Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Watcher

The old man sensed the young boy approaching the weathered wooden bench.

“What are you doing?” the boy asked.

“Watching that man shovel rocks into the tram.”

“Why’s he doing that?”

“Because the Master ordered it.”

“Why did the Master do that?”

“Because the man dared challenge the Master’s ideas.”

“Oh.” The boy stood at the opposite end of the bench, leaving space between him and the old man. The boy knew the man was old because of his gray hair, hunched shoulders, and long beard, like his grandpa Haro. And he smelled, also like his grandpa Haro. The man’s shoes were scuffed, his clothes covered with a black dust. “Was he right?”

“Many thought so, but they didn’t dare say anything.” The old man continued to stare through the glass window, his eyes unblinking.

“How come you keep looking at him?”

“Because the master said I had to?”

“How come?”

“Because he can, I guess.”

“You don’t know what you did?”

“Oh, out of frustration I may have called the Master a bad name in front of a friend of mine. At least, I thought he was a friend. But this seems a harsh punishment if that's the real reason.”

“Do you know his name?”

“The man in there?” the old man asked, pointing at the glass.

The boy nodded.

“Not his real name. I call him Sissy Puss.”

“That’s a funny name,” the boy said with a giggle. “Why do you call him that?”

“Well, he’s wearing that pink onesie - - by order of the Master - - which makes him look like a sissy, and he for sure has an ugly puss.”

“You’re funny.” The boy giggled again, then stared through the window and watched Sissy Puss shovel some more. “He looks tired.”

“He should be. He’s been shoveling for a long time.”

“How long does he have to keep working?”

“Until the pile is gone.”

The boy watched again, tilting his head from side to side.

“Every time he picks up some rocks, more fill in. How’s he going to finish?”

The old man leaned forward and put his arms on his legs. “Probably won’t,” he said.

The boy picked up a stone off the ground and held it in his hand. “It’s hard.”

“It’s some special metal only found on this planet. Explorers discovered it around eighty years ago. It’s harder than anything known before then. The Master ordered it be used by the military for everything from bombs to bullets.”

“Only bombs and bullets?”

“Airplanes and ships too. His enemies don’t have anything to stop an invasion. That keeps them in line. And besides, the Master likes bullying them into going along with what he wants.

“Bullying is wrong. Our teacher told us to report anyone who bullied a classmate.” The boy moved closer to the window. “You should tell on him.”

The old man attempted to smile, but his dried, cracked skin wouldn't allow it.

“Does the Master live here?”

“No. He lives on Earth.”

“Does he rule Earth?”

“He’d like to." The old man sat up and stretched his arms over his head. "You sure do ask a lot of questions.”

“I’m seven,” the boy said with a shrug.

“Why don’t you come and sit next to me?” the old man said, patting the bench.

The boy stared at the old man, a puzzled look on his face. “I shouldn’t. My parents told me to beware of strangers.”

“Are we still strangers?”

The boy stood quiet for a few seconds. “I guess not,” he replied and slid on the bench, his feet dangling above the ground.

“Why don’t you leave?” the boy asked.

“Can’t. Not until I find a replacement.”

“How long have you been watching?”

“Oh, since I was about your age.”

“That’s a l-o-o-ng time.”

“Yes, it is,” the old man said, standing for the first time in he didn’t know how long. His knees ached. His back was stiff. He took a step and grabbed the back of the bench to keep him from falling. He waited until he felt stable and then walked away.

“Where are you going?” the boy asked.

“To get a drink.”

“Who’s going to watch the man?”

“You are. Sorry kid, but I’ve done my time. Now it’s your turn,” the man mumbled.

"What did you say?" When the man didn't answer, the boy turned to the window. The man on the other side of the glass kept shoveling, oblivious to the change beyond the window.

"Hey, mister? How do I. . ." The boy stopped as the old man disappeared into a mist. He tried to stand but couldn't. It was like someone had put glue on the bench. He attempted to unsnap his pants to get out of them, but couldn't do that either. He turned toward the mist, which was gone, and then back to the man behind the window. The boy put his elbows on his knees, his chin in his hands, and began to count each shovelful.



Friday, October 6, 2017

A Duel in Dodge City

First appeared at Aphelion.

The challenge was to write a story with a twist ending in fantasy, sci-fi, or horror genre.


Maddie dismounted, tied the palomino's reins to the hitching post, and ambled through the swinging doors into the noname saloon, the chaps slowing her progress. She sauntered to the bar, her spurs providing a musical accompaniment to each step, and perched on a stool with her feet dangling above the floor.

"Barkeep, gimme a beer," she said and placed her Stetson on the bar.

"You wanna keep that hat I suggest you put it someplace else," the bartender said with a stare like her father used to give her.

"Didn't mean no harm," Maddie said and put the dusty hat back on her matted, black hair. "Jason been in today?" she said taking a sip of warm beer.

"Should be here anytime now." The bartender casually wiped the bar without looking at Maddie "You know Jason?"

"We've met," Maddie replied, while attempting to act like it didn't matter if Jason showed or not.

She saw Jason's reflection in the mirror behind the bar when he entered the saloon. Lowering her eyes, she pulled the brim of her hat down so he couldn't see her face.

"Hey, Paco. How's it going today?"

"Goin' fine" the bartender said. "Got somebody here wants to see you," he continued with a nod toward Maddie.

Maddie slowly slid off the stool and flexed her fingers. "Hello, Jason. Long time."

Jason stopped and smiled. "It has been a while, Maddie. How's Susan?"

"None o' yer business how my sister is. Not since you left her at the altar. She about died of heartache 'cause of you." Maddie spread her feet a little wider and rolled her shoulders to ease the tension.

Jason matched her pose.

"Hey, you need to take this outside," the bartender said.

"Shut up, Paco. This isn't any of your business." He stared at Maddie. "Anytime, Maddie, but we know how this is going to end."

"Oh yeah?" Maddie drew her gun, but Jason was faster. The bullet seared through her shoulder causing Maddie to lurch backwards. When she looked up, Jason was gone.

Maggie staggered toward the door and into the street. She removed her headset and spied Jason waiting with a teeth-baring grin on his face, his arms crossed on his chest.

"Let's see. That's me three and you zero," he said.

"I'm still new to these virtual reality games," she said punching Jason in the arm. "I'll beat you yet."

"We'll see little lady," Jason said with a bow, his arm pointing to the parking lot. "We'll see."

"You're damn right we will. Next time I get to pick the scenario," she said with a wry smile, "and it will be a joust. We both know how much you hate horses." Maddie winked and strode toward her car, confident she would win the next time.


Saturday, September 30, 2017

Oh, What the Hell

First appeared at CommuterLit.com.

My memory's not what it used to be. The doctor says I might have early onset dementia, but I remember the night my Aunt Janine stormed into the house all livid--that's the word Mom used--and collapsed on the couch next to Rex, our Labradoodle. Her face was as red as the clay in our yard. Mom nodded at me, a signal I knew meant it was time to go upstairs.

Instead, I went into the dining room far enough so they couldn't see me and sat on the floor with my back to the wall. I could tell by her voice that Aunt Janine was really upset. Every time she said Uncle Bill's name, her voice elevated to a higher pitch. She talked and sobbed at the same time, which made it hard to understand what she was saying. That was okay, because a few words, especially those that surrounded Uncle Bill's name, weren't suitable for a ten-year-old's ears.

She told Mom how whenever she and Uncle Bill argued, which was a lot, Uncle Bill would rant and rave about being underappreciated, and then he'd storm out of the house saying he was going to see his friend James. Aunt Janine followed him tonight and saw Uncle Bill standing in front of an apartment building kissing someone who  definitely was not a James, unless James was a cross dresser with long, black hair, wearing a short dress that showed off a pair of athletic calves. Aunt Janine stopped talking and cried so hard she choked.

After a long silence, she said she didn't have any other family nearby and asked if she could spend the night. "I don't know what else to do." Then in a softer voice, she said, "You won't even know I'm here." I edged along the wall and saw Mom get up and bring her sister-n-law a glass of water, then hold Aunt Janine in her arms and rock her like she did me when I had a fever.

My mother said, "Of course, you can stay." Neither of them spoke after that, so I went to my bedroom and played with my Power Rangers until Mom hollered it was time to go to bed.

Now, forty years later, I'm sitting alone in my own home, on my own sofa, rubbing my Schnauzer Gus' belly with my right hand, and holding an empty Miller Lite in the left. I don't need to find a place to stay, not like Aunt Janine. My Karen and her 'James' ran off someplace. Her note didn't say where. I suspect Las Vegas. She's always wanted to go there.

I never understood what was going on in Aunt Janine's head that night long ago. I do now. And it sucks. Marriage is supposed to be forever. I keep making mental lists of what went wrong, what I did to make her leave. None of them make any sense to me. Maybe that's the real problem.

I've been fighting off the tears and the sobs and the angry words for three Millers. It's not a manly thing to do, but I wonder if it might help. Aunt Janine seemed better the next morning.

I look at Gus and he burps, as if to tell me to get on with it. I pet his stomach. He rolls on his back to give me better access. "Oh, what the hell, boy. It's only me and you."

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Man's Best Friend

This week's 5 to 55 challenge from the Flash Factory. Prompt words below. 

We shared a salacious look. She on the jury. Me a hopeful. Her eyes flickered and danced, like a lantern on a windy night. I smiled. Leaned down. Gave TJ an enthusiastic pet. "Let's show these folks a winning routine." TJ raised a leg. Peed on a plant. I hoped for a rating above zero.

Prompt words: zero, dance, jury, lantern, salacious

Friday, September 1, 2017

Dinner Time

First published at Palm-Sized Press

Margaret toddled down the hall on her way to dinner. She didn't normally wear pajamas when she went out, but there wasn't enough time to change.

She stopped to look at a painting she didn't recognize. The sign on one building had the words Cafe Bourgeois. Aliz's Pub was on another. The streets were narrow and cobblestoned, the buildings small and old, like her. She moved on. A wheel on her walker wobbled with each step.

Margaret reached the dining hall and noticed the man sitting at a table in the corner. His gray hair was cut short--military style. His eyes were closed. He wore slippers. She frowned and looked away.

It bothered her that no one else was seated. People needed to be on time. It was a rule.

Leaving her walker along the wall,  the one with a large calendar listing activities for July, she made her way to her chair. The menu perched in the middle of the table had two pages—one for lunch and one for dinner. She read the dinner side, crinkled her nose when she got to broiled fish and nodded at the chicken pot pie.

"Hello, Margaret."

"Hello," Margaret parroted and added a wave, like she saw the Queen do on TV.

"What are you doing here?" the woman dressed in an orange blouse and pants set with Karen on her nametag said. "You should be in bed."

"I'm hungry. I came down for dinner."

"It's 2:00 in the morning."

"But I'm hungry." Frustration spread across Margaret's face. "Didn't you hear me?"

"I'm sorry, Margaret." Karen smiled and put a hand on the older woman's shoulder. "It's been a long night. How about a package of cookies and some juice? Will that hold you until breakfast?"

"I guess it'll have to," Margaret mumbled.

"Well, I can always sneak you another package of cookies if one isn't enough." Karen bent down so her lips were near Margaret's ear. "Our little secret. Okay?"

"How about him?" Margaret nodded toward the man in the corner. "Will he tell on us?"

"Nah," Karen said with a wave, like she was shooing a fly. "He's probably asleep."

Margaret went back to reading the menu. When Karen returned with a glass of apple juice and a package of peanut butter cookies, Margaret looked up and, pointing at the menu, said, "I'll have the chicken pot pie and fruit cup."

Friday, August 25, 2017

Frustration

This week's 5 to 55 challenge from the Flash Factory. Prompt words below. 

The mustard stain barely showed on his yellow shirt, the result of eating too quickly at the wake. He would soon hasten the cleansing of the ephemeral gnawing at his brain with a shot of bourbon. He'd emailed the wicked witch sixteen times about a process he felt would improve productivity. She should have responded.

Prompt words: sixteen, mustard, bourbon, ephemeral, wicked

Monday, August 14, 2017

Again

This week’s 5 to 50/55 challenge. Prompt words below.

Emma traced the edge of a puffy cloud with a lavender tipped finger. The cloud had a peculiar shape. Like her love life. Her most recent attempt had ended in an expected climax. Her. Alone. Frustrated. Again. At a hotel. On a beach that most people appeared to avoid. Maybe they'd been dumped there, too. (55 words)

Prompt words: trace, lavender, peculiar, climax, hotel

Saturday, August 12, 2017

A Family Affair

Jabari gazed down from the balcony of his mountaintop lab into the Valley of Death, so named because of the infestation of mutated zoysia grass that had choked out all the other vegetation in its path. Experts assumed the invader had hitched a ride on a supply ship carrying refugees from the Hektor agri-colony. The President had attempted to stop the migration to Earth, but the courts determined it was inhumane to keep the residents adrift in space for an indefinite time. Jabari had been assigned the task of stopping the intrusive growth before it choked the life out of Earth.

 "Is it working this time?"

Jabari responded to his sister Cara's question without turning around. "I'm afraid not. In fact, it appears to be spreading faster." After a deep breath he faced her, concern and confusion on his face. He shook his head and walked to his glass topped desk. "All of the lab results were positive. The spraying should have stifled the continuing encroachment."

"You'll figure it out," Cara said.

"I better, or else. . ." He put his elbows on the desk and rested his forehead in his hands. "People are losing faith in my ability to do the job."

Cara moved closer and gave her brother a hug. "It's okay. Everyone is scared and frustrated and has a need to take their frustrations out on someone." She stepped back, holding his hands. "Hey, you knew what you were facing when you accepted the job. You love a challenge." She smiled and hugged him again.

"You're right," Jabari replied. He pointed toward the folder in her hand. "Have you walked through the plant yet today?"

Cara, besides being Jabari's sister, was the Chief Operating Officer for the company and a damn fine one as far as Jabari was concerned. She walked the plant at least one day a week on a random schedule she only shared with her brother to see how things were going. Sometimes Jabari accompanied her.

"I just finished." She opened the notebook. "Security broke up a fight between two low level lab assistants and found a small packet of drugs on one. The fight was a disagreement over the price of the dope, according to another employee. I had security escort both gentleman out of the building and told them we'd send them their personal things in a few days." Cara looked at Jabari. "I hate letting people go, but this work is too important."

"The stress is getting to everyone. Still, you did the right thing. We can't allow rampant drug use. We all need clear minds." He reached for a pack of cigarettes perched on one corner of his desk. Cara frowned.

"I know. I know. I said I'd quit," Jabari said. "I'm working on it." Instead of retrieving a cigarette, he pushed the pack away. "Anything else?"

"No. How about you? Something is bothering you that you're not sharing. I can tell."

Jabari moved to a chair next to the fireplace and pointed Cara to another.

"I have this feeling I can't shake that someone else is controlling things here. I have no proof, nor any idea who or why. It's just a thought that keeps niggling at me." He stared at his sister. "Am I going crazy?"

"No. No." Cara shifted in her chair and leaned back. "You're under so much pressure, I wouldn't be surprised if you told me you were seeing ghosts." Cara laughed. "Or aliens even." She laughed again.

"It's funny you should mention aliens. That thought has crossed my mind. In fact, I think you may be right."

"O come on, Jabari. You know there's no such thing."

"There aren't?" Jabari leaned forward in his chair with his elbows on his knees, his hands crossed between his legs. "You didn't think I'd notice, but you changed a few months ago, Sis, or whoever you are. At first, I  thought it was like you said--stress--but ever since our first successful attempt at slowing the intruder, things changed. You disappear for long periods. Business lunches, you say. But with whom?" Jabari paused, waiting for Cara to reply. When she didn't, he continued.

"Then there were certain looks that seemed odd to me. Looks of confusion about things you knew as well as I. One day you came into my office and your sweater was buttoned crooked. You would never make a mistake like that. You always double and triple checked your appearance before going anywhere. Still, I couldn't be certain until I followed you to one of your 'lunches.'" Jabari sat up. "Was it plain water you put into the crop duster's tanks?"

Cara shifted in her chair and put both feet on the floor. Her eyes appeared to glow.

"I don't know if I can kill the alien who has taken you over," Jabari continued, "or if you'll survive, but I have to try."

With that, Cara launched herself and grabbed Jabari's neck, her long fingernails piercing the skin. Jabari grabbed her wrists but was unable to dislodge them. He felt blood oozing down his neck. The alien's thumbs pressed on Jabari's windpipe causing Jabari to gasp for air. In desperation, Jabari let go of Cara's left wrist and jammed a finger into the attacker's eye. Cara emitted a low, hollow roar and fell to the floor. Jabari sensed another movement in the room and thought he saw a cloud-like figure escape through the glass as he reached down for his sister.

Cara opened her eyes, a muddled look on her face. She tried to speak, but Jabari placed a finger on her lips. "You rest," he said. "I'll explain everything later. In the meantime, I need to schedule an additional spraying and then figure out how to prepare for another alien attack."

Sunday, June 4, 2017

His Last Visit

 Marcus stood behind the large oak tree in his parents' backyard wearing his usual black jacket, dark jeans, and brown work boots. A knit New York Giants cap protected his head from the cold drizzle. Light from the living room window of the single-story home sparkled on the damp lawn.

His mother sat in her chair rocking back and forth to some unheard music. Perhaps a Strauss waltz, he mused. They were her favorites. The glass fireplace cover reflected Jeopardy playing on the TV. Marcus remembered watching the game show with her. When he was younger, he would often sit on her lap. Later, he played games on his iPad or read the newest book in the AltLit Zombie Series. Her hands were out of view; but Marcus knew she was knitting something for the church bizarre, a duty she performed every year for as long as Marcus could remember. He missed sitting with her. He missed her laugh. He missed her fist pump paired with a hissing "yesss" when she got the answer to Final Jeopardy. He wanted to tell her what had happened, how he'd become one of them. He couldn't though. It was dangerous to be near her--dangerous for her, not him.

He thought back to his twenty-first birthday party. Zane challenged him to a drinking contest. Marcus agreed. He'd never heard of a drink called a Zombie, had no idea what was in it, nor what effect it would have on him. He felt wobbly after the first drink. Yet, when Zane offered a second, Marcus drank it down. The next thing he remembered was waking in Zane's apartment with a killer headache and no recollection of how he got there. Marcus didn't learn until later that Zane had spiked his drink and stolen his soul. Now, he would spend the rest of his natural life, and beyond, complying with Zane's orders.

Marcus' eyes focused back on his mother. He couldn't imagine how hard the last eight months had been on her. First, her only child disappeared. Then, unable to deal with losing his son, her husband drank himself into a stupor and drove off the road at Crist's Pass plunging to his death. Marcus wanted to hold her, to tell her how much he loved her, to sit with her again and watch Jeopardy. Most of all, he wanted her to be happy.

Marcus glanced up and saw the moon peek through a break in the clouds. It was time to leave. His visits had become shorter and shorter, as he found it harder and harder to resist the draw of a mother's love. Marcus stepped away from the tree toward the woods that provided a barrier along the back of the house. He needed to return before Zane came looking for him. He hadn't told Zane about his fortnightly visits to see his mom. Marcus knew how jealous his master was and feared what might happen to her if Zane found out. Marcus hunched his shoulders against the rain and bowed his head. He swallowed hard and struggled to keep his composure. He repeated Zanes' admonition, as he disappeared into the pines and spruces and oaks. Zombies don't cry.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Lost

First appeared at CommuterLit.

The shadow of your smile when you are gone. Janelle continued singing the song. Her audience--a few sitting at tables, heads down, perhaps asleep; others walking the halls talking to themselves--appeared bored. One gentleman dressed in pajama bottoms and a Yankees t-shirt read from the bible and yelled "Amen" in random outbursts. Janelle ignored them all and strummed her fingers up and down, her left hand playing the chords on a make-believe guitar.

For years, she sang the song a second time to the rhythm of a tango, making the context more hopeful, as if the absence was temporary. She didn't today. It wasn't appropriate. She paused and tried to remember why.

A chair alarm chimed when a member of her audience stood, bringing Janelle back to the present. She sang louder, felt her stomach tense up. She wanted to scream for everybody to hush and let her finish. Imbeciles.

After the song ended, she looked around. This wasn't the type of place where she usually performed, she mused, not with the beige walls and bright lights on all the time. She was used to darker rooms with couples in various stages of intimacy snuggled in booths kissing and fondling each other, or sitting at cozy tables holding hands, or perched on barstools simply getting to know one another.

She'd lost track of how many sets she'd performed and how many times she'd played this song. By the reaction of her audience, most likely too many.

Janelle watched a tall black woman with short, blonde hair split on one side by a purple streak and dressed in a navy blue pantsuit come toward her, maybe to tell her she was singing too loud. Janelle lowered her head, willing the woman to walk past.

"Hi, Miss Janelle. That sure is a pretty song you're singing for us. Just like always."

"Thank you," Janelle said. She stared at the white rectangle pinned to the woman's blouse. The top line read "Allen Mental Health Spa." The woman's last name was Wilson. Janelle couldn't pronounce the first name. Underneath that was CNA. She gazed into the woman's eyes. "Do you think the others liked it?"

"I'm sure they did." The woman helped Janelle stand. "It's time to go to your room and check to see if you need a bathroom break. Shall we put your guitar on the piano?"

Janelle pulled her hands away."No. Someone will steal it. I can't leave it here by itself."

"Okay, Hon. How about if I carry it for you?"

After a pause, Janelle said, "I guess that is okay."

"Can you walk for me today, Sweetie?"

"Sure," Janelle said and shuffled down the hall. She stopped and turned her head. "Do you think Carol will come see me today?"

"Oh, Honey. You still don't remember the plane crash."

"Plane crash?" Concern etched itself on Janelle's face. "Is everyone okay?"

"I'm afraid not," the woman replied. "But like the doctor said, it wasn't your fault."

"Not my fault."

"That's right. You got snowed in on your vacation."

"I remember. Too much snow." Janelle stared out the window as a robin landed on a grassy part of the enclosed courtyard. "I hope they found another flight attendant to help Carol out."

"Yes, they did," the aide said.

"Good. It's too much work for one person." Janelle watched the robin strut around and peck at the grass. He snatched a worm and held it in his beak. "She's my best friend, you know. We've been roommates forever." Janelle resumed walking and didn't say any more. She closed her eyes, looked for a face, Carol's face. The screams made it hard for her to concentrate. Just as Janelle was about to join in, the voices stopped. An eerie silence followed and then that song again. The shadow of your smile when you are gone.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

If At First. . .

First published at Aphelion.

Evelyn saw him enter the restaurant from the table where she sat and somehow knew it was her next first date. There had been six since she started dating again after a five year hiatus following college to concentrate on her career as a market analyst. None had led to a second. She hoped number seven might be different but hadn't been able to dispel her fear he wouldn't.

He wore tan Dockers, a pastel green shirt, brown loafers, and brown socks with yellow stripes. She wondered if this was the way he normally dressed, or if he was showing off for her. She imagined him in a gym wearing shorts and a muscle shirt and felt a twinge deep within her. She inhaled a deep breath and blew it out. Her initial trepidation lingered.

He smiled and spoke to the hostess. The young woman in a short dress and cowboy boots pointed in Evelyn's direction and led him to the table for two.

Evelyn smoothed her skirt, mostly to wipe her sweaty palms. After first date number three led nowhere, she took another break from dating to lose thirty pounds and have plastic surgery to tighten loose skin on her face, throat, and belly. She also started a three-times-a-week workout regimen.

She stared at her iPhone, acting like she hadn't seen him yet. When he arrived at the table, she smiled and leaned forward to shake his hand--and provide him a better view of her breasts.

He introduced himself as Franklin. She looked him over and decided the name was an alias, just like in those crime novels she liked. Not that that bothered her, since her name wasn't Evelyn. The local paper classifieds weren't picky about names.

Besides having been overweight and plain-looking, Evelyn wasn't much of a conversationalist. She spent time at home practicing with her cat, but it wasn't the same. She stumbled along, letting Franklin do most of the talking, until she'd finished her second glass of Riesling. Then she relaxed and let herself go a little. She felt the rest of the date went well and hoped Franklin did, too. He appeared to be enjoying himself.

She declined dessert, but said he should feel free to have something. "I'll pass, too. Gotta watch the old waistline," he said and asked the waitress for the check.

Outside, Evelyn felt uncomfortable, not sure what to do next. She clutched the strap of her purse, cleared her throat, and asked if he would like to have dinner again. He lowered his eyes for a few seconds, as if in prayer, and said he didn't think so. "You're nice, and all, but not what I'm looking for."

Evelyn felt her heart sink and her stomach knot, just like every other date. He asked if he could walk her to her car. She thanked him for offering, and the two headed toward the garage on the corner of 8th and Grand.

As they approached her car, Evelyn listened for the sounds of other people. Not hearing anything, she bent over, lifted the hand holding her purse to her stomach, and groaned. Franklin didn't see her reach into her purse, nor did he see the utility knife in her hand when she rose. He barely felt the blade slash his carotid after she spun him so his blood wouldn't spatter her dress. He didn't feel his blood flow onto the concrete floor, nor smell the odor when his bowels emptied.

Evelyn watched first date number seven die, rage covering her face. She knelt next to his body, hiked up her dress, and rubbed the three scars on her right inner thigh she thought of as notches. "All you had to do was say yes to a second date, you slimeball."

She wiped the knife on a cloth napkin she'd put in her purse at the restaurant and tossed the bloody material under the car to her right. She placed the point of the blade on her thigh next to the scar closest to her knee and sliced a fourth, shallow two-inch gash. Blood pooled on her skin and dripped to the floor mixing with date number seven's. She pulled an ace bandage from her purse and wrapped it around her leg.

Evelyn crossed herself before standing, then headed toward the entrance at the opposite end of the building. She wasn't concerned about video surveillance. According to a recent article in the online version of the local newspaper, this place was the oldest parking facility in the city and had yet to be retrofitted with cameras. She dropped the knife in a trash barrel and headed north to the lot where her rental car was parked. She didn't care about leaving prints or DNA. She wasn't in any police database. She only cared about finding first date number eight--and catching her 9:30 flight.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Life, Act IV

He awoke to a cheerful voice he didn't recognize asking him if he knew where he was. The question sounded familiar; but after the old man looked around the sterile room with its off-white walls, double-wide window, and beige carpet, he shook his head.

When asked if he knew what day of the week it was, he attempted to get out of bed. When he couldn't, he mumbled a no.

When asked if he needed help, he grumbled, "I'm not an invalid."

When asked if he knew who the President of the United States was, he said no a little louder, his face reddening with frustration.

He didn't respond when asked if he knew his own name.

When asked if he was hungry, he said he wanted to go for a walk and once again tried to sit up.

After bingo, they lifted him from the wheelchair to his bed. He grunted, as if he was doing all the work.

When his son showed up for a visit, the old man's eyes widened and he shouted, "Frankie!" When asked ten minutes after Frankie left, the old man didn't remember having a visitor.

When asked if he needed his pull-up changed, he regurgitated a small, pale orange glob. When the aide tried to wipe the blob up, he slapped her hand away.

When asked if he knew how old he was, he shook his head, his eyes half closed. When told he was ninety-three, he smiled for the first time. When asked how old he wanted to be, he said "a hundred, of course."

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Double Play

Date: 2216
Location: Xerion, fourth planet from the sun in the Abdula Galaxy

Danjaki noticed Yerkof enter from the haze and amble toward the bar. "Nasty out there today," Danjaki said.

"Gets worse everyday," Yerkof replied, using his fingers to brush ash and grit from his government cyber security worker's uniform. He removed his hat, slapped it against his knees a couple of times, and placed it on the bar. "Makes you wonder if those in charge ever go outside."

"Conditions have worsened since the President ordered an increase in mining production." Danjaki replied. "I hear the air quality on the other side of the planet is so bad people have to wear masks any time they're outside."

"I eVideoed a couple of friends from there last night. They said the air quality wasn't much better indoors. Asked if my office had any openings." Yerkof put his elbows on the bar and cupped his chin in his hands.

"The government keeps it up, we'll need to find another planet to live on soon. The usual?" Danjaki knew the answer but asked anyway.

"Make it a double."

Danjaki poured a long shot of dark whiskey, put a napkin on the bar, and placed the drink in front of Yerkof. "I heard about Phrya leaving you. Sorry, man."

"My own stupid mistake to cheat on her at that postal convention." Yerkof downed his drink and nodded for another. "I sure wasn't thinking with my brain."

"How'd she find out?" Danjaki asked.

"From a stupid idiot -- me." Yerkof shrugged his shoulders. "I couldn't stand deceiving her."

"You two've been together for a long time."

"Started dating in high school. Married ten years next month." Yerkof took a small sip, wiped a dusty sleeve across his face, and swiveled on the stool as a woman walked into the room grabbing everyone's attention.

"Wow, haven't seen her in here before." He stared at the Eusterian as she strode to the opposite end of the bar. Two men approached her immediately and began a conversation. She smiled and accepted a drink. When Danjaki delivered it, Yerkof thought she might have whispered something in Danjaki's ear.

The low light in the bar didn't provide Yerkof with a clear view, but he could tell she was about five feet nine inches tall, with Eusterian blue skin and a single braid of hair hanging to her waist that divided her otherwise bald head in two perfect sections. She wore a singlet that had to have been painted on. Her smallish breasts peeked out of the top. When she smiled, Yerkof felt a twitch in his crotch that made him pinch his legs together. He spent a few more minutes ogling her slim body and appealing curves.

"Need another?"

Yerkof jumped at the sound of Danjaki's voice.

"Geez, you sneaked up on me," Yerkov said, holding a hand over his heart.

"Or maybe your mind was busy elsewhere." When Yerkof, his head down as if in prayer, didn't respond, Danjaki moved a towel in circles over the bar a few times before continuing. "Think Phrya will take you back?"

"I hope so. I tried eTexting and eMessaging her, but she didn't respond. I called and it went to vMail. She's staying with her brother. I don't dare go there. Not yet, anyway."

"He's a big SOB," Danjaki said.

Yerkof nodded and finished his drink. He pulled a wad of money out of his pocket, laid it on the bar, and headed toward the door.

"Where you going?" Danjaki asked. "It's still early."

"Home to take a cold shower." Yerkof glanced again at the woman before wobbling outside on weak knees.

"Better make it a double," Danjaki yelled through a laugh.

The Eusterian woman slithered onto the stool Yerkof had vacated and put a half full glass of Third Galaxy wine on the bar.

"That's quite the disguise," Danjaki said.

"It's so unlike me, all tight and sexy," Phrya replied. "Maybe that's partially why he…" She stared straight ahead, her fingers wrapped around her glass. "Anyway, my cousin's a makeup artist in CineTown. I asked if she could help me out and voilĂ ," she said with a swipe of a delicate hand. "Did he notice me?"

"Every man and many of the woman in here noticed you," he said. He offered to fill her glass. She covered the top with her hand and shook her head. "There's going to be a lot of drool to clean up tonight."

"Funny," she replied, crossing her legs. She saw Danjaki's eyes follow the movement and was pleased she could still attract attention from the opposite sex. "As long as Yerkof was one of the droolers." She winked, lifted the glass in salute, and took a sip of her wine. "Do you think he knew it was me?"

"Naw. It's too dark and smoky in here to see anyone clearly at that distance." Danjaki wiped the bar some more, uncertain what to do. "You gonna take him back?"

She paused before answering. "Probably, but he needs to suffer more first. Will he be back tomorrow?"

"Should be."

"I'll be here, too." She finished her wine and handed Danjaki the glass, lightly touching his wrist. "He really likes my butt, you know. Maybe I'll make sure he gets a good long look at it tomorrow." She stood up, turned her back to the bar, and wiggled from side to side. "Oh, God," she said, her cheeks warm. "I can't believe I did that."

"He'll need three cold showers," Danjaki said, stepping closer to the bar to hide his excitement.

"Let's hope," she said with a wink as she sauntered out the door, leaving many of the patrons open-mouthed.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Murder in a Small Town

Winner of the January 2017 Aphelion Flash Challenge.

“Oola looks at peace. Doesn’t she, Nate?”

“I guess.”

“You did a wonderful job picking out the coffin. The mahogany with the white overlay sets off her blue uniform nicely.”

“Least I could do.”

“It is, given the circumstances.”

“I’m surprised no one else is here. Everybody seemed to like Oola.”

“It’s early.”

“I’ve never been in a funeral home before. It’s like a dungeon in here, dark carpet, dark walls, dark mood. All it needs is shackles hanging on the walls. These chairs aren’t very comfortable, either, and the music reminds me of molasses. I hate the smell of molasses."

“Maybe those folks in New Orleans have the right idea, having a parade for the departed and making a party of it.”

“You know, she’s almost pretty lying there.”

“She never was a looker.”

“No, not really. The wig helped, but the long, oval face and small slit for a nose made her stand out.”

“That and the fact she oozed orange tears when she cried.”

“I don’t remember ever seeing her cry.”

“She did right after you stabbed her the first time.”

“Oh.”

“Hey, Nate. Remember when we found her rocket half submerged in the lake?”

“How could I forget? Strangest thing ever to happen in Cranberry Bay. That and the time Jack Burks fell into the water, pickup and all, while ice fishing. Idiot should have known it was too warm to drive out on the lake.”

“He was new to the village. Didn’t know the quirks of Lake Erie like the rest of us. Anyway, she was kinda woozy stepping out of that contraption. How would you describe it? Like a big old torpedo with four wings and a tail--certainly not the flying saucer you’d expect.”

“A torpedo with four wings sounds good to me. I was surprised how folks here took to her. Especially, Edna Farber. She never took to anyone.”

“When we told her Oonah was an alien, she wanted to deport her back to Mexico where she belonged. The rest took a liking to Oonah right off. Even kept her a secret to keep Nosy Rosies away.”

“You keep doing that. Her name’s Oola, not Oonah.”

“Right. I keep mixing her up with that poet lady. Anyway, it’s too bad you had to kill Oola.”

“I didn’t have any choice, according to you. She knew.”

“Maybe.”

“What do you mean maybe? Maybe she knew or maybe I had no choice.”

“Maybe she knew.”

“You’re the one who said she positively did and that I had to do something about it.”

“Well, you should know better than to trust me. Aren’t I the one who told you to shoot out Mr. Tundrell’s bedroom window because he was sleeping with his daughter.”

“Uh huh, and it turned out she was living in Seattle with her mother. A shoulder shrug? That’s all you got? I could have seriously injured the man. I heard the fights on the TV through the open living room window. You know he refuses to wear his hearing aids. I didn’t expect him to be in the bedroom.”

“And how about the time I told you to run over Mrs. Gilbert’s dog because he tried to bite me.”

“You mean the Rottweiler with no teeth?”

“Yea, that one.”

“You should have told me about the no teeth thing before I hit him.”

“That’s not how I work, Nate. You know that.”

“I should, but you constantly bug me until I can’t seem to help myself. So, did Oola know or not?”

“Does it really matter now? She’s dead.”

“Yea, she’s dead, and it’s your fault!"

“Hey, I’m not the one who found her sneaking out of our house. I’m not the one who turned angry and red and told her to not tell anyone about the money she found, and that she could have some if she kept silent. I’m not the one who called her a liar when she denied knowing anything about the money. I’m not the one who forgot to move the bag of money you found on River Road to a safer place—like I told you to. And I’m not the one who stuck the blade in her, then dropped her in the creek behind the Miller’s place. The creek was a good idea, though, since everybody likes that spot for fishing. Lots of footprints to confuse the cops. So, what have you got to say for yourself?”

“You bastard. You did it to me, again. Imposed your will on me, even though I tried to ignore you. You’re always whispering in my ear, egging me on to do bad things. And I keep listening to you, buckling under. Why can’t my angel side ever win? Why is it always your voice that prevails? Dr. Jensen is right. I need to get you out of my head. Stop listening to you. Be my own man.”

“She does say that a lot. Maybe Doc Jensen needs to be the next one. What do you think about that, Nate?”

Monday, January 16, 2017

A Race Against Time

Troy trudged down 42nd Street, shoulders hunched, eyes toward the ground, like a hunchback, each pace having a purpose. The army had repelled the latest--and hopefully last-- of the terrorists after decades of battles; but his city, New York City, had finally succumbed. Many buildings lay in ruin. Others stood damaged, but still proud and defiant. Electricity was non-existent, and gasoline was scarce. He no longer wore his captain’s uniform. He’d left the cleanup to his men. Instead, he had on tattered jeans, a green flannel shirt, and a faded trench coat. Only his military boots remained from the past six months of his fourth tour of fighting. He adjusted the bill of his cap, moving it lower to hide his identity. Being noticed by an old classmate or neighbor might ruin everything.

He weaved a slalom course through barrels and garbage cans burning books, librettos, costumes and anything else combustible--anything that provided heat. There were no neon lights, no traffic signals, no brightly lit store windows displaying the latest fashions. Actors in costume and musicians, some also in costumes, performed songs from their respective shows, while bystanders watched and tiredly applauded. Cats and lions and princesses sang and danced as if nothing had changed, denying the reality of their situation. Troy continued his trek, sometimes walking among the performers, refusing to join in when prodded. He needed to get to Gwen before it was too late.

He turned right onto 7th Avenue and stopped when he saw the looters. He reached inside his coat for the revolver holstered on his left hip. He started to pull out the weapon but stopped. There were too many of them, and Gwen and her unborn child were more important than a few broken windows and stolen goods.

Troy continued to the next block and the next until he found an empty street. He increased his pace and focused on his task, hoping he’d make it on time. He turned down an alley, only paying attention to the other end, when he felt the arm around his neck. A second attacker appeared from behind a dumpster, a carving knife in his left hand.

Troy stomped on the foot of the man holding him. The arm’s grip loosened and Troy flipped his assailant into the man with the knife. The two men lay on the ground as Troy raced to the end of the alley and around the corner without looking back.

“Halt,” a voice said from behind. “Police. You are in a restricted area after curfew.”

Troy kept going until he heard the explosive gunfire. He lurched to the left. The gas pellet hit his right shoulder, ripping through the flesh and detonating a few feet away. Troy’s body pirouetted. He fell to one knee and scrambled behind a burnt out car.

“I know you’re wounded. Come out now and you live.”

Troy moved his hand along the dark pavement meagerly lit by a half moon. His fingers wrapped around a plastic bottle. He threw it in the direction he’d come from. He heard the cop's gun discharge. He raced into the street and delivered a kidney punch that dropped the policeman to his knees. Troy looked closely at the uniform and knew the man was a fake--an actor playing a role. The gun lay on the ground. Troy kicked it into the sewer, he didn’t want anyone else finding it, and continued his journey.

At the next intersection, he saw an ambulance stop in the distance at the clinic where Gwen awaited. He increased his pace to a run, all the time holding his injured shoulder, and covered the remaining six blocks quicker than a normal human should have.

He raced into the building and stopped at the front desk. “I’m Troy. Where’s Gwen?”

“I’m afraid it may be too late, Mr. Troy.”

“Nooo!”

Troy raced through the double doors into the treatment area. He stopped a nurse, nearly knocking a tray of blood samples from her hands. “I’m Troy. I’m here to help Gwen.”

“Room 3A. But. . .”

Troy entered the room. Gwen lay on a bed, her face ashen, her breathing barely noticeable. A female doctor looked up as he entered.

“Hurry,” she said. “We don’t have much time.”

Troy lay on a second bed, the life saving blood transfusion moving directly from his arm to Gwen’s. He watched his sister’s face and prayed for a miracle. Doctors and nurses circled Gwen blocking Troy’s view of what was happening. He was tired and began to fall asleep when he heard the baby’s cry.

For the first time in days, Troy allowed his body to relax, the baby’s sounds a lullaby to his spent psyche.

“Mother and baby are doing fine,” the doctor said. “Would you like to hold your nephew, Mr. Troy?.”

“It’s Troy. Just Troy. And, yes, I’d love to hold my nephew.