Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Michael D. Brown

It Takes a Village

Madame Treyne had crossed the Rubicon in a way she could never explain to old friends and acquaintances, with whom she could not even communicate in any way ever again as her fondest desire had been granted; the person and she had exchanged lives for this and all Christmases to follow. The lonely, imagination-clouded widower who had for many years been caretaker of the colorful little village would now reside, as she had done for several carol-filled weeks perennially in her flower shop and for the rest wrapped in paper along with the others in a box in a dark place, though he would most likely make use of one of the gingerbread cottages that had mysteriously appeared, propitiously electrified, on the west side of the mirror lake, two, perhaps three, years earlier. Time was so hard to reckon these days now that it flowed continuously and did not occur in fits and starts as it had done for as long as she could remember. Her greatest regret on coming to this seemingly unstill life was that the joyously uneventful, yet musically charged days she recalled came again so rarely and held little of the charming ambiance she had formerly found so stultifying, but now missed with all her porcelain heart. There were times, to be sure, so filled with activity she did not have time to think about her former occupation, where it had been so easy to relate with her kind, but for the most part she now experienced the longing to be small and uncharged with responsibility that had shrunk the lonely heart of the person with whom she had traded places for all the wrong reasons. She often found herself gazing upon the unresponsive hand-painted figurines who populated her ever growing holiday village, which was never packed and stored as it sat eternally on display beneath a small, potted, carefully tended pine tree in a dedicated corner of what people sometimes referred to as her living room.

© Author 2011

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Harris Tobias

A Chanukah Story

It was the coldest Chanukah anyone could remember. Icicles hung from the eaves and a cold wind blew the snow into drifts on the lawn. It was the last night of Chanukah and the fully lit menorah would do what it could to compete with the multi-colored twinkling displays of Christmas lights on all the other houses in Stony Glen Estates.. As the subdivision’s only Jewish family, little Sarah Greenstein took special pride showing the menorah in the living-room window. The menorah was a heavy silver antique passed down, like her Jewishness, from her Mother. Unfortunately, it required a rather large odd sized candle which the Greenstiens had to special order many weeks in advance from a Judiaca store in Brooklyn. The candles were kept in the drawer with the tablecloths until they were needed.
This is how Chanukah had been for all of Sarah’s nine years. But this year something had gone wrong with the candle order. The count was wrong and the box from Brooklyn was short the nine candles needed for the last night. Instead of containing 44 candles, which covered all the nights of Chanukah, the candle box was completely empty after the seventh night. Not only were there no special candles left, there were no candles in the house at all and the storm outside made driving to the store impossible.
The mood inside the Greenstein’s house was as dark as the menorah. All around them the neighbor’s houses twinkled and flashed with Christmas color. Some houses had illuminated Santas and sleighs on their roof or lawn, some had reindeer and wise men, and one had a huge inflated snowman. Everywhere there were lights; cascades of lights hung off the roofs and engulfed every shrub and tree. The menorah’s slow build up to its fully lit splendor was all but lost in the Christmas glare.
Alas, it appeared that there was nothing to be done to salvage the situation. The festival of lights was headed for a cold and dark conclusion. Sarah sat in her room disappointed and stared out her window. The neighbor’s colored light show reflected off the icicles hanging from the eaves giving them the appearance of colored rods. Maybe it was that colored glow that gave Sarah the idea that saved this story and her final night. Running down the steps she ran to her father and told him her idea.
“Put icicles in the menorah”? her incredulous father asked. “I don’t think that’s a very good idea. They’ll only melt and make a mess”. But Sarah begged and pleaded until her father put on his winter coat and went to fetch the ladder from the garage. In a few minutes he returned with a pail containing nine icicles just about the size of the menorah’s candles. Sarah set them in their sockets ready for lighting. It looked a little strange but there was no denying it had a certain charm about it. The family gathered around the curious candelabra, joined hands and said the Chanukah prayer. Father even went as far as to light a match and touch it to the shamus, the center candle that lights the others.
No one was more surprised than the Greenstein’s when the icy shamus held the flame just like a real candle. In a few moments all the ice candles were lit and
the menorah burned in full glory. Not only did the menorah burn all night long but, if that weren’t miracle enough, the storm knocked out all the power in Stony Glen Estates plunging it into darkness. The Greenstein menorah was the only light anyone could see for miles around.

© Harris Tobias 2011

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Michael D. Brown

Don't Open 'til Christmas

In the bakery Señor Wemple is making the cookies for the children’s posada because the Christmas season is when he comes alive. The incessant caroling, however, has him a little on edge; it’s not that he doesn’t like Christmas carols, but there are only five of them and they play continuously while the people are away.
The florist, Madame Treyne, has made her most beautiful arrangements and is now sitting back to admire them, and this year a family will stand in front of her window apparently about to enter her shop, but they never will. All year long she works so hard in the box hoping that when they let her out they will appreciate her toiling, but nobody seems to have a care; only she must look her best to please them.
Madame Sparger lives on Crescent Way, alone except for her little dog Caesar, and a rabbit named Luther, and she is unaware that Caesar and Luther, able to communicate with each other, have planned a surprise for her this Christmas. How could a dog and a rabbit execute a plan one might ask, but one must wait, like Madame Sparger, until Christmas morning to find out.

This year there were two new buildings in the village and lights where there never used to be; in addition, children would be able to ice skate on a mirror, but since they rarely had time to move, nobody but tiny Rudolph was able to take advantage of the innovation. A young couple, obviously lovers, she with a muff, and he sporting a tam o’shanter, sat on a park bench that had been installed in the cottony snow bank, never moving even when it was possible; though Rudolph said they had snuggled closer during the time he had ventured out onto the icy mirror. Madame Treyne had looked her absolute best last year before being put in the box, but never reappeared in her florist shop, which continually displayed previously-fashioned arrangements, and it was rumored she had been broken in storage, which happens occasionally. Madame Sparger spent as much time as she could in the bakery with Señor Wemple, which kept him unaware that the caroling repertoire had been increased by several songs from an earlier era, and the two made suppositions as to who might be inhabiting the new houses, if anyone did, as the lights stayed on all hours. Caesar could have told them the little houses were electrified but empty as he discovered from sniffing around, but aside from these few moments snatched from suspended animation, there wasn’t much activity in the village this year, and it was rumored the people rarely went out because times were known to be hard, in spite of the new pieces, which were probably set up to distract from that fact.

With my Lois and Clark ® mug of coffee in hand, I sit staring at less renowned, yet smiling porcelain figurines, and invest whatever emotions I suffer to run into theirs. Outside the season, they don't have any of their own, you see. Before the deaths of friends and loved ones on key dates, it was just a holiday experience, from the ides of November through the opening of January, but lately the time frame has expanded on either side of the calendar, and now my ennui obtains until well past anniversaries in April. As the miasma of the rainy season, with nary a catalytic flake of snow, synthetic or otherwise following, lasts here from April through September, the year is fairly well drenched with unextraordinary days. Sometimes, I wish I could go back in the box and sleep along with Madame Sparger, Señor Wemple, and the rest for eleven months, but then there would be no one to awaken them and let us have our lives. Alternatively, I wish I could, like Superman, fly backwards really fast around the world and relive undamaged days.

© Michael D. Brown 2011

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Harris Tobias

Blang!

Blang! God damn this ground is hard. It’s like steel. The damn pick just bounces off the permafrost? It’s like steel I tell you.
Blang! You hear that? Steel. You try digging in frigging permafrost. No one can.
Blang! And here it is freaking Christmas eve. What the hell am I doing working on Christmas eve anyway?
Blang! At this rate it will take a week to dig the grave. just look at the size of that guy, will you? Just my luck to have to bury a giant fatty.
Blang! There’s got to be a better way. I wish I had some dynamite or some of that High Explosive crap we use. That would make short work of this job. Yeah, dream on. Like anyone cares about making my job easier.
Blang! Who test fires a missile on Christmas eve anyway? What, they don’t have anything better to do? Don’t they have families? Sure they have families. They’re home with their families right now decorating the tree and drinking freaking egg nog while I’m out here freezing my ass off burying some fat guy. It’s so not fair.
Blang! Will you look at that hole? I’ve been banging away for almost an hour and I couldn’t bury a frigging tea cup. Damn this ground is hard.
Blang! Well, I guess things could be worse. They can always be worse, right? Never better, only worse.
Blang!
Blang! Phewwww. Man this is hot work. Look at that poor schmuck. Dead. Dead as a doorknob. What the hell was he doing out on a night like this anyway? Flying around in restricted airspace is asking for trouble?
Blang! Well it could have been worse. At least I don’t have to bury the freaking reindeer.

© Harris Tobias 2011

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Angela

Text Curse

It starts the minute she opens her eyes and she immediately looks at her cell phone to see if the good morning text has arrived; it will be a fine day if it is there already, and if it is not, then the waiting begins before she is even out of the bed and she will try not to take the phone with her into the bathroom while she uses the toilet, showers, and brushes her teeth.

She will fail, and there she will stand with the phone in the bathroom, since she will be able to at least check to see if any message comes in, even though she cannot text back and attend to her basic needs at the same time – although she has tried before. It was clumsy and awkward, and the thought of him finding out what kinds of tasks she might be performing while communicating with him will make her nervous, even though she knows he would have no way of finding out.

Then, wondering why she keeps doing this day after day, she will stare into the mirror, and will think she does it because the good morning message has not come in yet, and she does not want to miss it. This is an answer to the smaller question of why she is doing this at this particular moment, but it does not address the larger question of why she is doing it over and over every day, and why she can’t just text him if she wants to, or dial the phone and speak to him, and hear his radio voice. This larger question echoes against the bathroom tiles and she will ignore it the same way every morning with lessening success.


She will glance frequently at the little screen while she brushes her teeth and pats herself dry and hates herself and questions how she became so woven into this thing that keeps her spun into a strange and tenderly angry fabric. In her worst nightmare it might all be a bluff at love. Then again, maybe it is love and she is just making it crazy with her thoughts, because maybe she does not even know how to recognize love, perhaps - but surely not; he says she is perfect for him.

© Angela 2011

Angela lives an outwardly quiet life in a small town that appreciates that kind of behavior. Inwardly, well, things are different.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

George Masters

The Monster (Concerto for Harp)

The monster entered our hotel room when I wasn’t looking. Anna, my new wife, was standing in front of the mirror admiring her wedding band. Seeing me in the mirror, she glanced over her shoulder and smiled. Wearing black silk pajamas, lipstick and heels, she went back to brushing her hair. She was twenty years my junior and as I sat at the foot of the bed watching her, I had a problem believing in monsters.
She said, “Good evening, Mr. Harp.”
“Dearest Anna.”
“Can it always be like this?”
“Why not?”
“I mean really.”
Wearing black tuxedo trousers, shirt unbuttoned at the neck, tie untied, I nodded.
She said, “Mrs. Thomas Harp. God, I love my new name.”
“I like how it sounds when you say it.” I started to add something but stopped. Something about her and the room had suddenly caused me to change expression and mood. Perplexed, I leaned forward and blinked. Seeing Anna dressed that way, just then and a little out of focus, I found myself staring into the monster.
Beneath a jungle canopy, a monkey called, a bird cried, and nothing moved. After a long silence, an enemy patrol appeared. Clad in black pajamas and khakis, carrying weapons and supplies, they moved swiftly down a vine tangled trail. Appearing, disappearing with ghostly speed, one of them was briefly recognizable as female. The figure that was Anna and not Anna moved like black water. Never a clear picture but an old snapshot just the same. I shook it off.
“What?” she said and turned. Pajama top unbuttoned, she tried to smother concern with a smile. “What’s wrong?”
I didn’t know what to say. I was caught in the past and smelling it.
She ran a red thumbnail down along the fine embroidered collar. “You don’t like it?”
Above and to the left of the trail, Sgt. Mike Davis from Austin, Texas and I lay side by side. Concealed and camouflaged, our faces darkened by mud, we chewed gum, held our fire and observed.
Turning away from Anna, I looked back and saw two of her. I shook my head to clear it.
She said, “Are you all right?”
I tried to focus on her eyes. It wasn’t working. I tried her nose and that didn’t work either. I said, “I do, I do like it.”
In an October rain, tanks moved fast down a muddy road borded by rice paddies. In a ditch off the road, a woman wearing black silk pajamas and a cone straw hat stood next to her bicycle waiting for us to pass. Tanks bouncing, treads throwing mud, we grinded toward the fighting in the hills to the west, the distance wet and green. Riding on top of one of the tanks, I was soaked and hollow eyed. Cigar stump clamped between my teeth, rifle in one hand, I held on to the tank with the other and stared at the woman until I lost sight of her.
Uncertain if she should be hurt or angry, Anna pouted. “You don't like it, fine, I'll change.” Beginning to take off her silk top, I raised my hand and she stopped. She blinked rapidly. “Then what’s the matter?”
“You look terrific.”
“No I don’t.”
On a hot, dry afternoon in Happy Valley, The fire fight was over. Dirty and exhausted Marines, smoked, reloaded, pissed in the grass and checked their weapons. Drinking water, emptying canteens over bare heads and down our necks, we moved about the enemy corpses making sure they were just that. Helicopters circled overhead preparing to land. Green smoke from the LZ mixed with the patches of fire in the still burning grass. Occasional shots sounded in a tree line.
I stood above a dead young woman, my rifle pointed at her feet. Wearing black pajamas and crossed ammo belts, she curled on the ground, knees drawn up like my sister with a stomach ache. Tough, dirty bare feet, empty ammo pouches, the flies were starting to land in her hair. Shrapnel had punctured her neck and temple. The girl had lovely perfect teeth and an arm blown off at the shoulder.
Cocking her head, she took a step toward me. “Tom, what is it?”
My breathing was ragged. I was sweating and a ringing sounded in my ears. I found myself having to speak above the noise in my head. “Don’t ever wear a cone hat with that outfit.” My tone of voice surprised me and changed her eyes.
Anna took a step back. “A what?”
“Cone hat. Chinese, Vietnamese hat, looks like a lamp shade.”
She took another step back. “Okay.” She looked around the room and then down at herself before closing the black silk top with her hand. “I’m sorry, Tom. I mean I guess I’m sorry, I don’t know what to say.”
“Don’t be sorry.” My voice sounded like it was coming through a bad radio connection.
“I hoped you’d like it.”
I stood and with everything I had, I willed the war to depart. I cleared my throat. “I love your pajamas.” I saw she didn’t believe me. “Anna, you look sensational. Please, come here.”
“You sure?”
I went to her, and she didn’t run for the door. Holding her ground she gave me a suspicious look.
“Yes, Mrs. Harp, I’m sure.”
Then Anna did that thing with her eyes and mouth-- part smile and part mystery question, as if she knew the answer and wanted to see if maybe I did. It was a look that made me forget everything else in the room; in the world. She said, “How sure?”
I held my arms out.
“That much?”
“For starters.”
She raised an eyebrow. “For starters?” I nodded.
She came into my arms. “Then Kiss me, you fool.”
I did. And she kissed me back.

© George Masters 2011

George Masters was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Vietnam. After the Marine Corps he attended Georgetown University and began to write. He has recently completed the crime novel "Trouble Breathing" and is seeking a publisher. More of his work can be seen at www.georgeeyremasters.net

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bill Lapham

Appomattox Exodus

Jim Noah and James Dix were tending their generals’ horses outside Wilmer McLean’s red brick colonial in the village of Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. Jim looked neat in his best blue uniform, brass shined, leather polished, clean shave. James was a skinny man with long, scraggly blond hair and bright eyes. He was dressed in his best grey uniform, the one with patches in places. He wore dusty boots with holes in the soles and he was chewing tobacco. He spat some on the ground in Jim’s general direction, testing him. But Jim took no offense, he’d seen enough fighting.
“What’s his name?” Jim inquired of the gray horse James was grooming.
“This ‘ere is Traveller,” James said.
“This is Cincinnati.”
“Looks fast,” James said, not looking at the horse, but tending to his own chores.
“Is,” Jim said.
Jim tried to take advantage of the broken ice.
“My name’s Jim.”
“James.”
“I go by Jim.”
“I go by James,” he said, squinting one eye against the afternoon glare to see if the other kid got it. He did.
“Huh,” Jim grunted. “You figure the war’s over, James?”
James leant over and spat on a nearby rock, away from Jim this time.
“If Gen’l Lee says it is, it is,” he said.
“What if he says it ain’t?”
“Then I’ll shoot you.”
“Hell you say,” Jim said with a chuckle. “What if he says go home?”
“I’ll do whatever the Gen’l says to do.”
They worked on their horses as they waited for the generals to emerge from the house; each minute seemed to take an hour’s time. Jim wondered how such a big decision could be left to two mere mortal men. Maybe they were immortal, he thought. They were still alive, weren’t they?
“Where’s home?”
“Russell County, Alabama,” James said in his best southern drawl.
“What’d’ya do before the war?”
“You got a lotta questions, don’t you, Yank?”
“Jus’ curious, I guess.”
“I went to school, like you.”
They didn’t look very old, twenty, maybe twenty-one, Jim figured.
“How ‘bout y’all?”
“Small town in southern Indiana—on the river.”
“What river?”
“The Ohio.”
“What’s the name of the town?”
“Rising Sun.”
“Huh,” James grunted. “Sounds like an Injun name.”
“River runs north south there. Town’s on the west bank. Sun comes up over the river.”
“Sounds nice.”
“Is.”
The horses were still saddled because no one knew how long the generals would take. They ate from feed bags as the orderlies tended their duties.
Presently, they heard a loud southern voice.
“Orderly!”
“Oh shit, that’s Gen’l Lee.” James quickly removed the feed bag from Traveller’s nose and hustled the horse around front of the house.
“I’m headed back to camp, James.”
“Yes sir,” James replied. “Gen’l, sir?”
General Lee looked down from his mount, blinking back tears.
“Gen’l, is the war over?” James asked.
“It is for us, son,” he said, looking across the rolling countryside. “It is for us.”
James wasn’t sure if he was sad or relieved. He had survived his father who was killed at Second Manassas, early on. He was only sixteen at the time. Seemed like a century had passed since then. He wasn’t sure where his mother was, or if she was still alive. He’d heard stories of Sherman’s campaign in the South. Wasn’t sure if Opelika even existed anymore.
*     *     *
James rode into Opelika, Alabama five weeks after Appomattox. He had the horse at a slow walk as he looked around the ruined town. He saw a few women and children, some old men, but nobody his own age. He stopped at a saloon, lashed his horse to weather-beaten hitching fence and stepped inside.
The floorboards creaked as he walked to the bar. His spurs rattled. His visage in the mirror looked thinner than he remembered the last time he looked in a mirror. He asked the old man tending the bar for a drink of whiskey. The bartender wiped out a shot glass, set it in front of James and poured him a drink.
“Not many men around here your age, son,” the old man said.
James took a sip and felt the warm liquid slide down his throat. The burn felt good. A glow ignited in his belly.
“You know a lady named Annabelle Dix?” James asked.
“I might. Who’s askin’?”
“She’s my mother. I ain’t seen her since the war started.”
“You Philip’s boy?”
“Yes sir.”
“You know where he’s at?”
“Kill’t. At Second Manassas.”
“Huh.”
The old man was washing glasses, shining them with his bar rag while he tried to correlate similar dates with disparate events. Maybe some things were related, he figured.
“I ain’t seen Annabelle since around that time, I guess.”
“Any idea where she got off to?” James asked, finishing his drink and placing the glass on the bar.
“No, I’m sorry.”
“Hmph.”
“You’d be James then?”
“That’s right.”
“I remember you boys running around town when you were youngsters, raising hell. Where you been?”
James had to think. Where hadn’t he been? The 15th Alabama had fought at Front Royal, Gaines Mill, Manassas, Sharpsburg, Gettysburg, Chickamauga, Knoxville, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, and those were just the big ones. He couldn’t count the skirmishes in places with no names.
“I been wherever Gen’l Lee’s been.”
The old man gave a soft whistle.
“And you’re still alive?” the bartender said in a tone like he’d just entered a sacred tomb.
“Jus’ lucky, I guess. What happened here?” James asked.
“Yankees sacked the place last summer,” the old man replied, filling the boy’s glass again. “Most folks high-tailed it outta here ahead of ‘em.”
“But not you?”
“I’m old. I tend a bar. Shoot me,” he said. “They busted up the tracks for thirty miles east of town and burnt the warehouses.”
“Did many folks come back?”
“Some did. It’ll take some time, I reckon.”
James finished his drink and reached in his pocket for coinage.
“Drink’s on the house, James. Welcome home.”
“Think I’ll ride around some; see what I can see.”
“You do that. I’ll be here.”
James stepped back into the springtime sun. He tilted his head back and closed his eyes, it felt good to be alive, to breathe warm southern air. He mounted the horse he called Bama and continued down Main Street. He made his way out of town and headed southeast toward Salem. His mother’s house was about halfway between the two towns.
Outside Opelika he passed the warehouses that before the war stored cotton awaiting shipment east and north by rail. During the war, the warehouses stored war materiel: bullets, bombs and blankets, everything an army needs to conduct offensive operations far afield. Now their roofs were caved in, timbers burnt black and sticking up at odd angles inside distressed brick walls. The fire was out and the smoke was gone but the ruins remained and probably would for foreseeable future. Who would have the confidence to rebuild them?
It took him the rest of the afternoon to reach his house, what was left of it. Somebody had torched it. It had not been far from the tracks that connected Montgomery to Atlanta, so he figured it was probably Yankees that did it. Safe assumption anyway. Not that it mattered. The house was gone, but they didn’t destroy the barn. Seemed odd. The fields where they grew vegetables had gone to seed and was overgrown with four years worth of thistle and assorted other weeds.
He dismounted Bama but held on to the reins. He stood for a moment, listening. There was a soft breeze blowing in the pines that reminded him of his childhood. It was dead quiet but for the pines. The sun hid dipped below the tops of the trees but it had not set. He led his horse around to the barn, slid open the door and released a flock of doves that scared the dickens out of him and riled Bama a little bit. He patted the horse’s neck and they both calmed down. He stepped inside and waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness.
There were a few bales of hay laying around, farm implements in various stages of disintegration and rust. Dirt and dust and cobwebs. Tools lying under a blanket of dust. A familiar smell, too, the smell of something dead. Light leaked through the cracks between the boards. There were holes in the roof. He probably could have found a dry comfortable place to sleep but something didn’t feel right, a feeling of foreboding. Maybe it was the dead animal smell. At any rate, he was not comfortable inside the barn. They turned and went back outside. It didn’t look nor feel like rain was imminent, so he decided to spend the night where he had spent so many nights in the last four years, outside on the ground.
“C’mon, Bama. Let’s get us some’n to eat.”

© William Lapham 2011

Bill Lapham started writing a few years after he retired from the Navy. This is what came out last. You can find more of his stuff at Just a Pedestrian.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Joe Gensle

Prey of a Grey Panther

With a wig that’s never quite straight on her broad head, she’s the elderly, heavily perfumed relative who kisses you on the mouth and transfuses enough Max Factor #16 Fiery Red to your oral area, in clown width, to rouge Warren Jeff’s entire family families.

Ger-Nads’ was our Aunt Gert’s nickname because of her old-lady mustache and to convey that what she dishes out is as bad, maybe worse, than you’d want from any man. Angry, she’s bristle ‘n gristle with laser sights on your every weakness. Aunt Gert redefines vitriol as the gasoline additive to fiery tempers that maul you by mouth. She creates fireworks of revenge that shoot straight at the gas tank of your life, and the chances of your survival are as good as hiding between the double-o in “moot.”

There are three things to remember about Gert’s revenge:
1. It’s worse than Montezuma’s;
2. The consequences are beyond unpleasant;
3. It’s multi-tiered.

I’m being too rough on her? Consider:

Aunt Gert took her bashed, battle-wagon of a car in for engine repairs. The estimate was $1,340. The next day, the garage owner called and told her the car had bigger problems. The estimate rose to $1900. She agreed to have the additional repairs done and was promised the car two days later.

Promptly two days later, she showed up at the garage and was waiting for her turn at the counter. There was one of those word processor-made signs on the wall behind the register that read:

The Only Checks We Accept Are Corn, Wheat or Rice.
So Snap-Crackle-Pop Your Credit Card or Cash.
Thank you.
Piedrum’s Garage


She got to the counter, stated her name and a man presented her repair ticket.
“Your car’s ready and the total came to $1,872.21,” and he excused himself to answer the phone. When he turned back to her, a check lay on the counter in the correct amount. He said, “We take a credit or debit cards or cash, Ma’am, no checks” using a thumb to gesture at the sign over his shoulder. (Aunt Gert seethes when people address her as ‘Ma’am’)

“You’ll take this check right now and give me my keys.”
“Ma’am? Ain’t happening, Ma‘am. There’s the sign. You see it. I’ve told you. No pay, no car.”
“Bruce--if that emblem’s really your name or did you grab the only shirt that didn’t stink--CAN YOU READ or are you as dumb as a greased rear-view mirror!!?” she bellowed.

He didn’t reply. She pointed to the imprinted, personal check.

“This says, “Gertrude Joetta Rice, with my address, and I have state-issued I.D. to match. Your own sign says you accept, quote, “Rice” checks! GIVE. ME. MY. KEYS YOU LUBE-GOOBER!” she roared, causing denture clack, using a tone that causes dogs to whimper and small children to paw at their mothers’ inner thighs seeking reentry into their wombs.

It sure wasn’t the good Lord who blessed her 166-pound frame with a Transformers-like mouth that converts her taste buds into verbal Slice ’n Dice machines.

“Ma’am, we can do this the easy way or the hard way. Credit or cash is easy. The cops taking you out of here is hard… and, we still keep the car.”

Aunt Gert flipped-open her smart-phone, photographed the sign, and used her gum to stick her check to inner glass door’s upper pane. She photographed that, too, and left like a Brahma bull leaving a rodeo chute.

The next day, Mr. Piedrum called. They argued. She asserted they could now deliver the car. He countered: she could pay with cash or plastic like everybody else or he’d put a mechanic’s lien on the car, to which she agreed when she signed the original repair authorization. Aunt Gert snorted he best get her car into her driveway.

In the weeks that passed. I lost my part-time job stocking parts and cleaning up ...at Piedrum’s.

Sure as paper towels don’t tear on the perforations, the lien was executed by an angry Mr. Piedrum who left Aunt Gert a phone message: “We sold your car for $9,500, took our $1,872.21 for repairs, and another $600 for sixty days’ storage, and mailed you a check for $7,027.29.”

Just his word, “check,” set her off like a top fuel dragster. It was all-out war. “I’m on Piedrum like “Rice on white,” she shared with an evil grin as cockeyed as her wig. But the cell phone photos were straightforward and worthwhile.

She e-mailed General Mills and Kellogg’s, attaching the sign photo, with the query, ”Are these fellows making fun of my favorite cereal?” for which Aunt Gert received an envelope with a slew of coupons for free General Mills’ products and a thank you letter from their V.P of Consumer Relations, complemented by in-kind coupons from Kellogg’s.

The garage got two “Cease and Desist” orders from a judge, via complaints filed by General Mills and Kellogg’s legal departments. The local paper splashed the story with photos, citing Aunt Gert’s ‘elder abuse’ complaints and you can guess what that did for the number of customers bringing cars in for repairs and estimates.

She leveraged her age, sympathy and mechanics-are-thieves arguments to tip persuasion’s greed scale to land a lawyer. She sued and won. Her judgment against the garage paid for a car fancier than her last, and even covered the rental car.

The garage is now a pizza parlor, whose owner gave me a delivery job.

Every year, Clovis Piedrum gets a Christmas card signed “Miss G.J. Rice.” There’s always a personal check enclosed for $1, along with a coupon for breakfast cereal that caused us to replace her ‘Ger-Nads’ nickname with “Cereal Killer.”

We’d lie under oath before admitting it because we don’t want any of what Gert-the-Hurt dishes out when she‘s uncorking the devil’s own wrath, Hell bent for Sunday.

© Joe Gensle 2011

Joe Gensle lives in the Desert Southwest with his dog Coconut. He enjoys international travel, music composition, and is working on a novel. He frequently lurks at sixsentences.ning.com and at headseeds.blogspot.com

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Deboleena Bose

Hazel Eyes

A quiet empty home. A resigned empty heart. And silenced emptiness within. Amidst them, Isabel and her defeated self struggled to strangle the turmoil within; fearful it might set itself free. Her once familiar space, the bathroom, reeked of an oddity, quite unknown to her senses. Cloistered, she could almost feel the weight of the barrenness that had engulfed her and her life. The walls around seemed disconcerted. Perhaps, they had sensed the disquiet brewing deep under her skin, she thought.

Isabel sat, all by herself, nursing a lesion she had long managed to hide from the world outside. In the gloom of her muted presence it had spread; a contagion that had left her with no hope of deliverance. Infected, she yearned to find solace in it. It, however, chose to devour her in return.

Unwrapping the past has never been easy, especially one wrought with fears, loneliness and heartaches. The wounds heal with time; their scars linger behind, unsullied and fresh. Isabel had always run away from her times of yore; she had run as fast as she could and as distant as she could get. Yet, they never ceased to chase her, irk her, breathe and grow with her. Like a shadow, she thought, they would follow her to her grave someday.

Though orphaned at birth, deep down in her heart Isabel had clung on to a sacred belief; an unwavering faith that became the center of her existence; her conviction that sooner or later, love would certainly come knocking at her door. A firm believer in ‘a happy ever after’, Isabel knew in her heart of hearts, that all she needed to do was await it; wait as tolerantly as she possibly could. And so, when love did touch her life one day, she embraced it with open arms and gave it all. Those hazel eyes and Evan came to mind.

Soaked in agony, and plagued by sharp jabs inside, Isabel cringed. Inundated in emotions that bore neither a name nor form, tears arose from the depths of her subconscious and began to flow. Warm and blissful, they brought along nothing; nothing except recollections of a history she had chosen to consciously forget. And then, without a sign, those derisive visions, ominous figures, trampled forms, those muffled voices, the mayhem and the paranoia - all came rushing back to her. A choked and breathless Isabel quivered at their retreat.

As she braced herself to revisit the past, Isabel comprehended despondently the severity of the collateral damage she had inflicted upon herself. With no turning back, running away was no longer even an option. Harrowed persistently to the point of no return, she had to make one absolutely frantic strive to face the demons of the portentous night. She had to walk through hell, yet again.

Shaken by the very thought of it, Isabel could feel the strong pounding of a wounded heart that beat inside her. Her fears and the familiar sinking feeling came riding back – the ill-fated night rose from the dead. Along came fiendish recollections of the car crash that had blown it all up. One turbulent night had robbed her of all she had held dear – her faith, her future and her love. The tempest had rocked her world and ripped her apart, crushing her and tender dreams, once and for all. When the dust settled, everything around had fallen silent. And contained in it was a shattered Isabel, her broken heart, and a motionless Evan. The night had taken him away; never to return to her again.

Isabel fell apart. And as she disintegrated, tears welled up her eyes. Realizing she had long lost the battle, a frail Isabel, all battered and bruised, decided to yield. It was time to let her guard down; time to let herself go. She heaved a sigh of relief. As she turned on the shower, water began to trickle down her bare flesh and every pore of her being seemed to respond to its warmth. A burden lifted off her chest, Isabel felt light and invigorated.

The foul taste of an abruptly ended nightmare still fresh in her mind, Isabel felt gratified to be jolted awake. Exhausted by the journey, nevertheless, she was content to be a part of the experience. The past though dead would evidently never be gone. Isabel and her world had been altered perpetually, destined never to reclaim their aboriginal dimensions again. An amicable coexistence with bygone times would make no difference to her existence, she discerned. What it could, however, do was lend some credence to her life and make living a lot more worthwhile; perhaps, hearten her some day, to see the world in a new light – through those hazel eyes.

© Deboleena Bose 2011

About the writer: Deboleena lives by the river Hudson.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Brian Michael Barbeito

How The Globalists Ruined My Summer Vacation

Those were WW2 houses- built just after the war, and they were all very similar. They felt like bungalows- because there were only a few steps up to the top floors- and the yards were small but well. What this meant was that they made sense. What that meant was that in those days, there were not as many extravagant pools and showy decks anyway. There were not four foot stainless steel BBQs and outdoor furniture. There was hardly any decadence and decay at all. Instead there was a moral fibre- and that is not said sarcastically- on the worst day there was moral fibre- more of it than on the best day decades later. See, in that time- the country was equipped with a strong working class. To be a radical was not even that threatening to many- but more of a Halloween show or youthful immature gesture full of romanticism and naiveté. And to be rich- well- that was for someone else- someone far away- and someone you heard of through another person, but didn’t know and would never know. There weren’t really cigarette boats on the docks or too many kidney shaped pools with a stone mason outdoor Jacuzzi. You just gotta have it! - Have you seen the latest? Well, those houses...they were well kept, and though sometimes the women knew things or took some work- for the most part they did not. The men- the fathers and husbands- worked in lumberyards, in factories, as motor rewinders, or as shipping and receiving men, as yard hands and drivers, as welders, and on roads, docks, and railways. Some were engineers, accountants, or even entrepreneurs. The seasons came when they were supposed to- autumnal hues in the late months that brought the dawn of winter on. Cold icy snow months- with icicles and boots- and the spring- where showers were directed into gullies and streams-. And of course the summer- its bright proud flowers watching the inhabitants of the place- these flowers growing in sync with the arching summer sun as it grew in the sky.
But something changed in the decades to come- and it was not only in that town. Sometimes the result of something you see has many factors- and things conspire to make a place downtrodden and sadder. And sadness can flip flop into constant melancholy- which can border on danger or hopelessness in time if not checked. And it was not the inhabitants only that experienced this- it was the brick and trees, and the trellises and eaves, it was the streams even in the distance- and somehow possibly the sun itself! It was impossible to really believe- to truly believe in the place- in the country- in the economy. The globalists had fucked everything up- willfully- through their plans. One couldn’t be an economic nationalist if one wanted- through any intention- unless you were a Freeman, or a Ruby Ridge type! Manufacturing was outsourced oversees- so was one third of the service industry- and how they did that through telecommunications was easy- and a sin- but they did it. Well, they could manufacture anything, and sometimes they even manufactured wars- just to keep their thing going- and to keep you looking the other way- like a global sleight of hand- magician playing tricks- and not a very good magician- but the only game in town. And the town. Well- many towns had polluted water from Hydraulic Fracturing- but that was another thing. The main thing was that that town was half unemployed. The next quarter was only marginally employed, and the fourth quarter was employed in minimum wage jobs- what the pencil necks and university geeks had thought to call- recipients of competitive wages. The audacity! “Competitive wages.” The guys who thought up terms like that were no doubt the sons and daughters of the globalists.

It went on like that. And on any given day in that place- you would not want to make too much eye contact- because it was getting rougher and rougher. The laissez faire economy and its trickle effect hadn’t trickled down. Someone had put a stop to the money-water. The only thing trickling was some beer that a shirtless man with sleeve tattoos spilt on his chest- as he raised his arm. Then he wiped his lips with the front of his forearms, and lit a smoke. Life was good, he thought, as it was a sunny day, - and he thought about the new tires he was getting. It had only cost four more dollars to order white letters. That was cool. That was awesome. As for the Globalists, he never heard of em’ really, and didn’t care much about basketball anyway.

© Brian Michael Barbeito 2011

Brian Michael Barbeito writes short fiction. His work has appeared at Glossolalia, Exclusive Conclave of Delights Magazine, Lunatics Folly, and Mudjob. He resides in Ontario, Canada.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Toby Tucker Hecht

Descent

Peter had ignored his wife Nella when she first began to complain about her symptoms. There had been earlier periods like that in their marriage, times when Nella wanted more attention, more gratitude, and more affection. At those times, she’d had headaches and indigestion, and had been given to emitting long pensive sighs, especially at the dinner table or while Peter was trying to enjoy thirty minutes of television before he began his preparations for the next work day. Peter had always responded the same way, by doing exactly the opposite of what was being asked. Giving in was a bad thing—for him and for Nella. It changed the rules of the game and created ambiguity. Once he’d refrained from love-making for an entire month until she got the whining out of her system. It was the tactic his brother had used with his wife, and it had worked for them; they’d just celebrated their fifteenth wedding anniversary.
Nella had wanted children. Peter knew this. He hadn’t exactly said no, but relentlessly postponed the possibility with her. He felt proud that he hadn’t hurt her feelings outright about it; he just did what he had to do.
Nella kept a journal. He imagined she wrote about her girlfriends, the gossip they never seemed to tire of, and complaints about their husbands. She wrote in it every night before going to sleep. He had no interest in looking at the journal. It was left unlocked on the night table beside the bed. She trusted him. They had a good marriage.

When she began to bruise—big purple and yellow splotches on her extremities, he asked her if she’d been walking into things. She stared at him and said that she thought she ought to see a doctor. Something was wrong. Very wrong. She felt so horribly tired and her gums bled when she brushed her teeth. Peter told her that she needed to floss her teeth more often. And of course she was tired. If she’d only get more exercise she’d be in better shape. He was happy that she accepted his suggestions without a fuss. He hated women who became defensive about everything.
A month later, Nella began to run a fever. Peter gave her Tylenol and said, “See how I take care of you. How many other husbands do that?” She could hardly hold up her head, but she smiled at him. She stopped writing in her journal.
Peter had been preparing a presentation that, if successful, would mean a great deal of money for his company. He stayed late at the office for days at a time, which was just as well since Nella had stopped cooking dinner. He often found her in her pajamas lying on the sofa under a quilt—even on warm days—when he returned at night. He wondered when Nella would snap out of her self-absorption. She’d become rather demanding, asking him to take off from work to accompany her to the doctor. He was a professional, not an hourly wage earner. Couldn’t she get one of her gossipy do-nothing friends to take her if she wasn’t up to going herself?

Then, he arrived home one day and couldn’t arouse her. He called 911. A whirlwind of ambulance sirens, IV tubes, and radio transmissions to the emergency room, was followed by blood tests, scans, physical examinations, and an admission to the Intensive Care Unit of the University Hospital. Peter waited for hours, sitting, pacing, and then he stood on the other side of the thin curtain listening to the doctors speak about her grave condition. Was she really not pulling a stunt this time?
And then they were talking to him. Nella was terribly far-gone. They told him the name of the syndrome. He’d never heard of it before. If they’d seen her earlier in the disease process, they said, they might have been able to save her, or at least prolong her life, but now, well, they were very, very sorry. It was a matter of weeks, at best.
“She must have been very good at covering up her illness to you,” one of the doctors said. “She must have had her reasons,” another added, fixing her gaze directly at Peter. “Go home and get some rest.”
He called a taxi and returned to the house. It was then he detected the penetrating smell of sickness in the bedroom among the still damp, crumpled sheets. How had he failed to notice it before? He sat down on the bed and put his head in his hands. That was when he saw Nella’s journal. He turned to the last page, an entry of over a month before. There was a date written in a shaky handwriting, next to which was a long letter, to him.
He didn’t read it then, although in the days and weeks and even years after Nella’s death—whenever he felt the need to do penance—he would.

© Toby Tucker Hecht 2011

Toby Tucker Hecht is a scientist and short story writer. Her fiction has been published in The MacGuffin, The Baltimore Review, THEMA, The Foundling Review, Red Wheelbarrow, Epiphany, and other print and online literary journals. She is working on a series of short stories with singing or dancing somewhere in the plot. When not writing, she can be found at the National Cancer Institute in Maryland where she is passionate about translational research, that is, taking promising concepts developed in the laboratory and testing them in the clinic for the benefit of cancer patients. Toby blogs at the Six Sentence Social Network http://sixsentences.ning.com/profile/TobyTuckerHecht

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Vivian Faith Prescott

A Dead Woman's Shoes

Ten pairs of shoes, laces intertwined with Styrofoam and plastic six-pack rings, piled together, tossed aside at the Wrangell City Dump. I untangled laces as if unraveling the mystery of her lingering within the musty cardboard box.
I rummaged through her life–way worn soles of brown patent leather, faded red cheerleader shoes, black dress flats, tennies and white canvas slides. Now, I wear the dead woman’s shoes and each stride senses that my footfalls have somewhere else to go; each step pulses her soul’s quickening. And as I walk, I wonder where her shoes might have tread, where she is now—if she even needs shoes. And if I continue to wear the dead woman’s shoes, will she forever be a transient, footloose—walking from her world to mine.

In My Father's Cabin

The oil-barrel stove sears fire, spinning black soot into spider webbed patterns on the ceiling. Wool socks hang drying on bunk bed rails, river sand scatters across the floor. On cabin porch, I swat mosquitoes, and glimpse a dark silhouette awash in graying light; its yellow eyes lope into my thoughts.

It is here at the end of the world that clan brother chases sun and moon, fleeing with tracks and windblown sand. Inside the cabin, my sleeping bag is unable to warm the howls wounding the nightfall; its aching bay answered
deep the timber behind the cabin.

Like the man beneath the transformation mask, the cry releases loosely hinged cedar, unfolds its split image panels and exhales on the burning lantern, bellowing the flickering shapes, shifting cabin wall to forest path, invoking a story my grandparents told me about hunting in Thomas Bay—
at dusk wolves ambled through the treeline and in waning daylight, stood—transformed—and walked like men.

Doubt

Last Sunday the preacher said she must believe
          in three gods, in wrath, in brimstone,

fire and death, things she could not see.
          But this, she glimpsed every night

from her veranda, their glint and flash,
          their phosphorescent fins.

So one night, shadowed on the cliff
          behind the old Iglesia, she stood atop

her grandmother's crumbling crypt,
          let her words be her guide, the black chant

of ancient fishermen curling her tongue in exotic fire.
          And with a hand loop on her wrist,

coiled line and net, the lead line over her left shoulder,
          she unwound her body into that space

between twilight and morning where belief
          sometimes nestles, gray and faded.

and pulled in with all her strength
          a castnet bursting with silver stars.

© Vivian Faith Prescott 2011

Vivian Faith Prescott lives in Kodiak, Alaska. She and her family are involved in the Lingít language revitalization in Southeast Alaska, and have established a non-profit called Raven’s Blanket, which is designed to enhance and perpetuate the cultural wellness and traditions of Indigenous peoples through education, media, and the arts; and to promote artistic works throughout Alaska by both Native and non-native Alaskans. Vivian has been published in several journals and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize in Poetry. She blogs at: Planet Alaska http://planetalaska.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Callan

The Littlest Truck Driver

The family Holiday stood ankle deep in mud outside the gates of the graveyard. The sky rumbled and dark clouds rolled in. In the distance, lightning streaked the horizon. The tallest member of the family flung an arm upward in a futile gesture of frustration. There was an enormous crack of thunder that shook the ground and rattled the gates of the graveyard. The gates were not locked but the wind from the storm had slammed them closed in the night, and now the thunder shook the air, and the gates swung open. The man dropped his arm, startled at the coincidence. He rested his hand on the broad speckled back of his eldest daughter. He gave her a gentle shove. She was the first through the gate. Once on the other side, she turned towards her family and facing them broke into a short routine of light calisthenics. The rain began to fall, and after the applause she jogged towards her grandfather’s grave. The rest of the family followed, stopping at the gatehouse to retrieve the coffin. They marched in the mud with singular purpose through the storm, towards the open grave.
The grave was filled with water, and the coffin would not fit. The senior male member of the family looked skyward and signaled violently with his hands. Planes rushed over head in the distance. The slow pragmatic sound of heavy equipment could be heard. Temporarily the wind and rain slacked a bit. The dark sky hung above the muddy graveyard, and the Holiday family redirected their vapid gaze away from the scarred earth, towards the sound of approaching equipment.
The crew appeared, a flotilla of heavy machinery in the thick sea of mud. The tractor lost its balance and had to back up. “BEEP BEEP BEEP” it cried as it pulled itself free from the heavy mud. The driver had decorated the inside of his cab with cheery Christmas lights. The bulldozer behind him had lashed a pink Christmas tree to its grill and streams of blinking lights were dragged behind it in the mud. The truck with the sump pump pulled abreast of the two greater machines, but what the little truck lacked in stature it made up for in enthusiasm. The entire truck was outlined in lights and a deer shape comprising lights was mounted on top of the cab. It was a marvelous sight and a cheer went up from the Holiday family as they saw assistance approaching.
They were so eager to show their appreciation that they tore flowers from the funeral wreaths and stripped petals form the stalks, tossing them in front of the tractor. The operator was so moved that he leaned out of his cab, and steering with his knees, gave a gentle, magnanimous wave, coquettishly turning and glancing over his shoulder to the delight of the mourners, who laughed and clapped and cheered, until their joy turned on them and became a unified sorrow.
The Holiday family collapsed in a heap and began to wail, so that when the smug, festive little truck driver passed them, they threw no flowers and raised no cheers, and he took it to heart, and was wounded by their apathy. After all, he thought, I am the one who will drain the grave of water so that they can commend their grandfather to the earth.
He pulled alongside the bigger machines, exited the cab of his truck and approached the heavy equipment operators who were loathe to help him unload the sump pump. The heavy equipment operators didn’t want to know the driver of the little truck. They haphazardly helped him to unload. Then, they walked away without a word, leaving the driver of the little truck alone to complete the arduous task of drainage.
The family Holiday continued to weep as a group, finding consolation in their shared misery.
The driver of the little truck had to work furiously, against time, against the weather, all alone, soaked through to the skin, while the heavy equipment operators relaxed, waiting until they were needed.

*     *     *

At last, the grave was drained, and the driver of the little truck was exhausted. He slogged through the heavy mud to inform the Holiday family, who were moaning and flailing their arms in a demonstration of sorrow. But they had grown weary of their own show, and only wanted to get out of the elements, and when the senior member of the family saw the approach of the driver, he broke off from the group and met the man, rested a heavy hand on one of his shoulders and passed a damp twenty dollar bill into his hand. The little truck driver’s spirits were lifted. Anyone could see how empty the construction show was. People needed him. He should not get so down; he was the one people needed. He strode back to his little truck and hopped into its little cab and sped away from the graveyard. He moved so swiftly that the deer mounted on the top of the cab fell off, but he did not stop for it--only chased the rest of the morning through the graveyard gate, leaving behind the family Holiday, and the vainglorious heavy equipment operators.

© Callan 2011

Callan left Orange County, Ca. in 2007 and moved to the country to focus full time on her writing. Her work is featured at Six Sentences and her blog: theworksofjanecallan

Edward Dean

Bob Boyce (I'll Be Around)

The full dark straight hair that framed Bob Boyce’s long slender face made his large sleepy eyes more pronounced. It seemed to speak to his sexuality. His ruddy pock marked face added strength to the perception.
Bobby used his overactive libido to solve his loneliness. His frequent forays to the local bars could always yield a female in desperate need of attention. Alcoholic playgrounds seemed to be a magnet for the lonely. Everyone there was looking for a respite from seclusion. It solved the inconsolable need for human contact. Whether it was simple conversation or the warmth of another body, Bobby was always accommodating. Most evenings, a willing female participant accompanied Bobby home. His well honed skills as a lover made him a favorite with this frantic crowd. They used him to fulfill some void in their lives. He had a latent emotional sense that could satisfy their fantasies. His ongoing trysts never lasted. Whenever a female partner put burdens upon him or demanded that he be faithful, he gracefully departed. To say that he was shallow did not speak to the core of his being. It was more of a lack of a time. His most deep-seated fear was death. A family history of all closely related males dying prematurely gave cause to Bobby’s fear. Few had lasted for more than forty or fifty years. He knew his life would be short. In a way it was peaceful and easy for Bob. He faced his own mortality early on in life when it was easy to look into the face of death and not blink. The sudden shock of his first angina attack at an early age of thirty-six put this certainty into focus. From then on, every day was a new beginning for Bob. To taste every nuance of every offering from life was a mission that he pursued with vigor!
Most any evening, you could hear the soft lilting tones of Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett emanating from his apartment. He had literally worn out two copies of Franks The Wee Small hours of the Morning album. If there was ever a piece of music that spoke to his soul, this was it! The serenity of the midnight hour was comforting to Bob; he had tasted and relished another day.
The song, Wee small hours, would set the tempo for his melancholia. By the time he got to When your lover has gone, he would be well into his second scotch. There was a voice or feeling lurking in his brain for every phrase of every song. His other repast was comedic movies. It was the pain in comedy that he identified with. He loved to laugh and did so with great gusto.
His and Suzie’s relationship was founded on common ground. They were kindred souls in many ways. Oddly they both wanted detachment. To be alone in each other’s company was their bond. A sharing of good scotch, music and revere’ gave them a sense of peace. Even in the bedroom, there was solitude as they shared each other’s body. To be able to savor and hold on to one’s own orgasm gave them a sense of contentment. To let the body speak uncontrollably, with no intrusion from the voices within their own minds was their holy grail.
Suzie was always thoughtful and gracious enough to call before going upstairs to his apartment. She never knew if Bob was entertaining. It really didn’t matter to Bob. He would always offer to have Suzie join them. Bobby wanted in the worst way to enlist Suzie and his newfound partner in a ménage a trios. Suzie would laugh at the suggestion. She was aware that this was every male’s fantasy.
‘When are they going to learn that they can’t handle one woman, much less two at a time? Maybe it takes the pressure off of them to perform and let the women take care of each other. Or is it the show that they’re looking for? I really don’t understand men sometimes. They can be so strange; and they have the nerve to talk about us women!’
A deep smoky voice answered the phone. “Sure, come on up Suz. Hey have you got any scotch? I’m just about out.”
“Of course Bobby.”
She grabbed her last bottle of single malt and headed up.
True to his casual ease with Suzie, he answered the door clad in his boxer shorts. The ever-present waft of Sinatra music greeted her as she entered the room. Bobby smiled gratefully as he took the most excellent single malt and poured them both a drink. He handed Suzie a large crystal snifter containing two inches of the delectable liquid with two ice cubes; just the way she liked it. Bobby always drank his neat. The importance of cut crystal, small art pieces and fashionable clothes were important in Bobby’s life. The finer things of life were his must enjoyment of the now.
They both fell back on the deep leather couch and began to cuddle. Suzie’s favorite position was between his outstretched legs. They sat that way for the longest time, listening to the music, saying nothing. The warmth of the darkness and a kindred soul satiated their needs. They both shared a knowing smile at each other when the ‘I’ll be Around’ track came on. Regardless of the sex, there was an unspoken pledge to one another. A commitment to be the lifeboat in each other’s sea of turmoil; nothing asked, nothing expected but a bond inherent in their own melancholy.
“You got a visitor upstairs tonight Suz?”
Bobby knew of her voices and certainly understood. He was never sure that he comprehended his own. He knew they were there whispering to him but they were never strong enough to assert themselves like Suzie’s did.
“Yea…..” She just didn’t feel like elaborating tonight.
He laughed softly into her ear,” Well would you like a visitor downstairs?”
“Not really Bobby. Do you mind? I just want to cuddle against your erection and enjoy this scotch. Just hold me Bobby and make me safe and warm.”
He smiled lovingly and gently rested his cheek against her soft perfumed hair. After the second album and a third scotch, sleep crept easily into their brains and the nagging voices grew silent in the warmth of their bonded flesh.

© Edward Dean 2011

This story was supposed to have appeared on Blake N. Cooper's Thinking Ten: A Writer's Playground, and may yet arrive there.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ed Dean

Sam's Club

He walked out of his own life with a bang! The thirty-eight slug made a bigger mess of things than Sam ever did. Despair was his only refuge and he welcomed the comforting darkness with its blanket of self pity.
His chosen vehicle for his long ride on the highway to hell was greed. It started so long ago that even he never knew when it started but it always gave him a warm comfort in his own insecure world.
At an early age Sam collected things of all sorts. He hid them under his bed, in the closet and the basement. Just knowing that he had many things empowered him.
When Sam went to college he collected friends and favors. Classroom notes and term papers were his commodity of the day. He expanded his loner personality bit by bit. Finding obscure term papers to offer his classmates, from the archives of the university library was his forte, though the recipient never knew they were stolen property. Sam learned to relish the ease of his duplicity.
After graduation his offer from a major brokerage firm was the ideal venue for self promotion. His astute eye and ear allowed him to collect ideas and techniques. Over time of observing and listening, he learned the art of the deal! Most every stock the brokerage house was touting, he shorted.
The manager pushed and prompted the brokers. “ABC, ABC; guys. Always be closing! Some of you are wasting too much time with some of these stiffs. You gotta qualify better. Know your mark before trying to set him up. Let’s get those sales and cash register flowing, will ya? Make them bleed for the need of greed. It’s so damned easy. Everybody wants to be rich but we want to be richer!”
The scene was no different at Morgan Stanley or Goldman. Dreams and money were in play and someone needed to collect them. You only needed to get a tiny piece of their pies but tens of thousands of crumbs makes one sweet deal.
Sam and his fellow brokers were living a Chinese parable of; ‘A little from many grows to much for the chosen few.’
Collecting women was no different than collecting things. His lifestyle and trappings far outweighed his lithe stature and common looks. Women were no different in feeding from the same honey pot than the guys. Flashy cars, elegant restaurants and jewelry were always payment in kind for bad sex and uncaring relationships but most women knew innately the one thing they controlled was their own emotional honey pot. Love was a foreign substance that Sam was never privy to. He understood the concept but never drank its intoxicating liquor. In his mind it was classified as a controlled substance far more dangerous than any drug he knew. He desperately wanted to partake but didn’t know how.
His choice of Helen was a calculated gamble. Her family was well connected in the upper echelon of the moneyed power brokers. Their mutual wayward mental focus gave way to a marriage made in hell.
Affairs became a tit-for-tat scenario but at the country club they were always showered with the title of the ‘golden couple’.
The years were kind to his deceit. Over time, Sam and Helen pursued the ultimate human collection; progeny to extend their dominance over their part of the planet. Children were simply an easy group of collectibles; managed, controlled and a necessary asset for the Christmas card picture.
Later life brought him a collection of companies and O.P.M. (Other People’s Money). In getting more and more, there was always a higher and higher escalated gamble but Sam learned to eliminate most risk by cheating. It came easy and in waves. A brisk commodity of insider trading and information finally gave way to ‘the big lie’ which was always believable to his gullible needy and greedy customers. Everybody wanted to be a member of Sam’s Club. ‘Some’ was never enough and the difference between million’s and billion’s was power and glory. It was also the difference between success and ‘because I can’.
The day the markets and Sam’s Club crashed, the S.E.C. and Feds were breathing down his neck. His paper empire smoldered on the ruined lives of his client base.
His attorney advised him to come clean and give back all that he owned to appease the courts. They promised to portray Helen and the children as unwitting victims.
To Sam this was unforgivable nonsense. If he lost his things, he would lose himself. They just didn’t understand. It wasn’t about them, it should always be about him.
Blackness shrouds all mysteries and Sam was desperate to hide. There were a few things Sam was certain of. Good cognac and a .38 magnum were his partnered pair of solutions.

© Edward Dean 2011

Ed Dean grew up in Dearborn and Highland Park, Michigan until being drafted into the army and subsequently into the N.S.A. Having been in sales and marketing most of his life, Mr. Dean is now semi-retired and spends much of his time writing. His own experiences in the military, traveling throughout the U.S. and Europe, and as a wine enthusiast provided much of the background to his book. Mr. Dean has three books in the works, including a sequel to The Wine Thief.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Jeanette Cheezum

Miss Emma

I pulled up in the little silver company car. The kids in the neighborhood saw me and ran ahead to tell Miss Emma I had arrived. I never knew what to expect when I came here. Would her children or the caretaker be there? Would Miss Emma be in a horrible mood or just the sweetest thing? I took a deep breath and entered the hallway to her apartment on the third floor.
The door was unlocked; the way it always was when she expected me.
The apartment smelled like cake. That was a good sign. Now I could exhale.
“Miss Emma, its Dotty your favorite nurse.” Silence. “Miss Emma, where are you?”
I began to worry and then looked in all the regular places. Where was she? Maybe she was on the balcony.
Then, I heard the sound of a man behind me. “Can I help you?” He asked.
“I’m Miss Emma’s nurse. We had an appointment.”
“She doesn’t live here anymore.” He looked me straight in the face and thought I believed him.
“Oh, when did she move?” I stood firm.
“Last week.”
I had seen her two days prior. This son-of-a-bitch was up to no good.
“Ah, you must be her grandson, Willie?”
“Yeah, that’s me.”
You lying bastard, she doesn’t have a grandson, only granddaughters. “I’ve been driving in bumper to bumper traffic. Would it be okay if I use one of the bathrooms?”
“Okay, lady, but hurry. I have to leave for work soon.”
Someone would have called to tell me. I went through the motions and used the bathroom. Why did the house smell like fresh baked cake? Maybe I’d call the police and see what they thought.
I chose the back bathroom next to Miss Emma’s bedroom. When I opened the door he was there waiting for me.
“Open your purse--”
“This is a med bag; I don’t carry cash or credit cards. My billfold is in the car.”
“You got any drugs in that bag?”
He towered over me and I could smell the sweat and cigarettes seeping through his pores.
“No, I don’t carry anything but bandages and a blood presser cuff. Can I leave now? I have other patients waiting for me.”
He flipped me around and shoved my right arm up behind my back and snatched my bag away from me. It hit the floor hard. That’s when I heard a muffled voice from across the hall.
He opened the closet door and shoved me in with Miss Emma. She sat there with one of her knee socks stuffed in her mouth and a piece of twine about to cut off the circulation in her wrists.
Knowing Miss Emma I could just imagine what she would have done if she could have taken him down. We heard the door lock and the intruder searching through the house. My cell was in my jacket pocket but I waited.
“Miss Emma,” I whispered into her good ear. “Just be quiet until he leaves, and I’ll call the police.”
I began to work on her wrists, but the knots were too tight and I couldn’t free them. Now, did I dare to remove the knee socks? Because she would yell out some profanities that might make him open the door and smack her.
Things were quiet now. I reached over and removed the sock.
“Blah, why did you wait so long? Let me out of here. I’ll kill the ugly beast.”
“The door’s locked. Let me call 911.”
“They better not charge us. I remember one time I had to pay them five dollars because Julia hit 911 instead of 411.”
Lord, help me. Her blood pressure would be sky high. I thought, “How will I code this? The company doesn’t have a code for this. We have to have a code! If Medicare doesn’t get a code, we’ll have to hear about this from Miss Emma for the next five years.”
***
“Thanks officer for letting us out. We’re really lucky he didn’t hurt us.”
“Easy for you to say, my wrists are cut. I’ve peed my Depends and The Young and The Restless has just gone off.”
“Now Miss Emma, you need to calm down. Let’s see what he’s stolen and give the policeman a description.”
“Sonny, I’ll deal with you in a minute. I need to make sure my cake isn’t burnt.”
“She does pride herself on being a good cook.”
“Ma’am, I think she needs to keep the door locked from now on.”
“Yes, Sir, I’ll tell her.”
We found Miss Emma in the kitchen holding a rifle.
“Ma’am, what do you have there?”
“I’m going to get my son-in-law Jerry on the phone and we’re going to find that beast. He was an Army Ranger you know. He’ll take care of it.”
“Hold on! Can I see the rifle?”
“No! A poor defenseless woman has to protect herself. You can’t have it. This was my husband’s hunting rifle. Do you want me to show you the deer heads with antlers? Then I’ll fix us some cake. We can have a nice visit. I don’t get too much company. Just a nurse and she was late today.”
“Well if you don’t mind, Miss Emma, I’ll take your blood pressure and be on my way.”
“Okay, I’ll talk to this nice policeman and you can lock the door on your way out.”

© Jeanette Cheezum 2011

See Jeanette’s Pubit eBooks at Barnes and Nobel, A Bark, A Shell and a Squiggly Tail for children, Big Stories Told Short and Fish Wife for general adult audiences. Coming soon Twisted Branches. You may see where some of her work is published on the About Me page at http://cavalcadeofstars.wordpress.com/ or on the members page at http://www.hamptonroadswriters.org

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sam Raddon

The Soul

In a place where time has no meaning, he sang. He sang to no one but himself as he swam in a world of darkness. The loneliness of being a soul lost in the dark blanket of – not solitude – but a crowded pool of souls left to wander the place of voicelessness.
He often wondered if he would ever leave the compounds of his own mind and travel where his dreams of basking in an endless light danced before his eyes. He played his imaginative pictures across the screen of black tarnished souls like a flipbook.
He knew he was not alone in his dark, cold cell of a world, often bumping against other soft bodied souls such as himself. Having no way to communicate to them other than acknowledging their existence through the physical connection like bumper cars set loose with mindless drivers.
This soul knows that there is a better place waiting for him, but how to get there he cannot fathom. His mind plays tricks on him, giving him the illusion of light after so much darkness.
No one, not even he, can remember where or when he came to be. He lives in a world where time is non-existent. He knows not what a body is other than the form he takes now, and even that is only what he thinks it is – not knowing if he is but a shadow or made of atoms and cells.
Lost in time, in space, in his mind, he drifts. He watches his flipbook of images, believing that a soul lives forever, but in reality, he knows not that he will die.

* * *

The creator wades through her dark pool of souls, knowing that their thoughts dream of worlds they’ll never see, never know, for souls are not created equally. These were handpicked by her own hand to do her bidding. She allows some souls through the passage of endless time to live and die in a body. Human or animal, plant or merely insect, she cares not, for her creations are only for her entertainment.
These souls, these black possessions she uses to create her injustices upon the souls she’s given true life to. Each black soul bounces off of her. Carefully she chooses one, not caring that it has dreams of light or darkness, not knowing that this soul could make or break her mold of being.

* * *

This dark plastered soul, with imaginative pictures of light bringing him out of darkness can feel the creator’s caress thinking it to be nothing but the bodies of surrounding souls. In his mind he can suddenly hear the voice of a woman. Her singing more beautiful than any pictures or sounds he can create.
He imagines that this must be the light he’s been waiting for.
He pulses his body to the rhythm, thinking he’s not alone in hearing the voice. Other souls he can feel are touching him trying to share in the beauty.
The music that only a creator can create turns to screeches and screams. The soul shudders to a stop. The light he had been imagining for an infinite amount of timelessness ends replaced only by images of death and desertion. New images of pain fill his mind and thoughts of believing a soul never dies is replaced with a doubt so deep he folds into himself.

* * *

The creator watches as she tortures the soul in her hand. She had given it life, not the life that some of the other souls were given with bodies, but life in her daunting waist deep pool made for evil magic. She relies too heavily on it, on them, for her strength and she knows it. Not the only creator in her endless infinite world, she fights for respect amongst the others. She regards the others with distaste and hatred believing that they have no right to rule the worlds so close to her own. No matter, she decides taking the last of the black aura surrounding the soul in her hand using it to feed her happiness and her power. Life and death is but one nick in an eternal timeline.

* * *

Feeling the weight of his own death, the soul cries out, something between pain and sadness escapes within his final breath. The countless souls swimming in the voiceless pool, incapable of communication except touch, hear his cry.

* * *

A shockwave of sound pounds the creator, knocking her into the pool where she sinks to the bottom fighting for air, and for the first time in many millennia, she feels a fear stronger than any hatred kindled in the deep recesses of her own blackened soul.

© Sam Raddon 2011

Sam Raddon is a High School English teacher who enjoys basking in the warm Florida sun while trying to inspire himself and students alike. http://samraddon.blogspot.com

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Brian Michael Barbeito

Jacob Easton Ellis
(Of Cowboys, Indians, and Columbians)


Jacob went into the interior of the metropolis. He was definitely in an abyss, and had, ‘fallen down a drain’ as it were. But what could he do? Sleep and respite would not have him, and since there was no repose for a soul such as his, he had to tumble on, and though he was floundering, the thought came to him that he could try to learn something.

He spent a lot of time with the urban cowboy, now exiled from the fields. The cowboy had one eye and they walked along always in the bright metropolitan day. Jacob noticed that the dregs of society stretched before them, and this coupled with the hot sun gave him uneasy feeling. Jacob had thrown an empty milk carton at the cowboy. ‘Don’t throw things at me,’ said the cowboy, ‘ cause I only got one eye, and I ain’t gone lose it. I been through too much to lose the last eye. The other eye is glass. I been through a lot. I had my own operation of product in the mountains until the police raided it. And even in the end I never gave into them. I beat it too. I beat it with a good lawyer. But I is in the city now, and lookin’ for a new start. I know that the construction workers is many of them bad. They go to church on Sundays, and they sleep around with lots of women durin’ the week. Me, I left all that- left everythin’ and now I am just a cowboy anarch. How do you say it? An anarchy. I am an anarchy to myself.’ And the cowboy always spoke with his finger pointing, like he was admonishing everyone and everything. Jacob grew tired and soon parted with the strange and often contradictory man. He continued on.

The Indian and Jacob were like kings from different courts. There was a group that the Indian was the leader of and a group that Jacob was leader of, though a reluctant leader. But they met on the bus once, and had reason to talk. They found that they did not quarrel, but instead became fast friends. Jacob talked to the Indian about Carlos Castaneda and the Indian, before disappearing for six weeks at a stretch, explained things such as the time the Indian said, ‘ I carry this bag, and it has matches, and a few other items in it. When you die, and you go to the next world, you will need four things. Always I carry them with me, because death can come at any time. Others are not so far on their healing journey, but I am and I want to be prepared for all things in all ways.’ One day the Indian threw his cigarette off of the balcony. Jacob laughed and asked him why, if he held tobacco in such high regard, did he just do that so flippantly and dismissively. The Indian laughed and made the sign of the cross over the balcony railing as if to bless the discarded filter. Soon when the Indian left to the fields to find his way out of the mire and much that is the cityscape, Jacob found the Columbian.

She was of medium height, and wore high platform shoes, her hair short, and the eyes looked out from under a light brown wisp of hair that was turning a golden hue from the summer sun. They walked and at a street festival she got on a stage and danced. The Columbian had lost much, but tried to stay upbeat. The Cowboy and the Indian had suffered immensely in their own ways, but it was hard for Jacob to see that suffering enormous and dark had come to the Columbian because she was a woman. The cowboy and the Indian also knew her, and Jacob and them had spoken about it often. All she really had wanted was to be happy, to be settled, but she had drawn a very lousy hand. Death and sickness were around her, and would continue to be around her all he days of her life. Yet there she danced, in the bright sun, with rhythm untold of in the Northern Hemisphere. ‘You are our leader Jacob,’ said the Columbian ‘and I would follow you anywhere.’ But the Columbian was only wishing that she could follow. Soon enough, the summer was winding and hints of things autumnal came slowly but surely in those nights.

One night, when they all found themselves so far to the edge of the metropolis that Jacob did not recognize any of the streets, he knew it was time to journey outward again. He kissed the Columbian softly on her pouty lips. To the Indian he yelled a sort of war cry- and the Indian and he laughed at this, - the Indian bestowing his Christian blessing with the sign of the cross in the air again. Jacob shook hands with the cowboy- and asked him to please try and look out for the Columbian, to take care of her and keep an eye on her. Then Jacob left.

Far and far he travelled, beyond the city limits. The vibration of the environs rose, as surely and definitely as the sky was blue or the ground was below one’s feet and not on top. When he reached his destination he took a long shower and got ready to sleep. He would sleep on and off for three days, but it was not a physical sickness he was trying to let the cosmos cure. The past was still on him, like an unhealthy psychic cord- and he could not cut it- but only had to hope it would wear and break through time. So he began the wait for the new season- the autumn, where the colder air might kill the past. The past, well meaning, but like a bacteria living however it knew could. Or like a drowning person grabbing onto another and drowning that person as well. The autumn would come. It always did. He would wake and it’s bright and rich textured hues would be waiting for him just outside- and lead him to a new life.

In the meantime he slept.

And dreamed of wild open spaces in fields covered in shadows and the moon’s light.

© Brian Michael Barbeito 2011


Brian Michael Barbeito writes short fiction. His work has appeared at Glossolalia, Exclusive Conclave of Delights Magazine, Lunatics Folly, and Mudjob. He resides in Ontario, Canada.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Harris Tobias

The Element of Ritual

From the NY Times May 4, 2010
...one idea would be to deliberately increase the element of formal ritual in medicine. Studies of “alternative” therapies show that strong placebo effects can be induced by ritual. Indeed, in mainstream medicine, surgery is the treatment most surrounded by ritual; perhaps this is one reason it appears to be the most powerful placebo.


Nurse Smithers straightened Dr. Baumgartner’s feathered head dress. it had slipped down below the caduceus so carefully painted on his forehead by the medical ritual staff. The MR (Medical Ritual) dressing room looked more like the backstage at a Broadway show— racks of costumes, shelves piled high with musical instruments, makeup artists and hair stylists scurried about helping physicians prepare their illusions. It was a far cry from the old days before doctors finally understood what healing was all about—illusion. It was illusions that kept the patient’s belief system functioning and if the patient really believed, they were practically cured.
Ritual was Placebo General’s way of maximizing the curative powers locked away in each patient’s own belief system. Modern medicine was all about placebos much to the chagrin of big pharma. There was precious little money to be made from a science fiction set and a shot of salt water. These days medical treatment was more show than substance. If the patient believed he was being cured, his mind took care of the rest. His attending physician, Dr. Baumgartner, knew that the contents of the syringe he was holding was not nearly as important to the patient’s recovery than the ritual that preceded it.
In this case, the patient, Mr. Louis Silverblank, a portly 60 year old from New Jersey, was just waking up from his placebo heart surgery and was expecting a shot of painkiller. His pre-surgical work up revealed that Mr. Silverblank was superstitious and distrusted modern medicine. He tended to a strong belief in more primitive forms of treatment. As a result, his surgical team dressed for the occasion in a combination of Haitian Voodoo and Amazon rain forest garb. His surgeon, Dr. Numsey, performed the operation in a sterile loin cloth and body paint. Numsey was highly regarded throughout the region as a master of the elaborate and effective primitive scenario.
Nurse Smithers, herself dressed in a flowing muumuu with a colorful tropical theme and a hat filled with colorful fruits, began a rhythmic beating on a small drum hung around her neck. Dr. Baumgartner accented her rhythm with staccato shakes of a rattle made from a tortoise shell. Together they entered Silverblank’s room in a shuffling Samba chanting in a language no one present understood. A semi conscious Silverblank seemed impressed by the ceremony and felt much improved just watching the medicos working so hard to stimulate his trust. Nodding his head to the rhythm he gave nurse Smithers a shy smile.
His smile increased as Dr. Baumgartner raised the syringe high in the air and called upon the mystic forces of healing to flow into it. Nurse Smithers beat a furious crescendo on the drum. Dr. Baumgartner turned around three times, produced a puff of smoke from his palms and injected the saline solution into Silverblank’s enormous rump. Mr. Silverblank heaved a blissful sigh and lapsed back into sleep.
Dr. Baumgartner and Nurse Smithers turned and left the sleeping Silverblank’s room and hurried down the corridor to the MR ready room. They had to change out of their feathers and beads into a futuristic costume consisting entirely of chrome and plastic prosthetics. Nurse Smithers donned an android mask while Dr. Baumgartner slipped into a breastplate filled with flashing lights and gauges and hurried off to operating theater 4, the Doctor From Tomorrow set. Mrs. Hackman was having her gall bladder removed or at least thought she was.

© Harris Tobias 2011

Harris Tobias was raised by robots disguised as New Yorkers. Despite an awkward childhood he learned to read and write. To date Mr. Tobias has published two detective novels, The Greer Agency and A Felony of Birds, to critical acclaim. In addition he has published short stories in Down in the Dirt Magazine, Literal Translations, Electric Flash and Ray Gun Revival. He currently lives and writes in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Paul de Denus

The Attraction

He’d passed the same attraction three days running. Down the dry leafy back road, just off the golf course and up around the bend, it waited patiently for him like an old friend ready for play. The monument of snapped limbs and discarded brush stacked high, a rambling golden pyre, bone-dry, quivering like an expectant lover. He had hoped running would alleviate the burning need, create another game with less to lose. He slowed to a trot as the mind game caught hold; a glowing ember of it circled - wanted to touch with one strike of a match, one finger-flick of a clean cigarette - lightly crackle “you’re it.” Later, from his spot on the hill, he watched it run and play, quietly glowing hot and bright, pleased with what it had started.

It was faint at first, like a distant train whistle calling from somewhere along the darkening horizon, but now the sound was louder. It was not a whistle but the blare of wailing sirens and he relaxed a bit. The sirens smothered his pounding heart with a blanket of relief like that of cool rain and he licked his dry lips.
“It will be alright,” he whimpered, almost collapsing. He turned to leave and his eye caught a glimpse of something that did drop him to his knees: a surging wall of orange flame boiling through a row of trees that kissed along a ridge of large homes hugging the golf course.
“What have you done?” it said.

The first engine arrived and a fireman heavy with gear stumbled from the side railing. He was shouting instruction to the other firemen as they scrambled from the vehicle, serpentine hoses uncoiling over the road like spilled guts from some reddened beast. On the hill he watched them play, mesmerized as flames took the first two houses. They flowered, a hushing sound like marshmallows to the flame.
It’s just a game,” he whispered, his face shiny, angelic. “We can stop anytime.”

There had always been an affinity with fire. When he was very young, it spoke to him, drew him like moth to flame. His mother had seen it in him too - this calling - had noticed how his eyes would light as they stared blankly into the blazing fireplace. In church she would encourage him to light a votive candle for lost souls and the dearly departed. She believed it was goodness he saw, some guiding light, the flame a source of warmth and comfort. She was wrong. His father, a heavy smoker, a heavier drunk, saw it exactly as it was. “You’re it,” the old man would say, flicking a flaming match toward him as the boy played on the floor with his older brother, Davey. “Oh you’re it alright,” he’d slur and laugh between pulls of the bottle and drags on the hand-rolled smoke. It was a contemptuous laugh, malicious. But it was quickly silenced the first time the boy - quick as a viper - snatched the lit match as it bounced off his chest. With widened eyes, he felt the sting of the flame, then overwhelming sadness as it quickly extinguished, the burn searing his palm. The boy didn’t mind though; he liked it… this new game. “Fire’s a motherfucker… a beast,” his father grunted, holding the shaky cigarette up close to eyes. He lightly blew on the smoldering orange ember. “It’s like you. It’s tricky.” His eyes faltered, then drowsily dropped down upon him. “Unplanned,” he mumbled. “Unplanned and tricky. That’s it.” The boy didn’t understand all the things his father had said but he trusted the man knew what he spoke of. He and Davey rolled and played about on the floor, dumping plastic soldiers and Tinker toys into their father’s stained fireman’s helmet. Crinkled matches lay scattered about the carpet, as black and as brittle as torched bodies.

He started setting fires when he was eleven. The attraction was a rough clearing out in the old dump near Rollins Swamp. It seemed a safe place to play, with so much ready to burn, so much smoldering there just beneath the surface of discarded trash. It was a game - “I’m it… you’re it” he’d say - and flick matches one by one from the long matchbox, each one tumbling, some flaming out, others burning bright as they landed in a scratch of bramble and oily boxes. They quickly caught on. He always heard the voice in the crackle - his father’s voice - a soft whisper at first that would detonate into a terrifying roar. “YOU’RE IT!” it would boom.

He controlled the fires at first, kept them small but the day came when the winds seemed to shift out of nowhere, the world opened wide and he was confronted with the beast. It stood before him, alive, taunting and unstable. He was not afraid. He was terrified. It ran around him, leering, its fiery tongue lolling and whispering around his ears. It quickly turned and rolled toward the swamp, like some living creature eager for water to soothe it, to cool it. He followed and waited. Instead of water, it found fuel to feed. The dry bramble swamp exploded and it consumed everything, its gaping maw, red and hot.

He had run then, somehow escaped through the thicket, excited and horrified, sprawling flat in a ditch as the fire engines screamed past down the smoke-choked road. As the last truck flared by, he glanced up in time to see his father riding the top of the engine’s cab, saw the terrified look as their eyes locked. He never saw him again. Outmatched and trapped in the swamp, his father and three other firemen were consumed by the monster’s fury.

There was no other consequence, the origin of the fire blamed on conditions at the dump, on shifting weather, an unfortunate and horrible accident the papers said. After that, he ran in a futile attempt to outrun what had happened. Then in his mid-teens, he started running with the fire, hoping it might grow tired of the game and burn itself out on its own. But it circled… circled and chased him. Always.

The fireman stood frozen. The blaze towered above him, the heat an open oven wrinkling the air. It had taken hold everywhere, jumped the street to the left of the golf course, rolling like a wave toward the opposite curb. Smoke churned between the remaining houses, hugged the gravel in a low thick fog as orange spikes flickered and peeked through like demon eyes in the night. He felt his partner then - Conrad - at his side grabbing his arm; he was shouting, barely audible through his mask over the roar.
“We gotta go… go now!”
For a moment, he thought he might faint. His vision blurred and he felt disorientated as if falling down a funneling dark tunnel. He thought he heard Conrad again but the voice was different, familiar.
And he knew.
It was a voice coming from the hill high above him somewhere, his brother’s voice screaming, screaming. He turned to look but all he saw was Conrad’s face wet and pleading, the beast rising behind him.
“We gotta go Davey,” he shouted. “We gotta go… NOW!

© Paul de Denus 2011

Paul de Denus is a graphic artist by day, writer by night. He has been published at Six Sentences (The Love Book, Word of Mouth, and 6S Vol 3), Smith Magazine, Fictionaut, and Espresso Stories.
Paul's writings and self published books appear at his blog: Me, the Other Twin.

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