Silver Maples flash waves of white brilliance as a blow rustles their coats. A furtive beaver pops a tail, sending shore birds aflutter, and a whisper of far current plays a wash as pollen swims, sweetening the aroma of muddy banks.
Beth dangles a hand in the water, her smooth brow a plain of calm as she reads the maple signs. Flipping a line toward an ivy covered log, no slack to contemplate, a sharp tug I feel and set the hook, watching in excited awe as a Bass breaks the water, exploding sprays of color from its manic dance. Bringing in the king of the hole, its mouth gasping large, I remove the hook and drop it back. Snapping me with a terrified eye, it winks a glossy flank and disappears, a tiny ripple of glass and pungent hands its only print. Beth frowns and says, “You must like potted meat and peanut butter.”
Thinking that though she be right, I’ll never tell the heart that she has captured. “I’m sorry babe,” I say. “I just couldn’t keep the king of the hole.” Turning back to fore, Beth hands her paddle and rights our tack, the call of froth not far. “That’s OK,” she says. “I’ll get us one when we pitch for eve. That one was a beaut, though probably tough.” I choke a burst of mirth and look to see, Beth, her eyebrows high and lips a tinge of smile, looking back at me. My leg no longer curled, I smile and say, “You got me.”
Moving faster now, a sparkling ribbon, topped with furrowed lace, sucks us in. Slapping faces and blurring eyes, our ride has its own way. Beth digs her paddle down, I drag mine behind, the chute to find and steady on. Sometimes with only air to pull, we squeal and laugh, and let the river lay our track. But through luck and the strength of pearly years, we burst from the rapids to slip into the lee of a wider pass, our thumping hearts telling how small we are. Beth, her hair undone and plastered to her face, turns to me and stills. Her look, a second star with so much to say, touches me to lead the way. “I bet you haven’t done that before.” Shimmering with delight, she screams and catches breath while my heart swells. “Oh my God, Peter,” she finally says. “I had no idea it could be so much fun! This is worth it to miss the sheets and kitchen fare.” In a surrender closely held, happy to the core, I see a flame in her eye, one that I have lit. Trying to calm, lest I burst my chest, I stroke on. “You bet, love. It belongs to us.”
A finger over the ridge, our bright star cools and begins to set. Looking now for lee that will last the night, I point our craft to the sandy strip beneath the Sycamores, their dappled trunks and broad lime green our décor of choice. Pulling the canoe up high we unload and pitch our tent. “I am really hungry,” Beth says, as she pops the peanut butter and gathers bread. “Fix me one too,” I say. “I’ll make a fire for later on.”
Crickets chirp and June Bugs light the air as the sizzle of green sticks with dogs on end make our juices ache. Black before they can swell, our dogs split the dough and catch a strip of yellow spice. On a palm with chips at hand our dinnerware is curt. But after three or four our cheeks deflate with canteen sips to wash them down.
After several chunks of drift, the fire all yellow gone, is but a cherry glow. June Bugs no longer fly their blink, lanterns dark by now. Sun cured faces with pools of ember glow, gaze to the celestial lights beyond. The moon, a happy face that clicks across the sky, winks as we say goodnight, its cheeks a rouge of blush as we zip the tent.
A flat smack breaks the quiet of night when all is well and truths have all been told. Sleepily Beth feathers my ear with a query of common yore. “What was that?” Smiling deep within I am tempted to boogieman a yarn but instead reply, “A beaver tail I suppose.” Her breath still soft upon my ear, she says, “I don’t think so.” Enjoying this sleepy repartee, I finger dance along her skin and say, “What was it then?”
With a little giggle that wafts like music around our nest, she says, “The king.”
Jeff Bakkensen once placed second in a George Washington look-alike contest. Recent fiction can be found in Oblong Magazine, Smokelong Quarterly, The Antigonish Review, and Straylight Literary Magazine.
They clicked right away, single dads taking a break in the shade of the cabana bar set on a platform above the pool.
“Those are mine,” said Daniel, swiveling to find two boys in the water below. “Braden, twelve, and Dylan, eight. My dudes.”
“And mine is,” said Rick, searching. He stood, scanning the water, but she wasn’t there. A moment of panic, then he turned to find her laboring up the concrete stairs to the bar.
“Coming to join us, baby?” he asked. “This is my Amber, six.”
Daniel raised a toast.
Amber wanted to go down to the beach, had been asking all weekend, which unfortunately was not going to happen, Rick checked his watch with careful regret, because her Mommy was coming soon to pick her up. Shoulders slumped, she took a piece of grilled cheese back down the stairs, one sodden step at a time.
“Mommy?” asked Daniel, leaning across the bar.
Rick watched Amber try the pool with her foot.
“She and her boyfriend both, if you can believe it. They’re across the way in Fort Myers Beach.” He gestured with his beer towards the water, which was in fact the Atlantic and not the bay side. “Keeping an eye on me, I think.”
“That’s criminal,” said Daniel. “You don’t even get a week just the two of you?”
This was their first attempt at a joint vacation, an agreement hammered out to accommodate the dance camp Amber wanted to attend over her second school break.
“I admit it’s not a perfect system.”
Daniel snorted in commiseration while he signaled to the bartender for two more beers.
The pool beneath them was itself set on a raised slab of concrete surrounded by grass and then on three sides by the rectangular wings of the hotel, with the fourth open to the beach. Rick tried to pick out his and Amber’s screened-in deck on the second level, but couldn’t tell it apart from the others.
“It’s been just over a year,” he said, holding up a ringless left hand. “My grandparents used to live out in Boca Grande. Figured it would be nice to get her down here as well.”
“Men don’t need jewelry.” Daniel slid a beer across the bar. “We take our boys’ trip every year. We fish, we golf.” He made air quotes to show that golf was a relative term. “They have a good time. Right now I’m just trying to stay in the game, you know?”
“Their mom?” asked Rick.
“Yeah, they live with their mom.”
Rick checked his watch again, then looked through the railing into the pool below them. Two elderly couples sunned on deck chairs. A snoring man crushed a newspaper against his stomach, wife very thin in a baggy one-piece suit with a kind of cloth shower cap. Cancer, thought Rick reflexively. Can’t let it get in the way of some sun. He watched Amber lower herself into a sit at the water’s edge, her arms fattened by the twin ducks of her swimmies. Another parent, e.g. Jess, his ex, might stand at this point and call out to Be Careful, because of course a six year old knew exactly what that meant. Not his way. He imagined himself as a platform rising up beneath her; she wouldn’t know he was there until she needed him.
“I see you noticed my girlfriend,” said Daniel. He raised his chin, whistling softly.
Rick followed his gaze to a youngish woman dipping her toddler onto a submerged step at one corner of the shallow end. She was a big girl, bone-white skin and dark hair slicked back with water. From where he sat, Rick had a direct view down at the pair of handguns tattooed one on each breast, their barrels curving down into her top.
“You wish, right?”
“I don’t see any competition,” said Daniel. “What do you think, early twenties?”
Rick considered the handguns. No doubt they had something to do with the guy who’d got her pregnant. And where was he?
“Don’t fall in love now,” said Daniel.
Rick looked up.
“Guilty,” he said. He raised his beer. “Needed this.”
“You forget how tiring it is,” said Daniel.
Rick was halfway through the next round when he got a text from his ex that they were leaving the hotel in Fort Myers, and stood up so fast he had to hold onto the bar until his vision cleared. Daniel told him to hurry on back and catch the green flash at sunset.
“I have some sobering up to do first,” said Rick.
“Not on vacation you don’t,” said Daniel, and winked.
Rick navigated down to the pool the same way Amber had – deliberately. The stairway deposited him by the shallow end where Tattoos was now up to her waist, and they made lingering eye contact as Rick scanned the edges of the pool from shallow to deep, looking for his daughter’s swimmies. He didn’t see them. There were maybe half a dozen kids variously submerged, but no Amber. He scanned back from deep to shallow. Then he spun around like a dog chasing his own tail.
His stomach cramped and the beer drained down into his toes. How long since he’d last seen her? Fifteen minutes? She’d been fine on her own when they practiced swimming that morning. And with so many people around – what color was her swimsuit? Pink? He saw a flash of color down by the drain and was leaning, unbelieving, towards the water when he felt someone touch his arm.
Tattoos. She had her toddler balanced on one arm.
“Are you looking for your girl?” she asked.
Rick nodded. He followed her finger out towards the ocean, past the pool enclosure, across a strip of grass set for horseshoes and a dirt track that divided the grass from the dunes and the beach, where a tiny pink blob was studying the path leading to the other side.
“Oh my God,” he said. “Thank you.”
“Thank you!” he shouted again as he left the pool deck and took off on a brisk walk towards the beach, conscious as he pounded across the grass of his breasts moving within his shirt and the heat, yes it was shame, spreading across his cheeks. Slowly the blob clarified itself against the dunes and became his Amber. Everything was alright.
He smoothed the concern out of his voice. “What are you doing?”
“I wanted to see the beach.”
“I bet you’ll go with Mommy,” he said, and regretted it immediately. He knelt, thinking of the crowd at the pool, and wrapped his arms around her. “Come on. We gotta get you washed up.”
While Amber showered off the chlorine, Rick made himself coffee in the peeling kitchenette. He gargled mouthwash. Amber’s clothes lay scattered over her side of the room; he folded them into her little pink suitcase, wringing her swimsuit into the sink. He and her Mommy had gotten her a stuffed bear, her Buddy Bear, the last day before they all moved out of the home they’d shared, and he was placing this on top of her suitcase when his phone rang. It was Jess.
“Ready whenever you are,” she said.
He walked to the bathroom door, listening for a moment to the rushing water.
“Amber,” he said. He heard a tentative yes, and told her to get dressed and meet them outside.
For the first few months they’d handled their exchanges like black-market dealers, walking her between cars parked outside Denny’s or Dunkin’ Donuts. Now at least they were allowed on each other’s front steps.
Jess and her boyfriend, Oystein, which was his honest-to-goodness first name, were playing the part of criminal fences here, waiting with arms crossed in front of Jess’s rental. Was that tension he sensed? Oystein feeling resentful at sharing his vacation? Get used to it, says the irresponsible biological father. He smiled broadly as he turned at the landing and came down the second set of stairs.
They exchanged greetings, a hug and a handshake, both equally forced.
“What have you been up to?” asked Jess.
He spread his arms.
“A little of this, a little of that.”
“I meant with Amber.”
They’d gone on a group bike ride through the bird sanctuary. Played tennis. A day at the pool. Television. Order-in dinner. He'd let Amber tell her they hadn't been to the beach.
“I taught her how to play tennis,” he said. This was stretching things, clearly.
Jess raised an eyebrow.
“We do have fun together, you know,” he said.
Oystein was big and bald like Mr. Clean. He was Norwegian, or Swedish, something like that, and worked for an energy company. That was all Rick knew about him.
He heard a bright, “Mommy!” coming from the second-floor walkway, and they all turned to see Amber closing the door behind her, pink suitcase in tow. Jess rushed up the stairs to help her, and, alone for a moment with Oystein, Rick felt like a barrier descending the weight of having absolutely nothing to say to him.
They repeated the cycle of handshake and hug, and then he hooked Amber under both arms and held her close against his chest, smelling the chlorine still her hair.
“I’ll see you when you get home,” he said.
He watched the minivan pull away, walking after it, and waited for one last wave as they turned onto the road. When they were gone, he turned left to round his building and go through the portico leading back out into the pool area.
A successful weekend, he thought, so long as Amber didn’t realize he’d almost lost her.
Tattoos was still there with her kid. Rick thanked her with a nod and a smile as he passed, but didn’t stop to see whether she smiled back. He didn’t need judgment from someone like that.
What to do now? Where was the handbook for the one-man family vacation? He climbed to the cabana and got himself a beer. Then he got another, and a chicken sandwich with potato chips. Scrolled through the news on his phone. He watched for the green flash, but all he saw was a sunset.
The pool below him cleared out, and then the deck cleared out as well, and when it was just him and the bartender, he felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Sprung at last,” said Daniel.
“Looks like it.”
Daniel took a seat and ordered a beer.
“Now you’re in that place where the responsibility’s been lifted off your shoulders and you have no idea what to do with the freedom. Am I right?”
“Do I feel bad about feeling this relieved or do I just feel relieved?”
“What happened to the little lady?”
“No,” said Daniel, gesturing towards the pool. “The big little lady.”
Rick looked down to see that she was gone.
“Went to dinner, I guess.”
“We had an early one,” said Rick. “Now they’re in there watching a movie.” The bartender, an older woman with short hair the color of rust, turned her back to them and began to stack liquor bottles into a box. “Give them their space and take yours. Nobody should expect you to sit around waiting.”
They had a few more beers, swatting the mosquitoes brave enough to make it past the citronella torches, and when all the liquor was boxed up, the bartender told them she was closing down. It was only 8pm.
“Come on, I have a bottle of Jack in my room,” said Daniel. Rick watched him rise, sway towards the stairs, and turn back when he realized he was alone. “Two rooms; the boys have their own.”
Rick glanced at the bartender counting her boxes. He and Daniel both knew he had nowhere to beg off to.
They crunched across the grass to the screen porch of Daniel’s first-story room and then, finding it locked, “Shit,” they walked through the portico and around to the front door on the other side. Daniel’s room was an exact replica of Rick’s: kitchenette to the left of the entrance, doorless doorway leading to two double beds and a TV with a sliding glass door and a screened deck facing the pool. An open suitcase lay on a luggage rack in the corner. Daniel grabbed cups and a bottle from the freezer and led the way out to the deck without bothering to turn on the lights. They each took a seat. He produced cigars out of his pocket and passed one across as he poured their drinks in the dark.
“I always come prepared,” he said Daniel.
“Some family vacation,” said Rick, but it came out with the wrong tone, and Daniel gave him a look like he was having trouble placing where they’d met.
“Hmm,” said Daniel.
They were both quiet for a minute.
“Plans for tomorrow?” asked Rick.
Daniel shrugged, messed around in his shorts pocket and brought out a lighter and a cigar cutter.
“Who needs plans?” he asked, handing over the cutter. “There’s a second act in the lives of single men. Probably married men, too, but I wouldn’t know about that anymore. Maybe women, but again.”
Rick cut his cigar and leaned forward for the light. Their eyes met. Daniel cut and lit his own cigar.
“And I’m not saying you need to be prowling around, hell no. Think of this new phase as an opportunity. You have options you haven’t even thought of yet. Forty or fifty years is a long time to live your life in ‘after’ mode.”
“After what?” asked Rick.
“Exactly. It's all in front of you again.”
Daniel pointed with his thumb to the room next door. “When I was a kid, I never would have thought my parents could change who they were. Once you were an adult, bam, that’s it.”
“But it’s perfectly natural to keep on changing,” said Daniel. “You never wake up one morning and you’re you, complete. You’re always yourself, always changing.
“What I worry about is them. In this age of the internet. Without a father in the house. No one to show them the ways of the world, so to speak. I guess it’s different with a girl.”
“I don’t think we’ve reached that point yet,” said Rick, sucking on his cigar.
“Don’t tug so hard,” said Daniel. “You’ll turn green.”
He reached across the space between them and pulled the cigar from Rick’s mouth, setting it on the rim of an ashtray.
“Easy now,” he said.
Someone turned off the lights above the pool, and the courtyard settled into semi-darkness. Across the way, Rick could just make out pairs of silhouettes sitting together. In some rooms the lights were on and person-shaped snatches of color flashed back and forth behind the screen doors, and in others the curtains were closed.
Amber was probably in bed by now. Or maybe they’d got her hyped up on ice cream and gone for a walk on the beach. It was easier with three; when it was just the two of you alone, people tended to see an absence that wasn’t there.
“Am I keeping you from something?” asked Daniel.
Rick turned towards the room, noted again the two beds. A separate room for his boys.
“You know,” he said. “I think I’m going to call it a night.”
He set his cup on the table and stood.
“Now?” Daniel looked at his watch. “Did I say something wrong?”
“No, I’m just tired. I’m sure I’ll see you guys tomorrow.”
Both reached for the sliding glass door.
“Rick, I don’t understand what’s happening.”
“It’s alright. It’s my mistake.”
He turned to the screen door and gave it a push, remembered it was locked, fumbled with the button above the knob and let himself out. Sawblades of grass tickling around the edges of his sandals. The door creaked closed behind him.
“Hey wait,” said Daniel. Then he shouted, “Hey, Rick!”
Rick fought the impulse to look back, or to count the pairs of eyes set into the courtyard perimeter that followed him as he pointed his toes towards the water.
He turned left around the side of the building closest to the beach and found himself in the same crushed pumice parking lot where he’d let go of Amber a few hours before. He stopped for a moment and listened. Hearing nothing louder than his own breathing, he climbed the steps to his room and flipped on the light.
There was a lump beneath the covers of Amber’s bed, and for a moment he thought it might be her, but the lump was much too small. He stepped forward and pulled back the covers to find a stuffed animal lying with its head on the pillow. She’d left her Buddy Bear. No, she’d left him her Buddy Bear. What a marvelous little person he’d helped make.
Eventually he’d have to brush his teeth and take off his swimsuit. He’d deal with tomorrow tomorrow. For now it was enough to lie in her bed holding the bear close and feeling its soft comb of fur against his neck.
William Quincy Belle is just a guy. Nobody famous; nobody rich; just some guy who likes to periodically add his two cents worth with the hope, accounting for inflation, that $0.02 is not over-evaluating his contribution. He claims that at the heart of the writing process is some sort of (psychotic) urge to put it down on paper and likes to recite the following which so far he hasn't been able to attribute to anyone: "A writer is an egomaniac with low self-esteem." You will find Mr. Belle's unbridled stream of consciousness here (http://wqebelle.blogspot.ca) or @here (https://twitter.com/wqbelle).
The Fourteen Fourteen Curse
Donald tucked the blue recycling bin under one arm and stepped into the hall. He pulled the door closed and walked down the corridor.
“Hey, Donald.” The man came toward him, looked at the blue bin and held up his own. “Saturday’s chores. Let’s all be good to the environment.”
“I try to do my part, Mr. Buntrock.” Donald nodded and smiled as he passed. In the utility room, he emptied his bin into a chute in the wall. He listened to the various items clatter as they fell fourteen stories to the basement.
Back in his apartment, he went into the living room and saw the stack of newspapers from the previous week. “Oh, shoot.” He got out the blue bin and filled it then walked around looking for other things. He took an almost empty bottle of orange juice from the refrigerator and smelled it. After pouring out the contents, he put it in the bin and headed back to the utility room.
“Hey, Donald.” Mr. Buntrock walked toward him and held up his bin. “Saturday’s chores. Let’s all be good to the environment.”
“Yes.” Donald half-smiled, took a few steps and stopped. He stared after the Buntrock then shook his head and continued with his errand.
The clock showed 2:05 p.m. A tea and cookie would be good. Donald opened the refrigerator and furrowed his brow. He stared at an almost empty bottle of orange juice. He looked toward the recycling bin and glanced again at the bottle. After emptying it in the sink, he took a step toward the blue bin and stopped. Through the arch to the living room, he saw a stack of newspapers. He walked over, picked up the top copy and read yesterday’s date. What’s going on?
He set everything down and went to the washroom. He did his business and splashed cold water on his face. Leaning in to the mirror, he rubbed his eyes and studied himself. He dried off and went back to the living room. The bottle and newspapers were gone. His head jerked.
Donald hurried to the kitchen and looked in the refrigerator. He moved some items around but didn’t see the bottle. He checked the blue bin. It was empty. He stood in the middle of the kitchen rubbing his chin. A noise sounded in the hall. He went to the door and stuck his head out. Buntrock pulled the door to his apartment closed, picked up a blue bin with two hands and came down the hall. “Saturday’s chores, Donald. Let’s all be good to the environment.”
Donald looked at him in disbelief.
Buntrock stopped. “What’s the matter? You okay?”
“How many bins of recycling do you have?”
“Just one. Why?”
Donald looked up and down the hall. “Nothing. I thought I had seen you earlier.”
“Nope. I’ve been watching the game. They went to commercial, so I thought to take advantage of the break to get this little task out of the way.” Buntrock walked toward the utility room. “Have a good one.”
Donald shut the door and looked again at his blue bin. What’s going on? He glanced around the kitchen when the window caught his attention. He shook his head. It was dark. He strode across the room, put his face up to the pane and looked out over the city. It was night. Lights twinkled everywhere under a pitch black sky. He looked at the clock and read 11:35. After looking in all directions and seeing the lighted windows of other buildings, he went to the living room and sat down. What’s going on? Was he having a stroke? Did he have a brain aneurysm? Was some medical condition affecting his perception or was he blacking out?
He looked at a clock on the side table. It showed 2:20. He twisted toward the windows. Rays of sun shone onto the floor. He jumped up and went to the kitchen. The scene out the window showed a warm, bright afternoon. Donald leaned back against the kitchen counter and ran one hand over the top of his head. “Whoa.” He blinked trying to make sense of it by comparing this to any other experience. His gaze wandered around the room. He saw the table with the two chairs and looked at the refrigerator. He turned around and examined the counter area with its sink and overhead cupboards. Everything looked normal; everything looked in order.
Donald chuckled. “This is crazy.” Saying the words out loud felt comforting. He’d been hallucinating and now, it was over. He picked up the electric kettle, filled it with water and plugged it in. From the cupboard, he got out an individually wrapped tea bag and tore off the top of the envelope. He set a mug on the counter and dropped the bag into it. Folding the paper wrapper, he stepped to the blue recycling bin. He looked inside. It was empty. He chuckled and shook his head as he threw the paper in it.
Donald stood at the counter with one hand on the plastic laminate. He tapped a finger as he wondered if he should see his doctor. Should he be concerned? This had never happened before. Was this one of those cases where somebody ignores the early warning signs of an impending medical emergency like a heart attack and ends up dying?
He glanced at the kettle. A watched electric kettle never boils. He smiled and turned to lean with both hands against the counter. He took a deep breath and sighed. On Monday, he must do something — phone his doctor — and make sure he didn’t have any problems.
His gaze focused on the kettle. It wasn’t plugged in. But he had just plugged it in. Hadn’t he? He frowned. He was positive he had plugged it in.
There was an audible plop out in the hall. Donald looked at the clock and read seven o’clock. He looked back at the counter and noticed there was no mug. He scratched his head before opening the door. There was a newspaper on the floor in front of his apartment. There were other newspapers down the length of the hall. He picked up the paper and read the date. It showed Friday. His brow creased in confusion.
Donald walked back and put the paper on the counter. He went to the living room and sat in an armchair using his cellphone to search for the number of the after-hours clinic. He shouldn’t wait until Monday; he needed help now.
The kettle whistled. He turned toward the noise. The whistling grew in intensity. He stood and looked through the arch into the kitchen. Steam rose from the spout of the kettle. The newspaper was gone and the mug was there. His eyes widened. The clock displayed 2:35 p.m.
He walked into the kitchen and unplugged the kettle. What’s going on? This is crazy. He walked out of his apartment and went down the hall to his neighbour. He knocked. There was a moment of silence followed by muffled footsteps. The door opened. “May I help you?”
Donald gawked at the stranger. He looked at the apartment number on the door. “Ah ... Is Mr. Buntrock here?”
“I’m sorry. You must have the wrong apartment.”
“You must have the wrong floor then. Go back down to the front and verify the building’s directory.”
“I ... ah ...”
“Good luck.” The man half-smiled and shut the door. Donald stood in the hall for a moment before shuffling back to his apartment. His mind raced unable to grasp these random changes in time.
His eyes lit up. Time? Changes in time? Is that what’s going on? He re-entered his apartment and stopped at the arch opening to the living room. His jaw dropped. Everything was different: the furniture, the layout, and the curtains. This wasn’t his apartment.
He walked back to the door and opened it looking at the number. That was correct; this was his apartment. He read the name tag — Mr. and Mrs. Fred Schwartz — and gasped. Those were the previous owners; however, he’d now been in the apartment for a year and a couple of months.
Donald shut the door and went back to the kitchen. He stood back against the counter and folded his arms. Time was changing; his time was changing, but he didn’t know how or why. He thought time travel was impossible. Or was it?
The clock showed 2:45 p.m. He whipped around and looked through the arch into the living room. He ran to the opening and scanned the room. It was his furniture; he had returned to the present.
He ran out of the apartment and knocked on his neighbour’s door. Buntrock opened it and smiled. “Hey, Donald. What can I do for you?”
“Have you noticed anything unusual today?” Donald asked.
“Unusual?” Buntrock raised an eyebrow. “Like what?”
Donald scratched his head. How was he going to explain this? It was all so farfetched, nobody would believe what he was saying. “I ... well ...” His eyes darted around. “I’ve been seeing some odd things.”
“Hmmm, the fourteen fourteen curse?”
Buntrock shrugged. “This was some old story I had heard about the building, about your apartment.”
“Nobody has ever said anything to me about this.”
“Tenants change. People forget. Stories get lost in time.” Buntrock leaned against the doorjamb. “It’s all just a bunch of mumbo jumbo. I never paid it any mind.”
“What’s the story?”
“We’re not on the fourteenth floor; we’re on the thirteenth floor. The builders left out thirteen in the numbering so this floor became fourteen. However, it’s really the thirteenth floor.” Buntrock shook his head and chortled. “We’re such a superstitious lot.”
“Your apartment is number fourteen, but it’s really the thirteenth apartment.”
Donald looked down the hall. “Because there’s no number thirteen.”
“Right. Your fourteen fourteen is really thirteen thirteen. Your apartment has the double whammy of being numbered thirteen twice. It’s bad luck times two.”
“You mentioned a curse.”
“Ah, yes. The curse.” Buntrock grinned. “Rumour has it that bad things have happened to the previous tenants.”
“Such as ... ?”
“I haven’t been here that long, so I don’t personally know if any of these stories are even remotely true. Supposedly tenants reported strange occurrences in the apartment. One tenant mysteriously disappeared. The police investigated but never turned up anything. The person had no next of kin, so building management eventually sold everything and gave the proceeds to charity.”
“Things would move around the apartment. Items would disappear and reappear. One bloke thought he was moving through time visiting the apartment at previous points in the past.”
“Why didn’t this happen all the time?”
“The curse only happens after Friday the thirteenth, that is, Saturday the fourteenth. And it only happens in the fourteenth hour or two in the afternoon.”
“That’s crazy.” Donald pursed his lips. “Didn’t anybody do anything?”
Buntrock chuckled. “You’re kidding, right? Who’s going to do anything with a story like that? What could anybody do? Time travel? That’s one for the books.” He shrugged. “People learned to stay out of the apartment between two and three on the day following Friday the thirteenth.” He gave him a sly look. “I’m guessing you being here means you’d like to report something funny.”
Donald hesitated. This was stupid. He’d been hallucinating, nothing more. “No, I overheard somebody mention something about it. I got curious. That’s all.”
Buntrock eyed him. “Sure?”
“Nope. That’s it. You’ve been here longer than me, so I thought you might know something.” Donald started down the hall. “Thanks.”
Donald turned the handle of his apartment and glanced up the hall. Buntrock was standing at his door looking at him. Donald waved and went inside.
As he shut the door, he felt a breeze against his cheek. He turned around and faced an empty space open to the outside. There were steel posts evenly spaced along the edge of a cement floor. His apartment was gone. No walls. No windows. It was the empty floor of a building under construction.
He whipped around. The door had vanished. The cement floor extended to the other side of the building punctuated by more steel supports. He walked over to where his kitchen should be. He stepped carefully to the edge and looked down. Steel girders and cement flooring were visible fourteen stories to the ground. As he looked around, he realised the cityscape was different. Buildings were missing. Smaller buildings dotted the surroundings. The area looked older, even historical. When was the building constructed? He seemed to be in a different era.
He moved back and looked over the floor. It was a vast open area spotted with vertical steel posts. At both ends of the rectangular building, there was a cement shaft with a fire door. He walked to the closest one, pushed the bar and stepped into the stairwell. The pneumatic closer eased the door shut with a distinct click. He looked down in the middle of the stairs and stared at the railings of the different flights to the ground. He looked up and rubbed his chin. What’s going on?
He glared at the door, pulled the handle and peeked through the opening. The fourteenth floor hallway stretched to the other end of the building. He stepped into the hall and examined the walls. He ran his hand over the paper. This was his hall. This was the present.
He walked to his apartment door. As he turned the handle, he heard a door opening up the hall. He hesitated. Buntrock stepped out and waved. “I’m going out for dinner tonight.” Buntrock locked his door and came toward him. “We’re going to that new pub that opened up around the corner. I’ve never been there, so I couldn’t pass up the chance. Apparently their Sheppard’s Pie is to die for.”
Donald opened the door a crack and a gust of wind hit him in the face. He turned his head to Buntrock. “Try the house lager. I had a pint last week and thought it was pretty good.”
“Thanks.” As Buntrock passed him he held up his hand. “That’s quite a breeze, Donald. How many windows do you have open?” He continued to the elevators.
Donald smiled after him, pushed the door open and took a step. He fell for a few seconds in a dizzying somersault and was only briefly aware of looming concrete structures.
Saturday, June 24, 2056. A local demolition company has called in police to investigate two skeletons found between two enclosed supporting walls of a foundation. ABC Demolition was in the last stages of tearing down the 1960’s Hullmark Building to make way for a new condo-shopping complex, when they discovered the human remains. Apparently, they were entombed in a sealed space during the original construction of the building. Police suspect foul play, however, after nearly a hundred years, the possibility of finding the perpetrator seems remote. The investigation continues.
K. R. Bernard lives in Union New Jersey and he’s an Indie writer. His first compilation is titled Shattered Worlds: Several Journeys of Heroes and Men. During high school, he started to write a movie script entitled The Six. At the end of his junior year in college, he realized that writing was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
“A Void of Dark and Light”
This story begins with a mixed black, white, Hispanic, Indian boy named Will who was five feet nine, 169 pounds, and a slim, round-headed, light, tan, skinned boy who was born with a special ability. He could control the darkness using it however he saw fit. Will had full control of his special ability, but his ability was weak. He lived with his father, David in a suburban neighborhood near New York City. Will’s mother left David when he was born. He went to Monroe High School with his best friend, Scott, who was five feet seven, with a short hair-cut, kind of chunky, with a blue hoodie and dark-blue army boots.
Early Tuesday morning, Will awakened from a dream he been having ever since he turned nine years old, about a young pallid, angel-looking girl he had never met before. When the girl appeared in his dreams, she was warning him about some strange events that were supposed to happen to him in the near future. Then she went in to kiss Will, but she faded away by the darkness of his room that awakened him. He got up from his black sheets covered bed in his cerise, pajamas and rushed to the bathroom to take his shower. He put on his clothes and rushed out of his room to the kitchen, to find David sitting at the kitchen table, in a eggshell white dress shirt, a four, buttons, blue, blazer, blue dress pants, and black gator dress shoes. eating two pieces of whole-wheat toast and drinking a white mug full of coffee. “Come eat some breakfast with me, son?” asked David.
Will was about to walked out the front door. “I can’t because I’m already late for school, plus I’m not hungry.” answered Will in his grey wool hooded coat, black, printed, designed, shirt, dirty blue jeans, and tan, white, sneakers.
“You need to eat some breakfast, son. Come sit down next to me.”
“Oh Okay, I will have a little breakfast with you.” Will dropped his dark, grey, double, straps, backpack and went to the cabinet to get a medium-size blue plate. He put one piece of toast on the plate, walked to the kitchen table, and sat across from his father. “Don’t you want something to drink with your piece of toast?” Will got from the table, found a shot glass and filled it with apple juice from the refrigerator. He went back to the kitchen table, sat down, and started to take a bite of his toast, until he glanced at the brown, trim, squared, clock above David. Quickly he got up from the table, picked up his heavy backpack, ran out the front door, down the steps, and across the street to the bus stop. He waited fifteen minutes until he saw the number 88 bus pull up. When the bus pulled up closed to the edge of the sidewalk, the thick, red, lipstick, dark, skinned, navy blue, uniformed wearing female bus driver pulled the lever to open the clear glass door. Will hopped on the bus and found that most of the seats were filled. He walked toward the back of the bus and sat with an elderly Spanish woman. After only one stop, the woman got off the bus, leaving Will with the seat. Will moved over to the window seat, since he liked to look at the people walking and rushing to work.
After a few more stops, Scott got on the bus and walked toward Will. He took off his crimson colored backpack before he sat down next to his best friend. “How was your morning?”
“It was kind of crazy. My father wanted me to eat breakfast with him for once, but I ran out of there like a dog was chasing right behind me.”
“Wow, that’s real messed up, how you are acting towards your dad!”
“I really didn’t want to do that to him, but I already told him that I couldn’t eat because I was going to be late.”
After thirty-four minutes, the bus arrived at the school. “Last stop, Monroe High School.” yelled the driver as she pulled up to the corner in front of the school’s classical beige, bricked, and stoned building Everyone got up from their seats, got off the bus, and started walking to the entrance of Monroe High School. Will and Scott went inside to their run-down, long-lasting, cobalt, lockers to put some of their books away. The first bell rang for all the students to get to their first period classes. “See you in bio class?” asked Scott.
“Yeah, most definitely.” Will then went upstairs to his African-American Literature II class. He sat at his favorite desk in the back of the classroom. As the second bell rang the young, pallid skinned, trim, but curvesome, in her power, blue, jeans, girl from Will’s dreams walked into the room and sat next to him.
“Hey.” said the girl as she stared yawning into his eyes.
“Hey.” responded Will as he turned to look into her eyes, the teacher walked into the classroom with leather, chestnut, colored, suitcase. He put the suitcase on his coco-colored, desk, opened the suitcase up to start his lecture.
After an hour of lecture, the first bell rang for the class to be over Will got up from his desk. The girl got up from her desk a moment after Will and walked over to him.
“What is your name?” she asked.
“My name is Will.”
“Hi.” “What is your name?” The curvesome, trim, pallid, semi-midsize girl in her tight, power, blue, jeans, mocha colored scandals, showing off her small, petite, coral painted toes and feet running out of the classroom without telling him her name. He tried to run after her, but she was too fast. Will rushed downstairs and through the hallways to get to his gym class. He ran through the gym’s doors and ran down the boys’ locker room stairs to get to his locker to change into his musky, smoky, sweat suit pair of gym clothes. After he changed clothes, he ran upstairs, back through the door, and ran to his assigned warm-up spot to sit down.
The second bell rang Mr. Bolts, a lofty, willowy, light, cherry, hair, wide eyes, in white, tiny, gym shorts, and t-shirt started the class. “Today is free day. You can play some basketball, you can jog around the outside of the gym’s lines, and you can jump rope as long as you stay in the gym.”
Yes sir” yelled one of his students.
After about twenty minutes of Mr. Bolts leading the class in warm-ups, all the boys in the class followed Mr. Bolts into his office to get two orange basketballs to play a big game of Rough going before time ran out. As the boys were playing, Will had twelve points, as did another boy named Major, a hard, beefy, shaped, olive, eyes, a pretty boy in olive, green, baggy, wool, sweat suit As Major was about to score his winning shot, Will closed his eyes to make the room fall into pitch darkness. After a second, the lights turned back on and the ball was rolling free. He ran to the ball, picked it up, dribbled down the court, and shot the three-pointer to win the game.
“It’s time to change back into your regular clothes.” yelled Mr. Bolts. All his students ran down to their lockers.
“Good game.” said Will.
“Yeah, good game.” responded Major as he ran to the locker room.
Will was the last person in the gym walking slowly down the stairs with his head down. He felt bad for using his ability to cheat in the game. When he reached his locker, he changed back into his regular clothes, ran up the stairs, through the gym to the lunchroom, to buy a bottle of orange juice before the second bell rang for his third period French class that was on the fourth floor of the school. Will rushed to the elevator, right around the corner from the lunchroom and jumped onto the elevator before the doors closed. On the fourth floor, Will walked off the elevator and saw the curvesome, trim, pallid, semi-midsize golden, blonde, hair, shimmering hazel, eyes, in her tight, power, blue, jeans, mocha colored scandals, showing off her small, petite, coral painted feet girl from his dreams walking toward the same classroom he was walking to. Will stopped for a bit to wait for the girl to go into the room and to let Mr. Arch pass him. As Mr. Arch walked past, he said. “Will you’d better hurry up to class before the second bell rings.”
“Oh, I just had to stop to tie my shoe laces.” responded Will as he bent down to tie his right shoe.
“How is this girl from my dreams real, and why does she keep following me to my classes? I have to find out soon because this girl is freaking me out!” He continued on to his French class. Seconds later the second bell rang and Will was already in the classroom, about to sit right next to the girl from his dreams. As Will pulled out his French book, she said. “Hey Will.”
“Hey, what is your name?”
“It is time to learn how to speak French, not time to talk in my class, Will.” said Mr. Arch as he was writing a long French word on the chalkboard.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Arch. It will not happen again.”
“It better not happen again.”
“Can we talk after class?” whispered Will to the girl. The girl didn’t answer him she just kept taking notes that Mr. Arch was writing on the chalkboard. After class, the girl grabbed her pure white, single, straps, backpack and tried to run out of the classroom once more, but this time Will was prepared to chase after her. She made her way into the girls’ bathroom before he could catch up with her. “Why is that girl always running from me? She never did that in my dreams.” He walked down another set of stairs to meet Scott in front of the lunchroom. After two minutes of waiting they got into the lunch line to get some food. Scott and Will grabbed two baskets filled with chicken tenders and curly fries, two plastic containers filled with green salads, and two bottles of water. When Scott got to the cash register. “Hey, bud; can you do me a favor? You got me on lunch today?” asked Will.
“Yeah, I got you, but you owe me.”
“Thanks, I’ll pay you back tomorrow.” Scott pulled out his black wallet from his pants pocket to take out a ten dollar bill to pay the lunch lady. Once the lunch lady placed the bill into the cash register, they walked away from the line to the condiments table to get some napkins and to put some ketchup on their fries. They sat at a circular lunch table that was way in the back of the crowded lunchroom. Will saw the same curvesome, trim, pallid, semi-midsize, golden, blonde, hair, shimmering, hazel, eyes, moist, thin, lips, in her tight, power, blue, jeans, mocha colored scandals, showing off her small, petite, coral painted feet girl who had been following him around all mooring walked in the lunchroom. . “Why does this chick keep following me around, just saying hi to me, but when I asked for her name, she runs away from me like she was scared?” said Will.
“Who are you talking about?”
“She is over there, about to stand in the lunch line.”
“Oh okay, is she wearing a white sleeveless blouse, squeezed in power, blue, jeans, with her blonde hair in a bow?”
“Yeah, that is her, and she’s also the one that keeps staring over here at me.”
“Damn that is a beautiful stalker.”
“Yeah, I know she is, but that shit is really getting on my nerves. She just said hey to me, and then she ran off when I tried to get to know her more.”
“The best advice I can give you is to give her some time to warm up to you.”
“How would you know what goes on in a girl mind, because you haven’t been with a girl since elementary school.”
“I’ve been reading this book I brought called “10 Things Women Have on Their Minds.”
“Wow, that’s funny, but it still won’t help you get a girl.”
“You think you’re funny with your jokes, but you’ll see one day.” responded Scott as the first bell rang for fifth period.
“Fifth period already!” said Will as he got up from the table to throw his empty basket, container, and bottle away.
“Yeah, time for bio class.” responded Scott as he threw his garbage away too.
Scott and Will went back to the table to grab their backpacks and headed to bio class. They entered the lab, sitting in their favorite seats. Mr. Dante started the class. “What chapter did we leave off on yesterday?”
“We were on chapter twelve yesterday.” answered Major.
After a boring lecture, Mr. Dante said. “Class is over. Make sure you study for your fourth exam which is a week away.”
“It’s time to go home.” said Scott.
“I don’t like bio class, seriously.” said Will.
As Will rushed to his locker, he saw the curvesome, trim, pallid, semi-midsize, golden, blonde, hair, shimmering, hazel, eyes, moist, thin, lips, in her tight, power, blue, jeans, curly, blouse, mocha, colored scandals, showing off her small, petite, coral painted feet girl again, standing right next to his locker. “Hey, Will.”
“What do you want?”
“Just come here, please?” asked the girl as she gave him a long, alluring stare into his big, brown eyes with a grin.
“The girl with no name can actually say more than one word.” He asked her. “Now what do you want?’”
“Nothing but this.” said the girl as she give Will an anon, kiss. After a few seconds of kissing, she said. “I need you to come save my people.” She pushed him away, enough to run down the hall, down another set of stairs.
Will made off after her. “What are you talking about saving your people?”
The girl stopped right before she opened up the school’s signed exit door, but she didn’t turn around. She stood there. “I will see you soon.” She ran through the door and Will made off after her once more, but when he got through the doors, she was nowhere in sight as if she faded away. He walked back inside; back to his locker opened the locker and grabbed his other books.
“What happened to your girl?” asked Scott.
“She disappeared again.”
“At least you know what she wants.”
“Yeah, let’s go home; I have a lot on my mind.”
Scott picked up Will’s backpack and handed it to him. They walked out of the school, down the sidewalk, and stood at the bus stop to catch the number 88 bus to get back home. On the bus, Will and Scott didn’t say anything to each other. Will was sleepy enough to be looking out of the window, seeing a dark vision of people doing strange things like giving praise to the darkness. “Why am I seeing this?”
Scott looked out the window, and he did see the same dark vision of the people in the window as if he had the same special ability as Will. “What is going on here, Will? Why can I see what you see?”
“I don’t know, Scott. Maybe it has something to do with that girl.”
“That is your girl-friend and your special ability. I don’t need any strange things happening to me!” responded Scott as he moved away from Will to an empty seat near the back exit of the bus. The dark vision in the window faded away in a cloud of darkness, and a flash of light appeared.
“Will, it’s time to get off the bus!” yelled Scott as he was walking off the bus.
“Hold on, I’m coming.” responded Will.
“Did you see that vision in the bus’s window?” “No, I didn’t see anything at all. Just some people walking down the street, going to work.” answered Scott.
“Oh, damn, that flash of light must have erased Scott’s memory.” They walked to Will’s house and went inside. They dropped their backpacks on the living room floor and got two bottles of velvet colored water to drink. They sat at the kitchen table. “Would you get my backpack for me?” asked Will.
“I’ll get it for you, lazy.” answered Scott as he walked back into the living room to get their backpacks, to start doing their homework. He walked back into the living room, picked up their backpacks, walked back into the kitchen, and placed hung the backpacks on the back of their chairs. They unzipped his pack and grabbed their biology text-books to start studying for their exam. After they finished their homework, Scott’s mom picked him up from his house. As Scott walked out to get into his mother’s metallic, painted four, wheels car. “See you tomorrow?”
“Yeah, of course you’ll see me tomorrow.”
“All right then.”
Will walked back into the house to take some left over spaghetti and meatballs out of the refrigerator from last night’s dinner. He microwaves it for four minutes and brought it to the glass coffee table in the living room. Picking up the remote, he turned the TV on to watch his favorite television shows as he ate dinner. After eating, he walked upstairs to his room to go to bed. As Will slept the night away, he dreamed about the girl once more. This time, Will actually had a conversation with her about what she asked him. “Please save my people.” The curve some, trim, pallid, semi-midsize, golden, blonde, hair, shimmering, hazel, eyes, moist, thin, lips, in her, half, harp, roses filled crown, short, clear, cloths, wrapped around her body like a primordial, Greek, dress, high, below, her knees guards trim in a brown, leather, mocha, colored scandals, showing off her small, petite, coral painted feet girl appeared out of a depriving of his sight white light. “Hey, Will.”
“Hey, whoever you are.”
“I’m sorry that I haven’t told you my name yet. I had to get you to think of me again, to dream about me right away.”
“Okay, but you still haven’t told me your name.”
“My name is Yamane. I’ve been following you because I need your help to save my people from the ultimate darkness that will soon consume your world.”
“Who are your people?”
“My people are the light civilization. They are in trouble because the ultimate darkness that my people were protecting from the dark civilization is now on the loose, spreading true evil all over the world, growing unstoppably stronger.
The dark civilization wants to control the ultimate darkness, to continue the world on its destructive, iniquitous path. You are the only person that has the abilities to defeat the ultimate darkness and the dark civilization for good.”
“What are you saying to me?”
“The dark civilization wants to control your mind, because you are the only person that can stop them.”
“You need me to be a hero of your civilization? Cool!!”
“You have a strong will-power to never give up, to keep doing your best on every task. Now I must go back to my home to make sure that the rest of my people are still safe from the darkness.”
“Will I ever see you again?” asked Will. As Yamane moved in close to give him a kiss on his lips, she dwindles into the blinding white light. Will woke up with a stunned look on his face. His bedroom was in pitch blackness, he could see through the darkness, but only a little bit. He got up from his bed and walked up to his window to look out of it. He saw all of his neighbors in dirty clothes, digging a deep pit. “Oh shit, I’m too late to save the world.” Will turn from the window from the terrible scenery he saw. He turned back and looked out his window once more. Only this time he saw nothing outside except the sun shining and a few kids riding their bikes in the streets of his neighborhood.
“Whoa I guess what I saw was just a warning that I don’t have much time to find where the dark civilization is hidden.” Will showered and dressed. Then he walked out of his room, down the stairs, to the kitchen and got a fresh apple out of the refrigerator to take with him to Queens, New York. He walked out the front door, not realizing that David wasn’t sitting at the kitchen table to tell him to sit down and eat breakfast. “He’s probably still sleeping in his bed.” Will thought as he locked the front door. Walking to the bus stop, people were looking at him with disturbed frowns, because he was going in and out of the darkness visions. At the bus stop, he sat down on the bench, waiting for the number 48 bus to come and take him all the way to Queens. After about forty minutes, the bus arrived. When Will got on the bus, he took a seat in the back, and the bus pulled away from the corner. Will started to doze off on the long bus ride to the borough of Queens.
“What’s up, Yamane.”
“I need to tell you something important.”
“What is it Yamane?”
“The last time we spoke, I secretly gave you some of my light abilities to help you defeat the ultimate darkness.”
“Thanks, that will make my ability even more powerful.” responded Will staring into Yamane’s eyes as she dies away into the dark color scheme of the inside of the bus.
“Last stop Queens.” Will awoke from his dream to see the bus driver walking toward him. “Hey, kid, time to get off the bus.”
“Sorry. I fell asleep.”
As he got off the bus, the driver said. “Have a good day, kid.” Once Will was gone, the bus driver spoke into a listening device that was plugged into his left ear. “Will is coming your way. Be ready.”
“Yeah, I’m always ready.”
He walked down a crowded sidewalk, only to be stopped by another disturbing dark vision. He saw darkness’s slaves who were not obeying their rules being thrown into pits of fire, snakes, and lions. These slaves were examples of what happened when people disobeyed the ultimate dark civilization’s commands. Will tried to ignore the vision; and then a bright, rendering of sight of light consumed the darkness, to show what was about to happen to him. The light vision showed, Will that he was about to get jumped by Hic, one of the elite guards for the dark civilization. Hic, a brawny, tall, tone, pale, skin, color, saggy, scars all over his face, no eyeballs in his eyes socket, wearing a long top hat on top of his wavy, dark, hair coming down below his neck, a satin patched uniform jacket, a crimson, bowtie and a pair of satin, color, shoes. He wears two gold handles point forty-fives holsters inside of his jacket. The vision continued with Will fighting Hic off, but he was soon joined by the bus driver, Shrink, another elite guard for the dark civilization. Shrink is a minuscule, tan, skinned, brunette, n low, brim, yellow, trim, black, hat, a single, gold, goggle, eye, patch lying on her right eye, a large, antique, silver, mouth piece covering her bottom half of her face, a blouse, wool, riding, pants, and long silk boots. They grabbed Will, took him into an alley, and put him into the trunk of their car. The light vision faded back away into the render of light. He stopped walking down through the crowded sidewalk, turned around, and started to run across the street. He ran in the opposite direction once he reached to the other side of the street. Then he saw a small grocery store and ran inside to hide until Hic and Shrink left the area. Hic got on his listening device. “Will is not coming my way; I don’t see him.”
“He must have figured out that we were going to kidnap him somehow.” said Shrink.
“He must be hiding somewhere.” said Hic looking through the crowded sidewalk.
“If you know that, then go look for him now! I’ll be on my way.” Shrink walked out of the alley and saw him go into the small grocery. Will snapped his fingers, which made a thick, bleak, cloud of fog float into the middle of the street, where Shrink was walking. As she got lost in the fog, Will ran out of the market and down the sidewalk through a crowd, who were also lost in the fog. After a few minutes, the fog disappeared and Shrink continued to walk to the store. She entered, walked to the back, and saw that Will wasn’t in the store. Shrink said into her listening device. “Will has escaped me!”
“It’s okay, Shrink, we’ll get the tool next time.” responded Hic. Will continued running through the crowded sidewalks of Queens. Another flash of light appeared revealing another vision, showing him the next place to search for the dark civilization, in the middle of Penn Station surrounded by a grocery store, a terminal entrance, and a newspaper stand. Will ran all the way down the street to a nearby bus stop. He needed to go back home, to see if his new light ability could be used at the same strength and at the same time as his dark ability. Throughout the whole day, he continued to have the dark and light visions of the near future. Two hours later, he entered his home and saw David sitting in his favorite chair. “Hey, you are off from school early?”
“Yeah, I had a half day.”
“Isn’t it kind of early for your school to have half days in the first month of the school year?”
“My principal announced that the school was having a half day this morning during my first period class that they are having an important faculty meeting in the early afternoon.”
“Oh okay, good for you.”
“Thanks, I guess. Why are you home so early today?”
“I’m taking a long lunch break, and I didn’t want to buy anything, so I decided to come home to make a homemade BLT sandwich with the works. Do you want me to make you a sandwich?”
“No thanks, I had a big lunch. I’m going up to my room to start doing my homework.”
“I’ll see you later on tonight?”
“Yeah, if I’m not sleep.” responded Will as he looked straight into his father’s eyes to make sure he believed him.
As Will walked up the stairs to his bedroom, he saw another dark vision of his father being trapped inside their house by the ultimate darkness spreading all over his soul, eventually going crazy from being trapped in the house, and later betraying his son by leading him to the two elite guards.
As his dark vision swallowed up in the darkness of his bedroom, he continued to walk to his bedroom, where he practiced with his light and dark abilities. The next day, Will was sitting at the bus stop, waiting for the number 33 bus to come to take him to Penn Station, to see if the dark civilization was hiding there. After fifty-five minutes, the bus finally arrived, and Will sat in the rear. At Penn Station, Will got off the bus and walked up the steps to the main entrance. He walked through the terminal that he saw in his light vision. Once he saw the terminal, the store, and the newspaper stand that were in his light vision, he walked right up to the newspaper stand. Another lucidity of light appeared to show him yet another vision of Hic and Shrink walking toward him while he was standing near the newspaper stand. The vision showed Will being chased by Hic and Shrink. It seemed like Will was getting away, but he got trapped by another elite guard of the dark civilization named Bulgy. Bulgy, a super, heavyweight, structure, with symbiotic tattoos painted all over his upper body, in a white shirt covered by a leather, black, apron, black, leather, gloves, wielding a semi-automatic, twenty-barrels, covert, scope, rife. Then they took him away to their car.
The vision ended with a dim light. Will ran away from the newspaper stand, through a crowd of people, back through the main entrance. With a thought, Will made all the lights in the building turn on at their brightest, making the lights explode in an instant. He ran across the street to chase after the number 33 bus. After three minutes of chasing the bus, the driver finally stopped the bus in the middle of traffic and opened the door to let him get on. Finally able to catch his breath, Will thought. I must be getting close to the dark civilization’s hideout, because every time I’ve gone to these locations, I always have light visions showing me that I’m about to walk in a trap. I have to keep trying to find their hideout before she is destroyed.
The next four days, Will continued his quest to find the dark civilization’s hideout, to stop them and the ultimate darkness from taking over the world. On a Friday, the last day of his four-day quest, Will was in his living room, sitting on the floor, watching television. A luminous blink of light appeared in the living room, and another vision showed Will the next place to search for the dark civilization, deep in the woodland areas of Central Park. As the blink of light dematerialize, Will put his sneakers on and ran to the bus stop, sitting down on the bench under the light from the lamppost. After three minutes, the number 15 bus arrived to take him to Central Park. After an hour and ten minutes, the driver stopped four blocks from the entrance to Central Park.
Will started walking down the empty sidewalks to the entrance of Central Park. When he got there the lampposts on the sidewalk went out, and he received another dark specter. Will saw a slave with a sign strapped to his chest saying. “Central Park is closed forever ha-ha-ha-ha!” The specter faded away to reveal that Central Park was under construction. “Damn it, I know this is the place where the civilization is hiding, but I can’t get in there since the park is under construction.” As he started to walk away from the entrance almost giving up on his task to find the hideout, he started walking away from the park.
At the corner, he saw Hic and Shrink walking out of the entrance to the park. He saw them out of the corner of his eye, walking out behind him, but Will didn’t run. He realized that Hic and Shrink might notice him walking down the sidewalk. He jogged beyond some bushes, squatting down to keep from being seen. As they walked past the bushes, he moved around to the other side of the bushes. Once they walked far away enough from the park, he ran from beyond the bushes, back down the sidewalk and through the entrance to the park. Will was going to the large lake he saw in his light vision. Once there, he looked across the lake to the huge woodland area of the park. A flash of illumined light appeared to show Will another manifestation. This time, the manifestation showed him exactly where the dark civilization’s hideout was located, deep in the huge woodland area.
“Thank Yamane.” The glister of light disappeared as he ran around the lake to get to the huge woodland area. While running through the deepest part of the woodlands, he heard a blaring; noise like someone was following him, the sounds of twigs and sticks breaking. He continued to rush to the end of the woodlands, but with his last step, Will was pushed back by a paramount force, far away into a gigantic oak tree. He landed on the tree with the right side of his body. Lying on the ground with his ribs broken, he tried to get up, but the impact kept him on the ground. Will realize that this force was actually the ultimate darkness he soon saw that it was spreading all over the woodland area, all through the park, and into the city. He tried again to get himself up from the ground, leaning on the tree for support, but he ended up sliding right back down to the ground, where the darkness was strewing all over his body. Will’s eyes were closing into a coma, when suddenly he awakened safely back in his bedroom. “What the hell is going on here?” He got up from his bed, opened his bedroom door, and went down stairs to find David sitting at the kitchen table, eating breakfast. “Hey, son, do you want to eat breakfast with me before you go to school today?”
“Yeah, I’ll most definitely eat breakfast with you.” answered Will. He put some very hot grits and home fries onto a plate. Then he picked a pear and a bottle of water out from the refrigerator.
As Will started eating, he saw his father staring at him with a vast smile on his face. “Why are you staring at me like that?”
“It’s nothing, son. I’m just glad that you actually want to spend some time with me, since you have been busy at school with studying.”
“I do want to spend time with you, but you are not there when I need you.”
I’m sorry for not being there when you needed me, but you have to understand that I have to work to pay the bills, to put clothes on your back and food on the table.” David got up from the kitchen table to walk upstairs to his bedroom.
“Hold on, I’m sorry. Dad.’ yelled Will, getting up from the table. Then he saw Hic, Shrink, Bulgy, and other elite guards of the dark civilization trying to break down the front door to get Will. He ran after David before he closed his bedroom door. “Dad, let me in. Please hurry. I need to talk to you, please.” As he waited for David to come to the door, he used his light ability to turn on all the lights in the house to keep all the guards from breaking in. After two minutes of waiting, the bedroom door started to open on its own, Will walk in to see that the paramount darkness was strewing out all over David’s body. He ran to his father and immediately used his light ability, putting his finger on his father’s chest to stop the darkness from consuming his father. After holding him for a few seconds, the darkness stopped spreading all over his body. Will took his finger off of his chest, and David blacked out for several minutes.
When David awakened, Will picked up his father from the cold, wood floor to help him walk out the bedroom with his arm wrapped around his shoulders. David and Will reached his room, to hide from the optimum darkness and the elite guards. While being carried David pushed Will away from him. “I know that you have been lying to me about going to school. I know you have been skipping school to look for the dark civilization. I also know what you are, and that’s the reason I’ve been working late ever since your mother got sick and died. I mean, who wants their son to be a freak of nature, a loser? I hate you, and I wish you were never born!” yelled David as the darkness continued to spread through his body.
“Dad, I love spending time with you, and I know you don’t mean any of those things. You can fight the darkness. Just fight the darkness with your heart.” Will stood in the hall in front of his father, staring at him with tears coming from his eyes. David started walking slowly closer to Will with a devilish look on his face and his big strong hands going for Will’s throat. “Come on, Dad, you can fight the darkness. I know you can beat the darkness.” said Will, backing up into his bedroom.
“It is too late. I already have taken over your father’s mind, body, and soul. Now he is mines forever!” Will ran into his room, slammed, and locked the door. He rushed to the window while David tried to break down the door. He heard a deep, powerful voice throughout the house. “You need to come out of the house. We have this place surrounded. Just surrender now and we will stop spreading the darkness that is consuming your father.” hollered Shrink from the front yard of the house. Will realized that he had to escape the house. He ran to the front of his room, lined up with the middle of his window, and jumped through his window. Falling to the ground, and he landed on his feet with no pain at all. Will ran down an alleyway down a very long street that got longer and longer as he ran. He saw skyscrapers and buildings separating far away from each other. Suddenly he saw a monstrous, thick, inky cloud chasing after him, with a mischievous leer in the front of the cloud.
Will knew that the cloud was the ultimate darkness trying to consume his all. As Will ran for his life, he saw Yamane standing in the sky, reaching her hand out to him. He seemed to be getting closer and closer to Yamane’s hand, but the darkness caught him before he could touch her hand. Suddenly, Will awakened in a room from his nightmare with Nestor, the crazed leader of the dark civilization. Nestor is average sized, clean, bald, head, washed out skin, in mustard, striped circus, ring master jacket, same color leather gloves with mechanic monitors on each glove, camel colored pants, and shoes. He was sitting right in front of Will in a joystick control, carved design, wood, box cardinal matted wheelchair as Will was sitting in a small, plastic chair. He used his light ability to blind Nestor, to escape the room, running through the open door, down a dim, blue and white tinted glass hall of windows. Entering in the dark civilization’s city where he was surrounded by all the elite guards and all the dark citizens.
Will saw arrangements of vast skyscrapers compacted closed together with bridges connecting the other compacted skyscrapers that were across from each other. The city was underground under the woodland area and lake. The top of the city had a sealed oval roof that could open and close by a press of Nestor’s button. Hic and Shrink grabbed Will from behind to keep him from escaping again. They took him to the middle of the dark city and strapped him into a large, metal chair. Nestor placed a pair of brown goggles with some wires on them over his eyes. He turned on the goggles to force him to watch various images of violent acts, rapes, wars, explosions, and genocide. . Will struggled to keep his eyes closed; as Nestor stood next to the metal chair. “I told you that I would catch you, ha-ha-ha.” Will continued to watch the satanic images from the goggles, but then the images changed into one singular clip of a young, curvesome, light pale, black hair, short nose woman in an all-white nurse’s outfit holding a baby in an angled blue and white sheets bed hospital room, as she yelled at the top of her lungs to get the doctor to come in her room. The doctor faded in the room and Will’s ears started to boom in pain. The clip continued with the nurse telling the doctor. “This isn’t my son; you gave me the wrong boy.” The doctor looked at the baby’s eyes as he gave the baby a spank on his butt. The baby yelled and cried as the doctor looks at the nurse’s eyes. “This is your son, I mean, look at him, with his dark-brown. You two have the exact same eyes color, and I hope you realize that he looks just like you!”
“Are you sure this is my son?”
“Yes, I am sure. Just because your son is not like everyone else in the world does not mean you won’t be able to make him your own.”
“Thank you for your help. Doctor, I needed to hear those exact words.” responded the nurse as the doctor walked out the room. Will realized that the wicked clip was actually one of his memories of his mother, Donna, before she died from a mysterious disease in the same hospital.
The clip continued with his mother falling on the hospital floor almost to knocked over the plastic cradle that Will was sleeping in next to her bed. Donna bleed from her nose and mouth. “Your mother died after you were born. It is your fault. She couldn’t handle you and your dark ability when you were born.” announced Nestor.
“No! It isn’t my fault that my mother died from a mysterious disease. I had no control over my mother’s death.” said Will as he continued to struggle to break free from the chair.
“That is my point exactly, ha-ha-ha.”
The roof of dark city opened with a massive stream of, radiant, blinding, sterling, white, blaze coming from the light civilization. As the course of blaze was destroying all the elite guards, the dark citizens, and Nestor, the blaze was shining over Will, to help him gain some of his strength back. The courses of blaze help him try to break free from the metal chair. After a few minutes, Will finally broke free from the chair. He tried to run out of the city, but he couldn’t find the exit. Yamane appeared in the middle of the city, and he ran to grab on to her outstretched hand. Holding his hand Yamane glided out of the dark civilization’s destroyed city. As they floated up through the open roof top, out of the woodland area, and out of central park. “Thanks for rescuing me back there.”
“You’re welcome. Will, but I was just doing what my father told me to do.” responded Yamane as they landed right in front of the entrance to Central Park. Will tried to give Yamane a kiss on her lips, but she moved back.
“I have to give you all my light power to help you destroy the ultimate darkness.”
“Yamane, will I ever see you again?” asked Will as she started to glow brightly, draining all her light power into him.
“Yes, but only in your dreams.” answered Yamane as she wane away.
As Will watched her wane away in a flash of light, he saw floating in the sky, the huge, inky, thick cloud that is the ultimate darkness. He glided up to the darkness, which began shooting large bolts of degenerate lightning bolts at Will. He dodged every shot. Then the ultimate darkness grabbed him with crooked octopus-like tentacles, to keep him from dodging the degenerate bolts. Will combined his light and dark abilities together to shoot all the power out of the palms of his hands into a supreme stream of power. As he created a basketball-sized orb out of the supreme stream of power, he shot the ball into the mouth of the cloud. The ball moved to the middle of the cloud. As he stared into the darkness’s eyes, the ball of power started to expand, bigger and bigger, inside of the ultimate darkness. After a few seconds, the ball exploded making the darkness shatter into a billion pieces.
Will glide down on in the middle of a cracked street, he saw all the darkness that was spreading throughout the city disappears. a beam of light came from the now-clear blue sky shining, on Will. He ran and glided back home, landing right at the front door. He rushed inside and found David sitting at the kitchen table, eating breakfast “Hey, did you have fun sleeping over at Scott’s crib.”
“Yeah, I did.” answered Will, as he sat down at the kitchen table.
“Want to eat breakfast with me?”
“I would love to eat breakfast with you.” answered Will. His father got up from the table to fix Will a plate of food. As David sat back down, Will added. “Thanks, and I’m sorry for the way I’ve been acting. It’s just I miss hanging out with you.”
“It’s okay, son. Things are going to be better now.” responded David with a smile.
Lois Greene Stone, writer and poet, has been syndicated worldwide. Poetry and personal essays have been included in hard & softcover book anthologies. Collections of her personal items/ photos/ memorabilia are in major museums including twelve different divisions of The Smithsonian.
Ho, Ho, Ho
“So what’d you eat out that you’ve indigestion?” Mrs. Claus questioned. “Bad enough this blizzard going on in NY will make travel bad, but you belching will blow more snow around.”
“Help me out tonight.” Santa quietly asked. “It’s 1948. You haven’t yet made a run with me.”
“Oy.” Mrs. Claus reached for Alka Seltzer. “Drink! Let’s go. What continent first?”
“Let’s first get NY over with..” Santa put his belt on loosely, then burped loudly.
The reindeer rebelled a bit about the harness. Doing this for centuries was getting way too tiring. Blitzen wanted to bite, saw Mrs. Claus and got docile. She stroked his head. Blitzen wondered what she was doing climbing into the sleigh for this long night.
When they all got to suburban Queens County, Santa’s stomach was rumbling loudly; he thought he was going to be sick. “I had all fatty and salty foods you tell me not to have,” he told his wife, “and at the restaurant you never want me to go to. Sorry.”
Snow swirled with anger. Mrs. Claus could not even see city lights twelve miles from the first house to have a visit. Santa looked at the chimney of a two-story colonial style; his list showed three girls.
“Good! No chimney cap to remove.” Mrs. Claus noted.
“Oh, but this is a false fireplace. I’ve a problem.”
“So where does the chimney go to?” Mrs. Claus tried to imagine a carved wood French Provincial style fireplace, with a mantel, and a concealed radio built into the side. Her husband told her about the fake logs, a tiny red electric light and a fan with cellophane that rotated and it pretended to be flickering fire. “So, how do you get there?”
“I’ve been doing this for so many centuries, I think I’m finally getting the senility disease. I don’t remember how I got into the fake fireplace. The real chimney dropped me off by the oil burner in the cellar. Oh, aging isn’t easy, dearie.” He lowered his head.
She comforted. “I’ll go.” She got up, took packages for three girls, and smoothed her skirts as she had on layers. “I’ll wiggle in and figure something out.” She started to lower herself and her outer skirt caught on a chipped brick. “Why can’t women wear men’s trousers!” The skirt tore. She got to the first floor level and noticed a real brick opening; something sturdy totally covered it. She knew, as a woman, that the fake fireplace pressed against the real one so no one could ever make a real fire that could burn down the house or harm the little girls. Clever, she thought, but didn’t have the strength to push it away so she could get between the wall and French Provincial. She wanted to yell. ‘Honey, I need your help’ but Santa wasn’t well enough yet to assist. “Psst.” She called and her voice moved through the cylinder, “Blitzen.”
Folding his legs in, he wiggled his behind into the chimney opening and slid down vertically. He pushed hard against the fake fireplace and Mrs. Claus had enough room to slip out, place the presents, turn on the electric red light, and get back.
‘How’re we going to move the fake one back into place.” Blitzen was concerned.
“Don’t have time tonight to figure that out. We’ve the whole world to get to. Guess they’ll think the blizzard of ‘48 was so fierce, it actually shook the house and moved the fireplace.” Mrs. Claus got a boost from Blitzen, and climbed up the chimney holding his antlers helping him out.
NT Franklin - I write after my real job hoping one day to have it be my real job. When I’m not reading or writing short stories, you might find me fishing or solving crossword puzzles.
She Bugged Him
July 23, 2013
His gloved hands encircled her throat, choking the life out of her. Alisha Fuller offered limited resistance, just the way he liked it; looking into his eyes as she died. After admiring his handiwork, Andrew calmly went back to his hotel room to sit and relax for the hour before the evening’s social gathering. As was tradition, the Entomological Society of America’s Annual Meeting always had a banquet at the end of the three-day event.
“I love Philly and I love the ESA banquet,” Andrew said to a colleague. “It’s the highlight of the meeting for me. Five years straight, I’ve never missed the banquet. Too bad not everyone feels the same. Many of the older faculty and most of the students leave the meeting by noon on the last day.
Alisha Fuller, a post-doc from Colorado, wasn’t at the banquet. Housekeeping discovered her body late the next day after all the participants had returned to their universities.
“Gees Mac, this is awful. Fully dressed, by looking at her throat, she appears strangled. Look, she’s holding her shoes. Do you think it’s some sort of signature?” Detective Nick Bubar said to his partner, John “Mac” MacDonald.
“Don’t know. The ME should be here soon. We can move the body when he says so,” MacDonald replied.
“Photograph the hands holding the shoes,” MacDonald instructed the crime-scene photographer. “Get a close up of her neck, too.”
“Mac, this isn’t my first rodeo. I got this,” the photographer answered.
“Mac, what we got here?” Asked the ME as he entered the room.
“Female victim, 25 to 30 years old, about 5 foot 3, 115 pounds. Brown eyes, shoulder-length brown hair. Fully dressed. Waiting for you before we touch her. Doesn’t look like a sexual attack; she is wearing business clothes. The hotel says the registered guest is Alisha Fuller from Colorado State University. Here on a conference rate for the… Entomolecule… Society of America’s Annual Meeting.”
“Perhaps, Entomological?” asked the ME.
“Yes, that’s it. What it that?”
“Study of insects, Mac.”
“Thanks, Doc. Let me know what you find out. One more thing. Nobody hears about her holding her shoes. Nobody. We need to keep it out of the press.”
“Bubar, contact Colorado State University and start the process, I’ll start with housekeeping interviews.”
“Got it, Mac.”
The murder was news for only two days before the television reporters were onto something new. Alisha wasn’t the only murder toward the end of July in Philadelphia.
“Four weeks. Nothing. I hate cold cases. A murderer goes free,” said MacDonald as he pounded on the lid of the evidence box so hard the cardboard bent.
July 22, 2014
Clam Harbor is a quiet little coastal town in Maine. Merchants there were enjoying record sales in July. Petty crime and usual annoyance complaints in the town were way down. Good thing as the town’s sole detective, Jed Calhoun, was in Portland, Maine for advanced forensic training with the top detectives in the state. Jed was the youngest of the twelve detectives in the training, but his breaking up of a major drug ring earned a spot.
“Training has been extended, officers,” the head instructor announced. “We have a murder of a young woman outside a hotel in the Portland riverfront district. Just came in. Report from the officer on the scene is one fully dressed female victim. Idaho driver’s license lists her as Heidi Calburn, 28 years old, 5 foot 4, 120 pounds, brown eyes and hair. We have a field trip.”
Jed and the other detectives made their own notes as they observed the experienced homicide detectives work the scene. The dozen detectives in the training returned to police headquarters.
“Observe, photograph, catalog, think. These steps are essential,” the head instructor said. “Look for a signature and avoid crime scene contamination above all else,” he continued.
The Portland police labeled Heidi Claburn’s death as a mugging gone wrong.Friends, family, and University of Idaho colleagues hounded the Portland police for most of a year afterward, but her death had become a cold case. But not for Jed.
“Chief, I have followed Heidi Calburn’s murder case for eleven and a half months. No new leads, no similar murders. Am I getting obsessed with this case?” Jed asked.
“Nobody likes cold cases, but they happen. Don’t let this case eat you from the inside, Jed. Anyway, don’t you have a wedding to attend?”
“Yes, my favorite niece, Janet. In Austin this week.”
“Find some shorts, Jed. Third week in July, Texas will be hot,” said the Chief shaking his head.
July 21, 2015
The wedding was beautiful and Janet was radiant. Jed was the proud uncle and danced with the bride. Settling in for the evening in the hotel, he turned on the late news.
“Shit!” Jed said as the remote bounced off the nightstand when the newscaster reported the tragic death from the night before of 27-year-old Helen Wright.
“My God–she could be Heidi Calburn’s twin.” He dialed the Austin PD from his cell phone.
“This is Detective Jed Calhoun of the Clam Harbor, Maine Police Department. Badge number 14188. Please contact the detectives investigating Helen Wright homicide. I have information on the case. I’m in the Hampton Inn, room 411. They can call the hotel or call my cell. I will be waiting for their call.”
Jed got dressed and sat on the edge of the bed, waiting. Ten minutes later, the room phone rang.
Jed answered the room phone “Detective Jed Calhoun speaking.”
“Detective Calhoun, this is Sergeant Porter of the Austin Police. Dispatch said you may have some information about the death of a young woman.”
“Was she holding her shoes, Sergeant?
“Let’s talk about a few things first, Detective. I’m ten minutes out. Can you wait?” Porter asked.
“Room 411. Waiting,” responded Jed.
A tall, African-American man entered the room eight minutes later. Imposing size and demeanor, confident gait and intense eyes, Sergeant Porter was not someone to be trifled with.
“I’m Sergeant Porter. Dispatch got your Chief out of bed. He vouched for you. Said you were here for your niece Jane’s wedding.”
“Janet,” Jed said automatically. Sergeant Porter smiled.
“Let me see your credentials.”
“Okay, Detective Calhoun, the holding of the shoes wasn’t released to the public. How did you know?”
“We had a similar murder–the girls could have been twins. I saw Helen Wright’s face on television and dropped the remote. Same age, height, weight, hair and eye color as the unsolved in Portland, Maine. Name is Heidi Calburn.”
“It didn’t pop up on our database.”
“She was part of a convention on entomology; you know, bug study. Strangled in her hotel room, no sexual assault. Her holding shoes was the signature. We didn’t release that information.”
“We? Your Chief says Clam Harbor is a sleepy tourist town.”
“Well, the Portland Police didn’t release that information. Heidi Claburn was murdered while I was participating in an advanced forensic training course. We went to the crime scene. I’ve been following the case ever since.”
“We have a Police Conference the first week in June every year,” Jed said.
“We have ours the first week in October. So?”
“Sarge, the Portland murder occurred, twelve months ago this week. I’ll bet the Entomological Society of America meets the same week every year, too.”
“Yes!” Jed exclaimed as he checked his phone. “The Entomological Society of America is meeting this week in Austin.” Jed scrolled down his smartphone. “And Portland the year before; Philadelphia the year before that. San Diego, Indianapolis, and Knoxville before that. I wonder if those cities had murders with the signature of holding shoes?”
When Jed arrived at his desk a day later, there was an urgent hand-written message: “Call Sergeant Porter at the Austin PD.”
On the other end of the phone, Jed heard, “Calhoun, we checked with local PDs. Philly, San Diego, Indianapolis, but not Knoxville, had murders with the same MO and the same signature as yours and ours. You were right. I have DMV photos of the victims. These women could have all been sisters or cousins they look so similar.”
“We have attendance lists for the last five meetings, all of which had a murder at the same time of the meeting. The society says it will be a day or so before they will be able to supply the older attendance lists. My tech guy is cross-referencing the names on the five meetings. I wanted you to know that we’re progressing on this.”
“Thanks. And please keep me posted,” Jed said.
The cross-referencing narrowed the list down to eighteen members who attended all five of the most recent meetings. Ten left the Portland meeting before Heidi Calburn was murdered, leaving eight suspects. Hotel and air travel receipts provided by the universities ruled out five more from at least one of the murders. Sergeant Porter called the Society headquarters and asked to speak with someone who would know many of the members.
“Hi, this is Lori Bell. How can I help you?”
“I have three names and am wondering if you could tell me anything about them.”
“Sergeant, I’ve been ESA’s membership director for almost thirty years–been to every annual meeting in that time and I know most of the members. I am at the meetings to help out with registration. I like to go and chat with…”
“Oh yes, Detective, I get talking and, well, just keep talking. My husband says that I was born talking…”
“Can you tell me anything about three specific members?” Porter interrupted.
“Of course. Fire away with the names.”
“What can you tell me about M. Bucher?”
“Oh, Mabel is such a sweetheart. She retired three years ago and misses her friends. I think she has come to 50 straight annual meetings. We gave her a plaque in Austin last week. She wouldn’t hurt a fly. That’s an entomology joke, Sergeant.”
“So she’s old?”
“Sharp as a tack, but she has trouble getting around and I don’t know how many more meetings she will be physically able to attend.”
Porter mentally crossed her off the list.
“Frank’s a cutup. Everyone likes him. He’s on just about every committee we have because he won’t say no. There was this one time that Frank was giving a toast…”
“Is he a big guy?” Porter interrupted again.
“Average height and weight, I would have to say.”
“How about A. Merchant?” Porter said before Lori could reload.
“Ms. Bell, I have five dead young women. I need some information,” pleaded Porter.
“Andrew is moody, I guess. He ran into some trouble a few years back.”
“Legal problems? Porter asked.
“His wife left him. She caught him in bed with a graduate student. It wasn’t his graduate student or Michigan State University would have fired him. He is doing better and adjusting. He is a regular attendee at our meetings. Oh, and he’s a big, big guy. Played football in college until he hurt his knee.”
“Was the graduate student in her late twenties and a big girl?”
“She was in her late twenties but a size 6, same size as his wife.”
“And how big is a size 6 person?” Porter asked.
“Sergeant, that’s a dress size. She is small, about 5 foot 3 and maybe 115 pounds. She is now a faculty member at Iowa State University and seems to have put the unfortunate incident well behind her. She never goes to the annual meeting. I know because everyone has to go through the registration desk. I try to talk to all of them.”
“Brown hair, off the shoulder, brown eyes?”
“Brown hair, quite pretty, but I don’t know about the eyes. Am I helping Sergeant?”
“Yes, Ms. Bell, you are,” Porter said.
Sergeant Porter arrived at Lansing, Michigan and was picked up at the airport by a patrol officer.
“Sergeant, the suspect is waiting in an interrogation room at HQ,” were the only words the driver said.
“Dr. Merchant, why did you kill these women?” Porter asked.
“You can do better than that, Sergeant.”
These self-absorbed egotists were Porter’s favorite to crack. “Alright. Your wife left you because you couldn’t keep your pants on. Shows she smarter than you are. How’s she doing these days. Ever wonder who she’s with?”
Merchant shifted ever so slightly in his chair, catching himself before Porter noticed.
But Porter noticed. “Maybe a big man like you has a ‘little man’ problem? Is that it? Maybe she’s with a man without a ‘little man’ problem. Maybe she’s with a pretty young brunette? That’s it, after you, she switched sides didn’t she?” Porter peppered him with questions before he could answer. Now the pause…“What was her name anyway?”
“Elizabeth,” Andrew said through clenched teeth.
Before Merchant could take a breath, Porter started in again. “Elizabeth. That’s a pretty name. I’ll bet she still has that long hair. Still pretty, too. I’ll bet she’s rolling in the hay right now. Yeah, rolling, hair flowing,…
“STOP!” Merchant yelled.
But Porter didn’t even blink. “And wearing those fancy shoes. Does she wear those ‘do-me heels’ the young women wear these days? You know, those stiletto heels, make lots of noise when they walk. Real attention getters. Make me notice every time. But I don’t have any problems down there like you do. No, I’ve never sent a woman to the other team…”
“SHE’S A DEAD BITCH AND SHE’S NEXT!” Merchant was as far out of the chair as the handcuffs chained to the table would allow.
Merchant sat back down and his head drooped. All the cockiness was gone. “Took you long enough to find me.”
“Again, Dr. Merchant, why did you kill these women?”
“She ruined my life and I was killing her over and over.”
“How did she ruin your life?”
“My wife left me because of her. My colleagues hate me. I made one mistake–her. If she had only removed her shoes when she left the room, my wife would have never heard her and found out about our one time together.”
“How many times did you kill her?”
“Five. Austin, Portland, Philadelphia, San Diego, and Indianapolis. She shows up at meetings to mock me.”
Thirty minutes later, Dr. Andrew Merchant had written out a confession to all five murders.
From the station, Porter called Detective Jed Calhoun in Maine.
“Calhoun, we got him. Confessed to all five murders. Your Portland case is closed,” said Porter.
“Squished him like a cockroach,” was Jed’s reply.
“Squished him like a cockroach,” was all that Sergeant Porter said to the driver on the way to the airport.
Tannara Young is the creator of the world of Idhua: fourteen kingdoms surrounding a vast magical forest. She writes short fiction and novels exploring the people, landscapes and magic of Idhua. Her work has also appeared in The Mythic Circle, The Great Tomes Series and at NewMyths.com and Smashwords. Tannara lives in central California on the coast of the wild Pacific Ocean, near the majestic redwood forests. When she is not writing, she loves to take long walks through these inspiring landscapes, dreaming up her next tale. Please come and visit her at tannarayoung.com.
A retelling of the Grimm’s Fairy Tale
At the sound of a twig snapping, Henrick crouched. He eased his long hunting knife out of its sheath and listened. Dry leaves rustled on the other side of the bushes.
Soft footfalls approached. Automatically, Henrick tried to activate the magical enhancements on his right eye and ear, so he could sense the target better, but the magic was broken. The dissonance from the warped spell screeched inside his head. He dropped the knife and slapped his hands to his ears. Blood dribbled from his nose as a pulse of intense heat shot down the veins of sylphyl enclosing his body. His knees buckled.
His two young nieces rounded the bushes and screamed as they came upon them. Henrick gasped as the sound punched into his head. They turned and fled back toward the house, still screaming.
Henrick clenched his hands into the soil as the web that had once offered magical protection now wrapped him in searing pain. He breathed: in and out, in and out, trying to focus the warped power out of his body and ground it in earth.
The shriek inside his head died enough for him to hear someone running down the path. Training and experience urged him to stand, to grab the knife and be ready to fight, but a renewed surge of pain pinned him down.
His brother, Alben, burst from behind the bushes holding an iron shod staff ready to swing. In his other hand he held the glass dagger Henrick had once given him along with a secret: Glass was the only material that could cut him through the spells.
“Damn it, Henrick!” Alben shouted, his brow drawn in an angry frown. The fading magic reverberated his voice, sticking the shards of sound like nails into Henrick’s head. “You attacked Adela and Lissy? Are you insane?”
“I didn’t attack anyone,” Henrick said, his teeth gritted. “They startled me.”
“You drew your knife on two little girls!” Alben said, pointing at the fallen blade. “And your marks are glowing green. I’m not an idiot Henrick, you tried to use your enhancements.”
“It was instinct. You know they failed,” Henrick said, closing his eyes. Little spots of light danced against his closed lids. “But I wouldn’t have hurt them.”
“Can you promise there’s not even the tiniest chance of that?”
Henrick was silent because they both knew that he could not.
Alben sheathed the dagger, took out a handkerchief, and wiped his brow.
“Look,” he said. “You’re my brother. That’s why I took you in after... when you came home. But I can’t do this anymore. Lillian is terrified of you; so are the neighbors. Half the time those twisted spells make you too sick to work. Besides, you’re a soldier – you know more about fighting than farming. I can’t risk my family any longer.”
Henrick held his breath until the tempest of emotions subsided enough to say, “Where the hell do you want me to go?”
Alben knelt beside him. “I asked around at the market-fair last week. There’s a magician somewhere outside of Vist who may be able to help with broken magic.”
Henrick stood and crossed jerkily to pick up his knife. “Oh fine. Another magician. What makes you think this one is different than the last dozen?”
“You won’t know until you try,” Alben said. Henrick heard the guilt in Alben’s voice, as he urged: “If you could get all that sylphyl removed, maybe you could go back to soldiering in a normal way. Or learn some other skill.”
The idea of freedom brought a different kind of pain than the misfiring spell. “What’s his name?”
Alben sighed. “Gottilf. I wanted to find out more about him before I told you. You’ve had so many disappointments with frauds. But now –” His face twisted in a grimace.
“I know,” said Henrick. “You and Lillian have tried so hard. But you’re right – in the end, I am a danger to you all. I’ll leave tomorrow and go find this magician.”
The next morning, Henrick left the farm before the sun rose. In the half-light of dawn he stood for a moment, looking at back at the farmhouse and the trees lining the yard. Soon smoke would rise from the chimney as Lillian stoked the fire for the morning bread. Alben and his older sons would milk the cows and turn them out to graze. Henrick felt bitterness tighten his throat. “Your farm stands because of what I am... What I was,” he muttered. “It would have been burned by the Northern raiders but for my service.”
His bitterness flared into rage, under which the broken spells buzzed like angry bees. Clenching his fists, Henrick turned his back on the farm and struck out along the road.
By the time Henrick reached Vist, both rage and bitterness had faded, leaving a black despair. There was nowhere left for him to go if this new magician turned out to be as incompetent as those before him. Every person Hernick passed on the road looked at him with the combination of fear and loathing he had come to expect. As long as he wore the marks of the Empire he would be a hated outcast.
A recently erected palisade encircled Vist. A guard at the gate stopped Henrick. He glanced at Henrick’s gloves and hooded cloak, which were too warm for the summer evening, but when he found Henrick’s face underneath the hood, he blanched. Henrick looked away, but felt the guard’s eyes cataloging the greenish-silver sylphyl marks on his face and the knot of opalescent scars stretching from his right eye to his right ear.
The guard’s hand went to his sword's hilt. “What is your business in Vist?” he asked.
“I am looking for the magician called Gottilf,” said Henrick.
The guard scowled. “He doesn’t live in Vist. He’s at the old manor house on Menich’s Hill.” Henrick waited.
The guard glared, and then pointed back down the road. “Half a league back there is a cut-off into a birch wood - over the bridge at the river and then east at the fork and up the hill.”
Henrick stared at him until the guard’s eyes flicked away and his hand clenched reflexively on the sword hilt. The guard took a breath, perhaps to call for assistance, or to say something else to Henrick. But Henrick turned and walked back the way he had come. He could feel the guard’s gaze burning into his back the whole way down the road. He kept his pace easy, but beneath his cloak his hand brushed against the hilt of his dagger tingling with the desire to wipe that look of suspicion off the guard’s face.
The setting sun painted the sky with burnt gold as he climbed the hill. The stone wall around the house lay partially in ruins, and through the gaps he could see dead weeds chocking the yard. Though it was early summer and the fields and woods around were green, the two trees on either side of the stone steps were as bare as at midwinter. Henrick stepped through the open wrought-iron gate. Inside, the temperature dropped suddenly, as if it were indeed winter within.
His senses flickered uneasily as he knocked on the huge double door. The wait was so long that he thought to leave. At long last he heard the sound of the iron bar being dragged back. The door opened a crack, showing only darkness.
“What?” the man on the other side demanded.
“Are you the magician, Gottilf?”
The man pulled the door open. He so thin that he looked taller than he really was. White streaked his black hair which was pulled back in a tail from his sharp features. He wore black boots and a leaf green coat in the style of the north. His dark eyes were piercing as he looked his visitor up and down. Henrick knew what he saw. Besides the telltale sylphyl and scars, he was a tall, muscular man. His brown hair was cut very short, and his one normal eye was golden brown like his brother’s. A knot of sylphyl set with magically charged opals covered his other eye.
“I am Gottilf,” said the magician. “And I can guess why you’ve come.” He stepped back. “Welcome to my home.”
Henrick glanced back at the summery hillside. He could just turn around and walk away, disappear into the hills, walk until he exhausted himself, lay down and vanish forever. He turned back and followed Gottilf through a bare and dirty hall. They reached a door at the end of the corridor. Gottilf opened it, revealing a workshop crammed with the tools of alchemy and magic. He motioned Herrick to enter. Henrick felt the jolt of power as he passed the threshold, like a slap of cold water. He stumbled, catching himself on a nearby chair to keep from falling.
“Please take a seat,” said Gottilf. There was something sly in his tone, and Henrick decided that he did not like the man at all. Still, he sat in the chair, his body tense and alert.
“So what are you wanting from me?” asked Gottilf, coming to perch on a stool in front of Henrick. “Fix your little enhancements? Give you a job as a bodyguard?”
“You said you could guess,” growled Henrick. “I want it taken off.” He waved his hands vaguely toward his body.
“Taken off?” Gottilf seemed genuinely surprised. “I guessed wrong. Why would you want it taken off? You were made one of the most effective warriors in the history of the Empire.”
Henrick scowled harder. “There isn’t an Empire anymore. Folks say that the Lady struck them down, and I won’t say they didn’t deserve it. They deserted us: they made us and then deserted us. I didn’t ask for this – I enlisted because I needed the work - because my family couldn’t feed another mouth.”
“I would say you were lucky,” began Gottilf. Henrick ignored him.
“Then the Order of the Padronelle chose me for their damn enhancements and you don’t say ‘no’ to those bastards. But the Order’s gone the same way as their Imperial leaders and I’m sick of being treated like I’m a monster because I wear their handiwork.”
Gottilf frowned, looking him up and down. The sly look came back – or perhaps it was a calculating look. “It won’t be easy, my friend – what did you say your name was? And it won’t be all that comfortable for you.”
“Henrick. What would you charge to do the spell?” He thought of the few coins left in his pouch from selling his sword and other gear so he could make the journey to Alben’s farm. Might have well kept them, for all that did me.
“Well,” Gottilf said. “Sylphyl is hard to come by these days. The Empire’s collapse is great for the independent magician like myself, but not so great for getting supplies and materials. If you give me all the sylphyl I extract from you, I’ll consider it a fair exchange.” He smiled a thin, cruel smile. “I have more gold than I will ever use, but it’s not much good to me if I can’t buy what I need with it.”
“I agree,” Henrick said, before Gottilf could change his mind and ask for money. “If you can get this stuff out of me, you can have it.”
“Splendid,” All at once Gottilf looked eager. “Come lie down on this table. I need to see what we’re working with.”
That night, Henrick spent it uncomfortably in a drafty room at the back of the mansion. A silent, bedraggled serving-man gave him a meal of dry bread, questionable meat and weak ale. The man scuttled away as soon as Henrick took the tray. After scarcely sleeping, Henrick didn’t linger when Gottilf knocked early in the morning.
“I’ve found a way to get the sylphyl out of you without killing you and without destroying it,” the magician announced, leading Henrick down the hallway. “However it’s going to be a tedious process.” He opened the door to the workroom.
The first thing that Henrick saw was a giant bearskin stretched out on a rack. The skin side had intricate patterns and arcane symbols painted on it. “I’ve enchanted this skin to slowly extract the sylphyl and unravel the spells on you, while blocking the magical effects that have been warped. However, to do it without killing you will take a while.”
“How long?” asked Henrick.
“Seven years,” said Gottilf, examining his fingernails.
At his tone, Gottilf took an uneasy step back, saying, “It wouldn’t do either of us any good to go faster. It would destroy the sylphyl and it’s unlikely you would survive the process – you would go insane or die or maybe both.”
Henrick gritted his teeth. The despair he had pushed aside yesterday welled up. But then, what did it matter, as broken as he already was? Seven years had an end – and looking crazy and dangerous wouldn’t be new.
“Fine,” he said.
“Before you agree, there’s more. During those seven years you cannot cut your hair, pare your nails, or even take a bath.”
“Seven years without taking a bath? People are scared enough of me already – without looking and smelling like a troll.”
“It’s what I can offer, my friend,” said Gottilf. “Oh and once you do it, you can’t change your mind. If you take the skin off too soon, the shock will kill you.”
Henrick stared at the skin. “How am I supposed to live for the next seven years?”
“Well,” said Gottilf. Henrick had the sense that he had been waiting for the question. “I have another offer for you. If you let me take the opals around your eye out now, while they’re still magically charged, I’ll give you a generous allowance of gold when you come back each year.”
“When I come back?”
“You’re going to have to come every year, so I can remove the sylphyl the spells have extracted. People may not like you very much, but I am sure with plenty of gold, they’ll tolerate you. If I take the opals out now, it will blind you in your right eye, but perhaps that’s not too much to pay not to avoid being a begger for seven years.”
Henrick stared at Gottilf. He shut his right eye. Blind? But then what did it matter really? Better half-blind than broken. “Fine,” he said. “Do it.”
“Splendid,” said Gottlif, rubbing his hands. “Let’s get this skin on you, and then I’ll take the opals out. You’re going to have to strip,” he added.
Henrick gave him a sour glance but stripped off his tunic, boots and his breeches. He didn’t much care for the greedy look Gottilf gave the swirling patterns of sylphyl across his body.
“Beautiful,” murmured the magician.
“Give me the skin,” growled Henrick.
Gottilf took the skin off the rack and gave it a shake, muttering a few words. The fur rippled in a disconcerting way, becoming a long, hooded fur coat. He held it up for Henrick to stick his arms into it. The fur rippled again and closed up the front, encasing Henrick.
“I’ve spelled it so you won’t get too hot or too cold,” said Gottilf. “Oh, you can put your boots back on if you want. You don’t have to have the hood up, though the more you do, the faster the stuff around your eye will be leached off. Here.” He fumbled in a chest and tossed a heavy bag of coins at Henrick. “Don’t lose it. I can’t have you coming back here whining that you were robbed.” He looked severe. “I am a busy man.” Then he grinned and pointed to the table. “Lie down, so I can get my opals out.”
When he left Gottilf’s house Henrick was uncertain where to go. At last he took the road south and east, moving away from Vist and farther from Alben’s farm. Near the end of the day, he came to an inn called The Wayfarer. He hesitated, fingering the leather eye patch he now wore over his ruined eye. The bearskin coat covered all the sylphyl on his body, but the marks on his face and hands were clear. However, he had plenty of coin. He strode through the door.
The room fell silent, then the noise level rose again as other patrons looked quickly away and tried to seem like they were having normal conversations.
The innkeeper, a stout woman with strong arms, crossed to him. “Can I help you?” She sounded as if she would rather ask him to leave, but was too wary.
“A room for the night and a meal,” He resisted the urge to finger the eye patch. Instead he produced a gold coin.
The innkeeper hesitated for a moment, but then took it and waved him to a table in the corner. She took his order herself and brought him a plate of game pie and a pint of ale.
Henrick brooded over the drink, watching the other patrons. A ragged-looking man in the corner asked the innkeeper to refill his cup. Henrick heard her say, “Not without more coin.” A short time later, the man from behind the bar – who looked like the innkeeper’s son, forcibly escorted the ragged man outside where twilight had fallen, along with a fine, drenching rain.
The man cast a longing look back into the bright taproom, catching Henrick’s eye for a moment. Henrick guessed from the way the man moved that he had once been a soldier. Henrick looked away. Another discarded man.
“Some gratitude,” Henrick muttered.
The pair of merchants at a nearby table glanced over nervously.
“What?” Henrick barked. “Do you have something to say to me?” They instantly decided they had finished their meal and exited. Henrick glowered after them, then glowered into his ale until it was time to go to bed.
That night Henrick lay awake, hating the bearskin. He thought he could feel the runes and symbols moving around on the inside of the skin, like little caterpillars crawling over his flesh. He shuddered and shut his eyes, but that only intensified the sensation.
His skin itched and sometimes stung. He felt suffocated by the thick fur. He rose early and left the relieved innkeeper behind.
It only got worse. People had feared him when he looked like one of the Padronelle. But as his hair grew out and he became more and more dirty and unkempt he discovered that being reviled and shunned for being a crazy vagabond was a whole new world of misery.
Innkeepers turned him away, children threw stones at him, and merchants tested his every coin or even accused him of stealing the money. After sitting in a town gaol for three weeks for punching a guard who tried to run him out of town, Henrick decided he’d had enough with towns and struck out into the forest. It was better there, with no people. He built himself crude shelters from branches and hunted dear and rabbits.
Yet he couldn’t survive the winter that way. So he searched around until he found an abandoned woodcutter’s cottage some distance from a small market town called Fernwell. Over the course of the late summer and mellow autumn he repaired the roof, fixed the chimney and hauled supplies from Fernwell. All through the long winter, he huddled in the tiny cottage, wondering if his death would be due to irritation from the bearskin, the boredom, or the unending cold, for, despite the spells on the bearskin, and the repaired fireplace, Henrick always felt cold.
He was almost surprised when the year warmed and it came time to keep his first appointment with Gottilf.
When the magician answered the door, Henrick recoiled. Had he been that creepy looking? Gottilf’s hair stood in mad spikes and his eyes bulged slightly in his gaunt face. And had his teeth been pointed like that the last time, or was it just a trick of the light?
“My friend, welcome, welcome,” he said, drawing Henrick into his workroom and stoking the bearskin. “You survived your first year! How are you? I’m so glad to see you. Come in, everything is ready.”
Henrick lay down on the worktable as Gottilf directed. The magician muttered an incantation over the bearskin and it split down the middle. As Henrick glanced down at the sylphyl on his body he shuddered. Parts of it stuck through his skin – no longer smooth patterns, but ridges and lumps of dull metal, some flaked with dried blood, others imbedded in red and tender flesh. Then Gottilf came with a pair of tweezers and started pulling the bits out. Henrick shut his eyes and grit his teeth.
When Gottilf had finished, he re-sealed the robe and brought Henrick a glass of wine steeped with bitter herbs. “You’re doing very well,” Gottilf told him. “I didn’t think you’d make it a year. You know if you’re having trouble getting by you could stay and help me. It would be useful to have a servant again.”
“What happened to your other one?” Henrick asked.
Gottilf’s gaze slid away. “Oh, he left. Tired of his duties. I only asked for blood twice.”
“Asked for blood?”
“I needed it to feed a darkling pixie I bought off a peddler,” said Gottilf. “It wouldn’t drink my blood.” He sighed. “It died anyway. At least I got to dissect it.”
Henrick shuddered. “Is there any way to get the sylphyl our faster?”
Gottilf smiled. “Not if you want to live through it. I’ve been keeping my eye out for some of your brethren, to see if I can make the same deal with them, but you are few and far between. Seems not many of you survived, and those who did, well, let’s say they gave up quicker than you. A shame, that. I’ve been having trouble re-enchanting what I get off of corpses.”
Henrick was only too glad to leave after that.
It was a relief to return to his little cottage, though he had been so eager to leave it. He looked around at the weedy clearing the cottage sat in and his haphazard woodpile off to one side. He thought of Gottilf’s ruined yard and messy workshop. Filled with a sudden determination, Henrick began tearing out the weeds. Once he got started, it was very cathartic and soon he had a huge pile of them.
“I need a shovel,” he decided aloud. “I could plant a garden here and not have to scrounge in the forest so much.” He pictured the little house with a garden in front and red painted shutters. “It would look like a normal house,” he concluded.
The next day he set off to Fernwell with a mental shopping list: a shovel, seeds, a blade for chopping up the weeds into a compost pile, maybe a pickaxe.
About half way to Fernwell, as he forded a small stream, he saw a large cluster of morels growing under a dying elm tree. He wasn’t fond of them himself, but he remembered how much his brother had liked them. Perhaps I can sell them, he thought, gathering them into his sack.
When Henrick reached Fernwell it was one of the market days where the village green was ringed with booths and wagons. He cut a swath through the crowd by scowling, until he came to a booth where an elderly woman sold lettuces, onions, herbs and other vegetables from a long wooden table. Henrick sidled up, fully expecting her to sneer at his appearance. However, she only wrinkled her nose slightly and looked severe.
“Can I help you?”
“I wondered if you’d like to buy some morels?” Henrick said, opening his sack.
Her face lit up. “Oh, aye,” she said. “Those are fine ones.” She poured them out onto her table and sorted them quickly. “I’ll give you one gold eagle for the lot of them.”
Henrick was astonished. An eagle for twenty minutes of mushroom picking? He nodded and she fumbled in her apron pocket and produced the coin. He took it and hesitated, wondering if he should say something else. At last he grunted, “Thank you.”
She looked up from sorting the mushrooms and smiled. “If you find any more, be sure to bring them to me. I’ll buy chanterelles and oyster mushrooms, too.”
Henrick made his other purchases, paying for them with the coin he had earned for the mushrooms. As he bought a wide, sturdy blade for hacking up weeds with, his eye fell on a set of throwing knives. He remembered him and Alban practicing throwing knives at a target leaning on the side of their father’s barn. Alban had been disgusted with his keen eye and natural accuracy. He wondered if he would still be able to throw with only one eye. On an impulse, he picked up one of the knives and, admiring its balance, added the set to his other purchase.
As he left town, his sack over his shoulder and the new shovel under his arm, he paused to watch a pretty young woman who sat sewing at the open window of a tailors shop across the square. There was something compelling about the wisps of blond hair curling about her cheeks, and the deft way her needle flashed through the snowy linen. He thought about what it felt like to wear a shirt like that. The crawling sensation across his skin, which he had learned to ignore, suddenly became unbearable. He shook his shoulders and swore under his breath.
“Are you going to bury a body with that shovel?” a voice asked near his elbow, making him jump.
Another young woman stood there. She also had blond hair, but it was very pale, and hung loose and tangled about her shoulders. She looked fragile – her body was thin and bony, and her skin was terribly pale. Her eyes, a little too large for her narrow face, fixed on Henrick and as he looked at her she licked her lips. Her expression inexplicably made him shiver. She ran her hand down the fur of his bearskin and if possible her wide eyes went even wider.
“That’s a lovely fur coat you’re wearing. It’s crawling with magic. Like little bees swarming on a flower patch. Can I have it?”
Henrick jerked back as she reached out to grab his sleeve.
“No,” he said.
Her face fell. She pouted. “You’re no fun,” she said. “I’ll give you a penny and a peppermint candy.”
“Go on,” said Henrick. “Stop bothering me.”
“Then stop staring at my sister,” she said. “She doesn’t like you. I don’t like you. I might change my mind if you gave me your magic coat.”
Henrick didn’t bother answering. He pushed past her and set off back to the forest, scowling. Yet once he had passed into the green shade, his mood lightened. He had earned an eagle for his mushrooms, he had packets of seeds to plant - lettuce, radish, peas and carrot. He was going to make himself a target and practice throwing his new knives. What did a crazy girl fingering the bearskin matter, anyway?
Marilyn began writing short stories at age 8 or 9. At puberty she took a long hiatus, lasting 21 years. She met Hollywood producer Norman Lear out in Tahiti who convinced her to write if that's what she wanted to do, so she quit her job as an international flight attendant and taught herself to write, all over again. She often lamented that she'd been a better writer as a child, but she wasn't convinced that an MFA program was the way to go, as she was in agreement with the critics in that these programs are churning out cookie cutter writers.
She has written three novels, the first of which landed her a NY agent (who blew a book deal). The second novel was god-awful. The third is her best work to date but she hasn't been successful in finding an agent to even read it.
She has optioned a screenplay, has won in a minor screenwriting contest and has had her short stories rejected by every lit-mag you can think of.
Actually, the knock on her apartment door wasn’t a jarring one. Nothing insistent about it. At least not at first . . . but even later, the knock seemed sort of playful. Christine was busy packing a suitcase, a chore she enjoyed under the circumstances. She wasn’t of a mind to take a break now that she had it all mapped out in her head, what she needed to take on the trip. And despite her excitement about their honeymoon in Rio (they were taking the honeymoon before the wedding, which was to follow two weeks later) Christine was anxious, about what she couldn’t have told you. But a gnawing anxiety had nagged at her all morning, interspersed with joy in a rather perplexing juxtaposition.
The knock recurred, a little more pronounced, a little more urgent. Instead of knock (space) knock (space) knock, she was now treated to knock knock KNOCK! She silently cussed, still determined not to answer. Then, who ever it was began knocking comically, in some sort of staccato rhythm, like someone playing conga drums.
“Oh it’s Judd, for Pete’s sake,” she said aloud. “He forgot his key again.”
It wasn’t her fiancé when Christine answered, however. It was the Grim Reaper, in full attire, scythe and all. Christine gave a start, but quickly recovered. “Oh, a costume party---what fun! Sorry though, you have the wrong house.” She tried to close the door but the Reaper pushed on it with a scythe-free hand, keeping it open.
“Excuse me?” Christine said, frowning, and edge to her voice. “You’re preventing me from closing the door! My door.”
“I have need of a bathroom.”
It was unmistakably a woman’s voice. Christine’s breath came easier. “How clever; you’re a woman. A woman Grim Reaper.”
“Well,” the Reaper said. “I’ll cop to being female but I wouldn’t say woman exactly.” She removed the drab heavy hood so that her long brown hair cascaded down.
Christine could have sworn that this person’s eyes had just changed from brown to blue. Her imagination, surely. “My God, you’re as white as a cloud. As a cloud,” she repeated. “That’s some impressive make-up.”
The Reaper stared at her a moment. “Bathroom.”
“Oh yes, yes. Come in.”
She directed the Reaper through her bedroom to the bathroom. “Crazy lay-out, this place,” she said almost apologetically. “This was a big old mansion, broken up into apartments. I guess you could tell. My bathroom was once the broom closet or something.”
The Reaper nodded as if bored.
“So may I take your scythe?”
The Reaper ignored her, closed the bathroom door with emphasis. Christine waited by her open suitcase that was atop the bed, fussed a little at the bikini top that was the last item packed, folding and re-folding it. She wondered why she hadn’t heard the toilet flush. It occurred to her that perhaps the Reaper was constipated and the very notion found her stifling a giggle. The Grim Reaper was constipated, she imagined telling Judd later. They would get a laugh out of it. She and Judd had the same sense of humor. Christine hoped that the Reaper wasn’t in there shooting heroine or something; the Reaper’s whiteness having made her look sickly.
The toilet never flushed, the sink offered no sound of running water. When the Reaper emerged from the bathroom, scythe in tow, the hood was back in place, her long silky hair tucked back inside. She was wearing dark pink lipstick. She hadn’t been wearing lipstick when Christine answered the door; she was certain of it. How strange. Strange because the Reaper wasn’t carrying a purse so where did she keep the lipstick? Was it Christine’s own then? You don’t just help yourself to another woman’s lipstick! Manners! Was she born in a barn?
“Actually I wasn’t born at all,” the Reaper said. “But don’t worry, I’m not a politician. Politicians aren’t born; they’re excreted.”
“I think we can attribute that quote to Cicero. Not sure.”
“Listen, just so you know, I absolutely hate my job.” Her face was expressionless but her eyes . . . her eyes had turned from blue to something very dark. The blade of the scythe gleamed, catching the ceiling light.
As casually as she could muster, Christine moved across the room to the dresser. The top drawer contained a loaded gun, a .38. She damn well knew how to shoot. She nodded weakly toward the Reaper when she slowly turned. “We all hate our jobs,” she said softly. In spite of herself she was somewhat mesmerized by the scythe with its almost hypnotic death-presence, even if her heart was now pounding to where she could hear it. She was incredibly focused, aware of every minute detail that comprised not just the Reaper but the entire room. Fear has an aura in a life-death situation. She was so focused that she could see and feel and sense it;
it was opaque, it was sheer, at once. And not only was it true that time slowed to a stop in a crisis just as she had forever read, but she had never felt so keenly intelligent as now.
“Please, not the gun-in-the-drawer routine,” the Reaper said. “Such melodrama.” The Reaper hiked up her robes so that her fish-belly-white legs showed. She sat on the bed next to the opened, half-packed suitcase. “Soft mattress,” she casually observed. “You look too young for such a soft mattress.” Plunking the scythe down next to her, flat on the bed, the Reaper leaned back on her arms, kicking her legs like a child enjoying itself.
“Um, look, if you don’t mind I have to finish getting ready for a trip, so---”
“Yes, I know,” the Reaper interrupted. “You’re packing for a flight to . . . to . . . ah yes, to Brazil. You and your boyfriend---excuse me, fiancé---his name is Judd? You and Judd planned to spend the holidays in Rio.”
How badly she wanted to say, who are you? What are you up to? What do you want? Is it money? But when she opened her mouth to speak, all that emerged was a sharp ‘uh’.
The Reaper’s eyes turned brownish-gold. “I have to say that this job ranks right down there with scrubbing latrines,” she stated, glancing around the bedroom, sporting something close to a hang-dog look. “I’d sooner be polishing halos but of course that’s a cartoonish notion. Imagine trying to polish light!
“Well well, you do have pretty good taste. One actual painting in the whole place but it’s a good one. A Despert, if I’m not mistaken. One of his Tiki Series, yes?” The Reaper nodded toward the framed painting next to the dresser where Christine still stood.
Christine would have swallowed hard except she found herself unable to swallow. She didn’t answer until something struck her in a wave of relief. “I know! I’ve got it! This is an elaborate joke! Judd put you up to it, that funny rascal!” She applauded, grinning. “You’re a magician; that’s how you change your eye color. I’m duly impressed. You must tell me how you do it.”
The Reaper’s eyes turned gold. “Yes, the eyes. Dead give-away. Pardon any pun.”
“Pun,” Christine echo’d and nodded affirmatively.
“Insofar as Judd is concerned, he had nothing to do with me. You set up my arrival shortly before you were born,” the Reaper said. “You don’t remember, that’s all.”
In a flash Christine found her courage and it was blizzard cold. “Explain!”
“Okay, I’ll explain. You have choices as to how you’re to exit when your contract is up.”
“Please, no further interruptions. You are not a physical being, you need to remember. You are a spirit being trapped temporarily in a physical body.” The Reaper tapped on the scythe’s handle. “And look, the scythe is just a prop; it’s just for show, so the, uh, person knows who I am. Reapers don’t pass out calling cards, Christine. What I have is this goofy outfit; the hood, the scythe, the robes. Says it all, tells the tale, however you want to put it.
“Anyway, you’re given choices before you’re born. You can go in your sleep when your time comes but you need excellent karma to get approval on that choice. You can go in a fiery crash of some sort, which is quick and saves funeral expenses for your loved ones in case money is tight. We refrain from using the term death, mind you, preferring, oh, exit or, simpler yet, the word go. So your exit from all the misery here can be from incurable disease or----”
“I think you’re crazy.”
“Me, crazy? Certainly not, but may I suggest that you are? You have an ego, which is the only thing anchoring you to this third dimension. The
ego is quite insane. Every walking, breathing person has an ego which makes insanity rampant on this good green earth! Everybody you meet is a little wacky, depending on how big her or his ego is---don’t tell me you hadn’t noticed.”
“Well at least not everyone on earth uses someone else’s lipstick.”
“We of the higher realms call your insanity disease ego-mania. You do get to leave your ego on the cutting room floor when you exit. Hooray, right?”
Christine darted a quick glance at the scythe. “Cutting?”
“Poor choice of words. Sorry.”
“I don’t care to exit, lady.”
“You may not care to exit but I’m no lady.” The Reaper laughed heartily, having said that. “Oh if you only knew.”
“Sounds like you’re talking about sex. Is sex bad?” Christine wondered why she was asking this nut-case such a question. Any question.
“Bad? No. How could sex be bad? Sex is fun. It’s good as long as it’s free. Selling your body sullies it, of course.”
“That what you did? Sell your body?”
“You think that because I said I was ‘no lady’. Okay, I did have an eye for the men, once upon a time. Heh. Plus, I was a bit notorious, you
could say, but sex had nothing to do with that.” The Reaper yawned.
“Why do you have this job that you hate, masquerading as a Grim Reaper? And who’s paying you, hmmm?”
“Let’s start with this: why do you have a job you hate?”
“Pays the bills.”
“Ah. You answered your own question, dear. I have a debt to pay.”
“What do you mean?” Christine glared at her.
“It’s a karmic debt. And if I don’t want to come back as a poor starving child in Bangladesh, I have to work off the karma.”
“What if I offered to pay your debt for you? What if----”
“You’re just . . . not . . . getting it.”
“Here’s what I am getting: you came here with your magician’s tricks of changing your eye color and also you’re a psychic because obviously you are able to read minds.”
“And you’re handing me a line of bull-crap about ‘contracts’. My contract is up! As if life were a business agreement!”
“It sort of, you know, is.”
Christine stood akimbo. “Oh really!”
“Oh come on; wake up! Judd had no desire to leave Home and come
into this incarnation, which is why you chose a short contract.” The Reaper looked heavenward, reading something that was invisible to Christine. “Eleven thousand three hundred fifteen days,” she finally said, still squinting. “Today is your birthday, is it not?”
“So time’s up. That simple.”
“But I love Judd. We’re getting married!”
The Reaper covered her mouth as she again yawned. “And oh of course he loves you as well.” She proceeded with well-rehearsed words. “He has cancer, Christine,” she said dully. “He doesn’t consciously know it yet. On a higher level he knows it because he chose it. It’s all scripted, Miss Goldilocks. Every last detail.
“Yet you’ll view me with hideous hatred. Did I do the scripting? No, a thousand times no. Who did? You did! You and Judd. That’s not his name, by the way.”
“Oh really. What is his name, pray tell.”
“Depends on which lifetime you’re referring to. In his last incarnation, he was called Henri.” The Reaper used the French pronunciation: Ah-ree. “And you were Leslie.”
“Uh-huh, I’ll bet. And were Henri and Leslie married?”
“You were his mistress. You loved one another, deeply and abidingly. Do you doubt it?”
“Do you have any proof whatsoever that any of this is true?”
“Oh I hate this. I hate my job! Bangladesh is actually starting to seem attractive.” The Reaper paused to gather her thoughts. “I mean, if only I had the ability to convey how absurd this all is. Know this much, little flaxen-haired beauty: I am incapable of lying. I have no ego!”
“The Creator gave us free will!”
“Yes, and you exercised it, before you were born.”
“I can change things!” Christine was becoming agitated, even shrill. “Free will, damn you!”
Raising one eyebrow, the Reaper looked Christine squarely in the eye and waited.
“Then . . . then . . . wait a minute, let me sort this out. I can’t change anything?” Christine paused. “At all?”
“Suicide. You have that choice. But I’m betting you’re not up for it, all things considered. Beyond that option, it’s an unbreakable contract.”
“Judd and I can appeal! We’ll appeal to the angels! To the archangels! We’ll go straight to God!”
“It entered your mind moments ago that you two have already put
money down on a house. You were thinking that the wedding is all planned; you have your wedding gown in your parents’ closet, wedding invitations have gone out. You truly need to understand something, Blondie.”
“Christine, then. Listen carefully.” The Reaper chewed her lip contemplatively, then said: “I’m doing you a favor. You and Judd have had a few other happy lifetimes together. When you are ready, you meet your soul-mate, so lucky you, he is your soul-mate. The real McCoy, not just some romanticized fairy tale. He is your other half, literally.”
“Okay. Okay fine.”
“It goes beyond the fact that Judd really didn’t want to come back for another go at physical life. In your other lifetimes together, you grew old and decrepit and senile. Many tears were shed over one another’s declining years. Tears of worry, tears of great sorrow. So when the two of you decided to come back for this, your last time around; you decided that you’d exit while you were still young.
“Truth to tell, it wasn’t necessary to come back at all and, as noted, Judd really didn’t want to. But you talked him into it. You craved to eat a big ripe peach again, you told him, with the juice dribbling down your chin. So he agreed to come down the old tiresome birth canal one more time, to
make you happy, but as I keep saying, he really didn’t want to leave Home.
“To make him happy, and to avoid growing old again, you said, ‘Okay, let’s exit when we’re thirty-one.’ He agreed. So look, his cancer is fast acting---are you getting the picture?”
“Don’t paint any more pictures, okay? I don’t want to die. I don’t want Judd to die.” But Christine was having a problem with denying the truth of what the Reaper was saying inasmuch as it had begun to resonate. She was fighting back tears.
“There is no death!” The Reaper grabbed the scythe and slammed its staff onto the floor to drive home her point. “You know,” she continued, “the usual Reaper for this region wanted to visit with an old friend of his who had just arrived Home after a stint on the physical plane----”
“Physical plane? You mean earth?”
“No, not earth. Some other galaxy but what difference does it make? I’m such a sucker. ‘Would you fill in for me?’ he asked with, oh, you know, that pleeease look he gets. I mean, I shouldn’t complain because I get to work off a little extra bad karma this way, but----”
“What karma? What’d you do, kill someone?”
The Reaper ignored the jab. “Absolutely not! Back when I was having a human experience---well, in one of my lifetimes---I,” the Reaper
grinned devilishly, “I sort of, well, purloined a bit of paper and ink. Embezzled, they called it in court. A mere caper. The law has a poor sense of humor, don’t you agree?”
“How much did you steal?”
“Oh that tacky word: steal.”
“Mmmm, well, a cool million. Back then a million was real money. They termed it ‘grand larceny’ in the newspaper, right after the blurb about the law relieving me of my beautiful stallion.”
“Your boyfriend, I take it.”
“Bitchy comments are beneath you.”
“You expect me to care?”
“What a life we had, Jerry and I, till we got caught.” It tickled the Reaper to recount the story, her eyes twinkling and changing color like a chameleon, in flashes of green as she remembered the money, pink Champagne as she recalled making love with Jerry, azure as she thought of being out on the open sea. “Yachts, invitations to parties in Pacific Heights . . . . aaaaah. Well never mind.”
“They sent a thief to kill me. A fine how-do-ya-do.”
“I take umbrage at that remark! I am a spirit of exemplary character
now that I’m no longer afflicted with ego-mania. Back then I had my, well, human quirks you might say. A few foibles; nothing seriously rotten. Besides, you should see what you’ve done in some of your own earlier lifetimes. Judd, too. I’m telling you, it’d curl your hair!”
Christine was no longer paying attention. Having broken into a cold sweat moments ago, it was with her still. She longed for Judd’s arms around her with all her pounding heart. She spoke his name aloud, sniffed, wiped her eyes.
“Besides,” the Reaper went on, still reliving another life, “all they need to do is print more of the stuff. More paper, more ink. It’s so crazy! You hand someone a wad of paper with some dead presidents inked on one side and they give you the keys to a yacht! HA HA HA!” she laughed, impervious to Christine’s discomfort.
“Our . . . our flight to Rio leaves at ten A.M. tomorrow.”
“Oh stop.” The Reaper shook her head in a show of disgust. “Give me a break, would you please? Something else you get to choose is whether you want a slow exit which prepares your loved ones; an abrupt exit; or a visit from the Reaper, who comes to sort of ease the way and offer something painless. A little polite conversation, a few jokes, well, you know.” She turned her hands into make believe weights-and-measures
scales. “Abrupt departure/Reaper, abrupt departure/Reaper---you chose Reaper. Here I am and you haven’t even offered me a cup of coffee.”
“I hate you.”
“Now that didn’t come from your soul!” The Reaper’s irises turned black. “Hatred rides in on an ill wind! You don’t want that kind of karma, not at a time like this! Take it back!”
“Shut-up!” Christine surrendered all pretenses of bravery as her shoulders heaved in a bout of sobbing. She went to a stuffed chair in the corner, by a Peter Max framed poster of (of all things) an ascending angel, fell into the chair in a boneless mass. The Reaper’s back was to her now so that she actually entertained an urge to kill her. Self-defense, right? That gun in the dresser, the loaded .38.
“You can’t bump someone off who is already, well, not of this world shall we say,” the Reaper said, reading Christine’s mind again.
“This is no way to spend my 31st. After all, I’m still a baby! I’m still just a baby, barely starting out in this world.”
“A baby. You can say that again,” the Reaper said sotto voce.
“What did you say?”
“I said, ‘they always take it so hard’. Besides, this is your re-birth day. A cause for celebration! Look Goldilocks, I’ll show you how to revel
in your soon-to-be-freedom.”
Slipping the hood of her costume off once more, the Reaper stood, stepped out of the cumbersome robes, kicked the robes to one side. She had on a pink silk knee length slip that accentuated her curves. Out of nowhere she manifested a head band, a cigarette holder avec lighted cigarette, while thirties jazz sounded in the room from an invisible sound system so that the Reaper could dance the Charleston, out of step with the beat of the music but from all appearances wholly enjoying herself, tossing her hair about with wild abandon.
Christine momentarily forgot her woe and grabbed a tambourine from atop the dresser. The thirties jazz began to fade when she approached the Reaper, whose cigarette disappeared, whose headband dissolved as well, while the jazz dissipated into nothing. “Come on, no one dances like that,” Christine commented. “What era are you from, the Roaring Twenties?” She handed the Reaper the tambourine. “Watch, you play the tambourine and I’ll show you how to dance.”
“I don’t do tambourines. You have a guitar?”
“What?!! Oh brother, now I’ve heard it all. I guess that’s a joke:
harp, heaven. Huh? That it, a joke?” She was picking up where she left off insofar as being on the verge of tears, then anger, then tears. “What if I told you to leave!”
“I’d go, but I’d be taking you with me. Sure you want me to leave?”
“You have no power over me!”
The Reaper drew a long breath. “I’ve explained that I came at your own request. You gave me the power. You two had a choice. Judd didn’t want a reaper. You did. You made your request at the time of your contract. You checked the box: reaper.”
“I thought it was Grim. Grim Reaper.”
“You who are born with amnesia don’t know anything. Do I look grim?” The Reaper threw in a few more Charleston dance steps, flashed her perfect teeth in an ersatz smile. “I wasn’t even grim at my sentencing! ‘Your honor,’ I said, ‘are you quite certain that I can’t keep the thoroughbred? He’s called Man O’ War and with all the money he’ll earn, I could pay everything back!’ The silly man went apoplectic. For the love of Mike, I wasn’t kidding. The freakin’ horse won the Belmont Stakes and the Preakness! Of course I didn’t own him anymore. The warden, who was a lover of fine horse flesh, filled me in.”
“I’m trying to filter this death stuff through my brain,” Christine said
“Filter it through your soul instead. A far more reliable source.”
“Judd checked ‘no reaper’?” Her voice broke.
“That would be incorrect. He left the reaper box blank. He checked instead ‘quick illness’.” The Reaper made a check mark gesture, with a flourish, on thin air. She sported a big Cheshire Cat grin.
“Oh God, my sweet darling Judd. My sweet sweet love.”
The Reaper laughed wildly. “HA HA HA!! Humans are so sloppy sentimental. How many times do I have to say it: no one dies. No . . . one . . . dies. You try saying it. Go ahead.”
“No one . . . ” Christine began. “What else did I check?” She put an unsteady hand to her throat.
The Reaper’s onyx-black eyes flashed to baby blue, morphed into amber. “You checked ‘surpise me’.”
“You mean . . . you mean I’m at your mercy?”
“That’s hardly a nice way of putting it, do you think? First you seriously ponder putting a bullet through me---”
“Oh dear me; I wouldn’t have done it,” Christine’s voice was sweet with entreaty. “Of course I’m sorry, but I wouldn’t have, you know. Shot you. Why that’s just silly!”
“Would you, um, like some coffee?”
“Actually I was just kidding about you not offering me any. Coffee goes right through me.”
“Oh I get it! A joke. Goes right through you. Jeez, you’re so clever.”
“Man O’ War wasn’t entered in the Kentucky Derby or he’d have won it, too.”
“How could you know that? Another little joke?”
“No joke. I’ll tell you something no other living human being knows: Man O’ War came back to planet Earth as the very great Secretariat. And why? He wanted to win the Triple Crown. Or, well, I sort of talked him into it. ‘You got cheated,’ I told him.”
“I see. You, uh, talk to animals. Right.” Christine’s wheels were spinning. So maybe this reaper was nuts, after all. “And did the horse paw the ground and whinny a reply?” She made her foot paw the floor.
The Reaper was lost in reverie. “How I loved that stallion. Still do. Can you even imagine how proud I was of Secretariat winning the Triple Crown, breaking all records? I was there with him, all the way. I mean I was with him in spirit, of course.”
“Of course,” Christine echo’d.
“So back to the here and now. Judd’s intent is to follow you in a couple of weeks. Puh-leeze don’t start blubbering gain.”
“Why? Why follow?”
“So you wouldn’t go together, obviously. Too upsetting for your friends and parents, what with the wedding completely planned and . . . all that.”
At that moment, Judd entered the bedroom.
“Sweetie! I didn’t hear you come in.” Christine’s voice was filled with palpable relief.
Judd regarded this strange looking female standing there, white as road paint. “Who’s this? Who’s this standing here in her slip?”
Her face lit up. “Do you like it?” the Reaper asked suggestively, striking a pose. “For the life of me I don’t know why slips went out of style. They’re so sexy, don’t you think, Judd? Don’t you think so?”
“Chrissy, aren’t you going to introduce us?”
Christine was glaring at the Reaper. “I would, of course, but this person refuses to tell me her name.”
“Ginny,” the Reaper interjected, extending a flour-white hand to Judd. “Ginny Reaper.”
“Nice scythe,” Judd replied, nodding toward the bed, absently
shaking hands with the Reaper. He found her whiteness off-putting. “Wow,” he added, “your hands are as cold as an Eskimo’s twat!”
“Ginny, then, was just leaving. On her way to a costume party, Judd. She got the wrong apartment, wound up showing me some old-fashioned dance steps; well, it’s a long story.
“The cavalry is here, dear Ms. Reaper. It’s time for you to say toodles! Thanks so much for the story about when you did time for grand theft! That was eye-opening, I must say.” Christine gathered the Reaper’s robes off the floor, reached for the scythe. “Cheerio!” She shoved the Reaper’s back, her hand becoming entangled in her long glossy brown hair.
“Excuse me but would you mind terribly if I got dressed before you give me the bum’s rush?”
“I’ll leave the room,” Judd said, doing his best to avoid sneaking a peek at the Reaper’s pink silk slip, which he couldn’t help but notice hugged her body.
“NO!” Christine bellowed. “You will NOT leave the room!”
Judd shot her a quizzical look. “Okay, all right then; I’ll turn my back.”
He waited. All was tomb-quiet. After long moments, he turned around again. There was no sign of Ginny Reaper, neither hide nor hair.
Nor scythe. He raced to Christine, lying on the bed where the scythe had been.
“Chrissy? Chrissy? Honey, wake up!” He patted her delicate hand.
Her eyes were open; she was not breathing. There were no marks, no visible cause of death.
Brittany Fonte holds an MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction). She has published three books and co-edited a Lambda Literary Finalist in Poetry Anthology. She is an educator and managing editor of Best New Writing. She lives in Annapolis with her wife and two children and is currently working on a middle grade series.
“Mommy and the Craptastic, Full of Shit, Awful, Prozac-Popping Day.”
(Based on the book by Judith Viorst)
I fell asleep watching Netflix (alone), wearing teeth-whitening tape; I woke up to a women’s prison scene, the bleach strip in my hair and my fat cat batting at my wet lashes, claws extended and sharpened. I could tell it was going to be a craptastic, full of shit, awful, Prozac-popping day.
At Starbucks, Ms. Cleavage ahead of me got the hot barista’s number on her recyclable cup, and Ms. Yoga Pants got a free venti upgrade on her sugar-free order, but with my skim latte all I got was caffeine-burned nipples.
I think I’ll take some Ativan.
On the subway train, a regular sat in my space by the grungy window. A tall and leggy guy manspread across two ass spots. I balanced on the germ pole. I had no moist towelettes. I said, “Excuse me, sir. I think I might throw up.” He sighed and watched cell porn.
I could tell it was going to be a craptastic, full of shit, awful, Prozac-popping day.
At work, my boss liked my frenemy’s Excel spreadsheet better than my empty Venn diagram of vodka versus Diet Coke. On a conference call, she said I was “whiney.” (My wife left me!?!?!)
I could tell it was going to be a craptastic, full of shit, awful, Prozac-popping day.
I could tell because Jane said I wasn’t her soulmate anymore. She said that she didn’t want to be tied down and that kids adapt to their parents’ divorce and that monogamy is for the dull.
“I hope your girlfriend leaves you!” I said to Jane. “I hope the next time you get a twenty-two year old, DD-cup her parents stop her allowance and trust and your cootchie dries up!”
I got two emails re: custody before lunch, but my cube-mate got flowers. Sent in a vase. With a poem. And her boyfriend has only been with her four months. They don’t even share an apartment or two cats. Guess whose ex-love always forgot birthdays?
It was a craptastic, full of shit, awful, Prozac-popping day.
That’s what it was because after work Jane and I met at the mediator’s office and he smiled, agreed with Jane. I wrote the check and made a solo appointment.
“Next week,” I said, “Jane’s paying with her girlfriend’s card.”
On the way outside, I tripped down three steps, broke a heel and then heard a rip and felt cool air on my rear. I limped towards the metro. Put a hand where it was chilly. And just when I started wailing, a homeless man asked for cash, and I said no, and he--
shook a cup at me and said, “I can see your beaver,” which wasn’t true, maybe cellulite, definitely more meat than Jane’s child.
“I am having a craptastic, full of shit, awful, Prozac-popping day!” I screamed at a poodle. Said homeless man swigged beer.
I walked into an Ann Taylor for un-ripped pants. The saleswoman asked, “Can I help you?” I said, “Pants. In a size 10.” She handed me three hangers and showed me to a room with bright, brutal lights. My thighs raged against the slim pants. And…I noticed great bloodstains.
I was fucking flooding buckets of blood in too-small pants under fluorescent heat lamps, single with two young kids who had no idea their momma was into boobs when their mommy is fat everywhere BUT her mammaries. And she has sexy, numb C-section scars, too, and she sees a therapist weekly. She’s Norwegian, and has to wax her top lip. It was a craptastic, full of shit, awful, Prozac-popping day.
There were no size “ex wives” in the whole store, so I bought a sweater and tied it around my wide waist. The metro was full. I got sneezed on three times. I ran out of fare on my metro card and then had to ask a man for cash. He gave me two bucks and some trash.
When I got home, I Facetimed the kids but Double D answered by chance and Jane was nude in a towel behind her. So I hurled my phone.
Jane wants to sleep with that Double D, not with me. It is still a craptastic, full of shit, awful, Prozac-popping day. And yet two kids call me “Mommy.”
And I can take Ativan.