Tag Archives: loneliness

The Glorious Sunset of Taffeta Spaulding – IX

Taffeta managed to move Myrna across the sidewalk and into the passenger seat of her car near the door of the pharmacy. Not that she expected any help from the younger man who was causing her this pain, but it seemed worse to have him watch her struggle.

As gentle as she tried to be, Myrna’s head bobbed with every tug and pull. The whole left side of her face was swollen now, effectively closing her eye.

Once Hover emerged from the store, Danny crawled into the back seat slouching low and leaning into to the window. He pulled a pair of sunglasses from his pocket, slid them on his face and settled into the oncoming high. Hover jumped in next to him wiping the blood from the end of his sledge with some paper towels he pulled from aisle 4.

It was Hover who told Taffeta which way to go. Four miles down Wilkes, take a left, then a right, then two miles, then a right and so on. Taffeta aptly followed his directions, but was more concerned about Myrna whom after twenty minutes of driving still had yet to come to. Besides, she was pretty certain Hover was taking the long way around to wherever it was they were heading, just to throw her off.

Another fifteen minutes later, in a part of town Taffeta never knew existed, Hover had her pull around to the back of a series of brick row houses, mere shadows of what they once were, now boarded up and settling into at least a decade of decay.

“Pull up here and stop the car,” he said. Silently, she did as she was told while keeping one eye on Myrna and the other on any possible pathway to escape.

“Now get out, and get her,” Hover said, climbing out of the backseat and setting the sledge on his shoulder. Taffeta stepped out of the car then walked around to the passenger door. She opened it and leaned in to unclip Myrna’s belt, grab their purses and start to heft Myrna out.

“Hey, wait,” he said, just as Taffeta got her friend to stand limply beside her. “I don’t think you need the bags.”

“She has asthma,” Taffeta blurted out. “She needs her medicine. Doesn’t your mother carry a purse?”

“My mother never carried anything, but a bottle of whiskey and a grudge,” he said dropping the sledge to the ground. He stepped over to her and pulled one of the bags from her shoulder. Looking at her the whole time, holding her gaze, he yanked the purse open and reached his hand inside. His hand moved around the inside of the bag feeling for anything.

“Bah,” he said. “Asthma, my ass. You got nothin’ in there but a wad of tissues, a compact and a handful of candy.” He tossed the bag at her feet. “Pick it up, let’s go.” He turned to get his sledge and start up the steps to the first row house.

Taffeta retrieved Myrna’s bag from the ground, almost dropping her, but then righting them both to standing again. “Do you want to check mine too?”

Hover stopped and turned. He took one step toward her then stopped. He thought, then smiled shaking his head and keeping himself on task.

“Keep it up lady,” he said. “I got more things to do than to rustle around in a bag full of tissues and hairpins. Just get inside, huh?”

“What about him?” Taffeta said nodding her head back toward the car where Danny now slept soundly.

“What about him?” Hover said looking over at Danny. “You best mind your own. You don’t really want to be waking him up when he’s, you know…sleeping. Better for me that you just get inside. Better for you too.”

“You could let us go.”

“Lady…,” Hover said, shaking his head again. “Really, just get inside.”

Taffeta struggled to get them both up the steps and inside the dump of a house, again, without any help aside from Hover impatiently holding the door for her as she moved slowly past him. The house was dark, beyond whatever light found its way through the cracks in the boards that covered the windows. She squinted to help her eyes adjust so that she could get a better lay of the land. The smell hit her first, a hearty wave of rot mixed with a touch of urine. As she stood there she could make out a couch, a small table and a couple of chairs and the along the wall were stacks of boxes.

“Don’t just stand there lady,” Hover said, moving up behind her. “Go over to the couch and sit down.”

“Could you get me some water?” Taffeta asked. “For my friend.”

“This ain’t the Ritz, lady. Just sit down until Danny figures out what to do next.”

She found her way to the couch and slowly dropped Myrna into place first before plopping herself down tightly next to her. She could almost feel a cloud of filth, dust and debris billow up around her. Despite the lack of comfort and the layer of disgust, it felt good to sit. She was exhausted.

Hover came over with a hand full of rope and kneeled before her.

“You’re going to tie us up?”

“Shut up lady.”

“Is that really necessary?” Taffeta said. “I mean look at us. She’s not going anywhere, unless I drag her and frankly, dragging her here was more than I was made for.”

“Just…shut up.”

Hover tied her feet the best he could. Then he tied Myrna’s to hers then worked the rope to connect them both to the base of the couch. Then he left them.

Her first intent was to get free and get them out of there, but the distraction of another soft moan from Myrna, sent her into caring mode. She adjusted her friend to make her more comfortable. Then got herself as comfortable as she should. She stroked her friend’s hair calmly in the dark. Who knows what damage she suffered by the blow to the face. Whatever it was, Taffeta hoped it was temporary. It wasn’t long then until the excitement of the day took its toll and Taffeta herself drifted into a soft, uneasy sleep.

It was hard to tell how much time passed before Taffeta jerked herself awake. Myrna leaned hard against her shoulder, snoring, which was probably a good sign. She was sleeping. Not slipping away into a coma.

Worse still was that in the dimly lit room, she squinted to see Danny standing before her, still, stoic, and staring at them. His face was blank and emotionless. He just stood there drifting ever so slightly back and forth, his dirty hair hanging down across his face. A thin string of drool hung from his lip and stretched down towards the floor.

She watched him.

He stood there. An unnecessary standoff, between the victim and the vacant.

She had no idea how long he stood there before he moved, but when he did, he shook his head and squeezed his eyes as if he were trying to close off someone who might be talking to him. He raised his hand lethargically and waived the phantom voice, away.

“Shut up,” he mumbled, but it sounded more like. “Shuup.”

Then he staggered forward a step, then another, then managed to step slowly into the shadows.

Taffeta breathed out a hard sigh, dropping her head forward. She closed her eyes trying to calm the pounding in her chest.

She must have nodded off again, for when her head jerked up again, another young man was kneeling before her, one she had not seen before.

“Hey lady,” the man said. “You want some water?” He held out a plastic bottle.

Taffeta reached forward slowly. Her muscles sore from hefting Myrna around so much moved under protest.

“Thank you,” she said softly.

The young man looked back and forth quickly before producing another bottle from under his jacket.

“What about her?” he said, reaching out again.

“Yes, thank you.”

“What the hell is this?” Hover said, stepping into the dim light of the room. “What are you doin’ Petey?”

The young man on the floor jumped up, “Nothing. Why? What do you care?”

“Seriously,” Hover said, pressing the other. “What the hell are you doin’? Danny aint gonna like this.”

“Danny doesn’t know what he’s doin.” Petey said. “What’s he thinking bringing two old ladies here?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Hover said. “It’s what he wants and he’s making the decisions. Maybe he wants them to clean up around here.”

“You’ve got to be kidding. We should be letting them go.”

Hover stepped closer to the other man, who held his ground.

“I said…we don’t make those calls,” Hover said. “You sell the stuff. That’s your job. The rest is all up to Danny.”

“Have you seen him? He’s really not looking his best today…or any day lately.”

“So?”

“So…,” Petey leaned in. “I’m making this call. I’m letting them go. They don’t belong here.”

“Don’t do it, Petey.” Hover swung his sledge up slowly to rest on his shoulder as his hands shifted along the handle to find the right grip.

“Screw you, Hover!” Petey said spinning around. “I signed on to this thing for one thing and one thing only – cash. Not kidnapping. Not murder. Just Cash.”

Slowly he stood. “I don’t know what you signed up for and I don’t care. Danny is losing it. He broke the first rule, stay out of the product, and now he’s just a mess. He’s sloppy, careless.”

“Brave talk, coming from a small time street pusher.” Hover said working his hands and training his eyes on Petey.

“Small time?” Petey laughed. “Maybe. maybe it started small time, but who is responsible for this?”

Petey lunged at the boxes along the wall and pulled hard, the first toppled to the floor breaking oven and releasing a spray of cash.

“Or this?” He grabbed another ripping at the flap which allowed more cash to escape.

“This wasn’t Danny. And it certainly wasn’t you! Anything we’ve built, I brought to the table. And this…,” he broke off pointing at the two women. “Is not what we do.”

Petey stood in a puddle of money breathing heavily with his arm stretched out and his eyes fixed on Hover.

“Now,” he said. “I’m making this call. You’d be smart to step back or crawl into whatever hole it is you call home and just let it happen.”

Hover shifted his weight, leaning his head back in consideration. His eyes thinned his stare at the other man and they stood quietly, until Hover finally took a single step back and gestured with one hand as if to say, go ahead.

Petey dropped his arm and nodded with relief at Hover’s slow but, ultimate recognition of what made sense here. He stepped back to the ladies, kneeled down and again, began to work the ropes.

“You ladies get out of here. Get right out of here. Get into your car and go home and for get all about this place and anything you saw here.” He looked up for a brief moment at Taffeta. “You got that?”

“No…,” was the only thing Taffeta had time to mutter.

Petey’s face shifted from contorted confusion at what he thought was Taffeta’s denial, to wide-eyed fear as the woman before him tried to recoil deeper into the couch. There was no time to turn, or flinch or duck for in between those taught seconds, Hover’s sledge found its next target and the aim was true.

Doll – Part X

Doll – Part X

Margie drove the car as Chalmers sat quiet and uneasy in the passenger seat. The doll sat on his lap staring straight ahead as he did. They followed Officer Granger through town and to the northern end of the Cardington cemetery. It was the southern end of the cemetery that suffered the most damage. While it was the most picturesque part, with dense trees lining the banks of the Marklin River, the hill on which the tombstones sat proved no match for the heavy waters which ravaged the town and the surrounding counties.

Chalmers never made this trip before. He stared out the front windshield as if staring into his own end. He struggled to calm his heart which itself was being ravaged by sorrow, apprehension, guilt and a reborn sense of loss. It was only Margie’s gentle hand and soft silent urging which got him this far.

The cars pulled up to a large tent and stopped. There was a flurry of activity as workers and volunteers focused on the task of bringing resolution to this most unfortunate disaster. One portion of the tent was set up for viewing and identification. As Margie stopped the car, Chalmers saw an older woman being helped into another vehicle nearby. He guessed her sobs were the result of her own reopened wound of loss.

Granger walked back to where they were parked. He opened Margie’s door and offered a hand. He followed behind her respectively as she walked to Chalmers’s door. He continued to sit with the doll both staring forward as she swung the door open. He only moved after she placed her hand on his shoulder. As if she activated some sort of on-off switch, the power of her strength and support carried him out of the car.

The tent sat about twelve paces from where they stood, but for Chalmers the space expanded to appear like miles. Margie looped her arm inside his and when he was ready, they took their first steps. Each footfall sounded in Chalmers’s head like a steady heavy drum. Any sounds from the area, birds or the wind in the trees, were effectively blocked by the sound of his own heartbeat.

Granger opened the panel to the tent. Inside sat a line of folding chairs and a long table draped with a sterile white sheet. Underneath…

Chalmers stopped at the tent opening. His eyes fixed on the table and tiny mound that sat hidden by the sheet.

Margie waited. She felt the heat of anxiety and panic coming from Chalmers. She waited. With an attempted deep, but shaky breath, Chalmers took a slow, tentative step inside.

Once they made it to the chairs, the officer and an assistant pulled the sheet back for viewing. Chalmers stared at the ground and the trampled grass beneath his feet.

“Oh,” Margie said, beginning to cry. There was little that lay before her that could remind her of the beauty and grace that was her daughter, but having selected the dress for her, while time had stolen it vibrancy, the memory was clear. “Oh … my Paisley.”

Chalmers continued to sit stoically with his eyes glued to the ground. Margie’s soft sobs filled the hollow space. His breath was fast and heavy. A bead of sweat dripped from his forehead and down the side of his face. While he knew he was in a chair firmly attached to the ground, he felt as if he were standing on a tiny ledge outside a high-rise office building window. Half of him was urging him to jump. Half of him was urging him to run, to wake up from the nightmare and just run.

Suddenly, Chalmers stood bolt upright with a speed that made him slightly dizzy. Margie reached for him then stopped. Her hand hung in the air reaching out for him, but she held it there as he staggered forward one step and then another. As if some force where trying to pull him back, Chalmers fought his way to the edge of the table.

Officer Granger, who had been standing near the back started to approach, ready to act or react as needed, but Margie waved him back.

Chalmers had his eyes closed tight. As one hand he clenched the doll, the other gripped the edge of the metal table as if it were the only thing that prevented him from falling into a pit of his own demise. Heavy, panting breaths escaped him. Tears, squeezed from his eyes and his nose began to drip.

Slowly he raised the doll, and brought it down to the fragile array of remains that sat before him. Gently, he placed the doll on the table. Slowly he dared to open his eyes.

Before, on the table, was not a small pile of bones expected, but the smiling face of his beautiful Paisley, smiling at him. He sobbed a great sense of relief, as he tried to smile back and show strength for her. A small laugh escaped him. He looked down at the who in the moment he set her down, had transformed into the beautiful toy, her daughter loved so much. Two clear blue eyes stared back at him and the clean eternal smile greeted him even as his sight grew bleary with even more tears.

“Thank you, Daddy.”

The words reached as clear as if they were spoken and not imagined, but maybe they were. He smiled again, the best he could. “You’re welcome Pumpkin,” he whispered.

“Daddy, I love you.”

Chalmer’s whispered back, “I love you too. I’m so … sorry.”

Then, as if tucking her in for the night, like he had done so long ago he raised sheet to her chin and stared her one last time.

“Goodbye,” he said. “Goodbye my sweet love.”

He turned away from the table then and completely drained of whatever strength he could ever muster. He dropped to his knees.

Margie, who had stood to move behind him, caught and much as she could and helped to guide him gently down to the ground.

Again, they sobbed together, and they held each other, with only the future before them.

The end.

Doll – Part VIII

“CJ?” Margie asked softly. “What’s wrong?”

Chalmers sat on the edge of the bed, half dressed. He started out all right, but something distracted him.

He knew he had to do this. He had to. It was one of those unfortunate things life threw at you and you had to stand there and take it. It might sting. It might hurt. Hell, it might break you in two and burn like hell, but life has very little interest in your discomforts when it decides to doll out its indiscriminate wisdom.

Still, when he shifted the suit that Margie laid out for him, she caught his eye.

They set the doll aside to make sure it would look perfect. Margie’s sister Pam even did the hair, which included working out a masterful snarl created the last time Paisley tried a style that was a little too exotic. Sitting on the nightstand, she stared at him with her long dark hair and bright blue eyes … smiling.

He took her in his hands and dropped to the bed. He stared into the glassy, careless gaze that looked back at him, and he grew envious of the times she got to stare back at Paisley as if they were secret sisters. He and Margie agreed that since Clarrissa was Paisley’s favorite, her “best friend in the world,” she would go with her to her rest. It made good sense. It did.

Chalmers stared into the doll’s face. His mind was mostly clear of the random thoughts that his brain was prone to conjuring. His head, his heart felt empty like an enormous vacant theatre where long ago, life used to play out before appreciative crowds of people nightly, but now sat hollow and stale and falling into disrepair.

He stared at the doll, longing to hear his daughter’s voice whisper just one last time, “Daddy, I love you.”

He stared at the doll, hoping against hope that she would give him a sign, some indication or reassurance that somewhere Paisley was fine, and safe, and happy, and that she would be all right … so the he could be all right.

Margie entered the room to see what was holding him up. They were late. And while they were both crushed right now, it was Chalmers who needed more from her. She recognized that. She respected that. She knew that when the time came, he would be there for her.

She found him sitting on the bed, not nearly ready, quietly holding the doll.

“Honey,” she said softly. “The car is here. It’s time.”

He sat still and stared into the glassy blue eyes.

“CJ, we need to go. Can you finish getting dressed? Everyone will be waiting.”

While is eyes never wavered from the doll’s, his head slowly shook once side-to-side, so subtly Margie might have missed it if she hadn’t been watching him so closely. She stepped closer to him and placed her hand on his shoulder. “Let me help you.”

The man’s head shook with more insistence, as a child might do when his mother was trying to feed him broccoli. Side-to-side it swung. No.

“Chalmers, please,” Margie said. “I know it’s hard. It’s so hard.” She started to cry. “Please. Get dressed and come with me. Paisley will want her doll.”

“I…” he whispered. He took a deep breath, which triggered a series of deep quick breaths. “I … I … can’t.” His head kept shaking side-to-side. “I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.” Tears streamed down his face as his sorrow contorted his features. He sobbed. “I can’t.”

“You need to say goodbye,” Margie whispered.

“I can’t.”

“If you don’t, you’ll regret it, for the rest of your life.”

“I can’t. I can’t.”

“Please. Come with me. Say goodbye with me,” Margie said, with a soft urgency through sobs of her own. “I can’t do this alone. Don’t leave me alone in this.”

“I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.”

At that point, whatever Chalmers Elk had left in him, whatever was holding him so loosely together then, evaporated. His hands let go of the doll, which Margie caught, and he crumpled to the floor. Sobbing without limits, he curled into a ball, repeating, “I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.”

Doll – Part VI

“I’m sorry, what?” Chalmers stood at the door. Margie Elk stood before him, glaring at him from the stoop. Despite the curled expression of anger and her heavy breaths, he couldn’t help but feel relief that one, it was a human being at the door and two … it was her. A wave of nostalgia and memory, sadness and joy hit him all at once and he grasped the doorknob extra tight for balance. “What are you doing here?”

It had been years since he had seen or spoken to Margie, who was the true love of his life, at least until Paisley came and stole his heart. The vague memory of their last real conversation, which was really him lying on the floor in a drunken stupor and not a conversation at all, brought the heat of embarrassment to his face.

She was four years younger than him and the years had been kind to her. Far kinder to her than he felt for himself and despite the anger, she still held the light in her eyes that he fell in love with the moment they met.

“Is this some kind of a joke?” Margie choked a bit on the last word as she fought between killing him and crying.

She shot her arm out at him and in her hand was a plastic head and body swaddled in a dirty gingham cloth.

As his eyes dropped, Chalmers recoiled a step. Two dark eyes, one at half-mast, stared him over delicate smile. The doll.

Margie surged ahead and pushed the doll hard into his chest, holding it there. “Do you think this is funny?” she said, the anger making her voice rough.

Chalmers felt like a small child being taunted by a schoolyard bully. Margie kept pushing the doll into him, releasing a pent up aggression years in the making. He wanted to turn and run.  The foreign body against him almost felt like it was burning.

“Margie, stop!”

Another step back and the delicate knee, which had served him fairly well throughout a day of cleaning and clearing, whimpered and gave way forcing him to stumble backwards to the floor. Margie moved with a surprising agility as she kept the doll plastered firmly to his chest.

“Why would you do this?” she said, screaming now. “Where did you get this?”

She fell to her knees as her tears began to flow. She lifted the doll from Chalmer’s chest then slammed it back into to him once, then again, then again. Propping himself up on his elbows, he was unable to block the blows, not that it mattered. Margie’s rage lessened with each swing. Each strike came softer and softer until she fell on him exhausted and sobbing.

Chalmers dropped down to his back as the two of them lay in a pile on the floor in the front hall. With a hesitance he had not felt since their second date, he slowly moved his arms to embrace her. She gave a half-hearted shrugged intended to stop him, but for the first time in a long time, this felt good and right. He tightened his arms around her and pulled her as close to him as he could. A tear formed in the corner of his eye and when full and ready, it dripped free releasing a lifetime of tears and regret.

Doll – Part II

There was the dark, but the silence that came with it faded into a soft beep, regular and steady. The tone seemed to call him, urging him back to the surface. He thought about opening his eyes, but his heavy lids gave him pause, closed proved to be exactly how they wanted to stay. A gentle but firm touch near his wrist startled him ever so slightly from the brink of another dream. His head floated in a dizzy haze as he forced one eye open.

“Well, hello there,” Amanda Pike said with a slight smile. She finished taking his pulse and marked her chart.

“Where?”

“Sh…, Mr. Elk, you’re at Cardington Memorial. You’re a lucky man. You’ve been through quite a lot.”

“What … happened?”

Nurse Pike hung the chart at the end of the bed and stepped to his side. “The storms have caused substantial flooding and power outages all through the valley and the surrounding areas. After the evacuation orders posted, volunteers and authorities went house to house to make sure people were getting out. That’s when they found you. They thought you had a heart attack.”

“Heart …,” Chalmers muttered.

“No,” Pike said. “Like I said, you’re a lucky man. I would let the doctor explain it, but with so many coming in, it would some time before someone got up here. The doctor’s found no evidence of a heart attack. They are running a few more tests to make sure it wasn’t a stroke, but, it looks like with all the excitement of the storm, you had a pretty good anxiety attack.”

Chalmers closed his eyes. His head swam against the medication.

Nurse Pike checked the monitor and adjusted the tube of oxygen under his nose.

“Where …,” he muttered, unable to get the whole thought pulled together.

“Where, what? The flood? Everywhere. The water is just everywhere and still rising. They say it might just breach the hundred-year mark. It’s sad. I’ve never seen so many people displaced. It’s just crazy.”

“No…,” Chalmers said. It was hard to pull the words together when the sedatives urged him back to sleep. ”Where is …”

“Where is what Mr. Elk? The doctors? They are most likely tied up in the ER. Your clothes and belongings, well at least what they brought you in with are there in the closet safe and sound.”

“Doll …”

Nurse Pike turned to him and glared at the connotation.

“No …,” he tried again. His head sagged in frustration. “The doll. Where is the doll?”

“Why, what doll Mr. Elk?”

“Paisley’s doll.”

“I’m sorry Mr. Elk, There was no doll.”

His thoughts swirled back to the storm, the incredible rain, the lightning. He remembered unwrapping the thick brown paper, and the dirty gingham. He remembered the stare of the small, black soulless eyes – one that sat at half-mast. They stared at him. They stared into him. There was a doll, Paisley’s doll.

“No doll?” he whispered.

“No sir. The crew said they found you right by your front door, slumped over clutching your shirt with both hands. That’s why they thought you had a heart attack. There was no doll.”

Doll

Despite the waves of rain thrashing the window panes, the brilliant flashes of lighting and the resounding cracks of thunder, Chalmers Elk slept in his overstuffed easy chair. The winds of October howled, making sure that summer knew its time was done, that fall was here and that winter would soon follow.

At the end of his long days, the now 67 year-old Chalmers found very little that could keep him awake once he hit the chair. He still worked full-time at Hatter’s Mill, thanks to a few bad investments and an on again, off again drinking problem.  These days he was finding it hard to keep up. Even as much as a year ago he could run circles around the younger workers. It wasn’t so much his greater strength as it was their lack of motivation and odd sense of entitlement.

And of course, there was the accident. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but unless he stood or moved just right, his knee let him know it was bad enough.

He stirred a bit when a louder than normal set of commercials assaulted him from the television. He laid a lazy eye on the screen as the beautiful people reminded him there are tasty ways to increase his fiber intake and many possible solutions for erectile dysfunction. He smirked and faded back into sleep.

As the storm raged outside, an hour passed.

Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump … a heavy pounding came at his front door pulling him abruptly from the arms of his rest. He sat up and listed again. What was that? It could have been the storm. Probably was. Nobody came out to see him on a good day, say nothing about one of the nastiest nights of the year. He started to ease back to reclaim his peace.

Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump.

The clock in the hallway chimed. It was midnight.

Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump.

Chalmers pulled himself up to the edge of his chair. Someone was at the door. It was probably kids. He guessed he was at the age now where kids found it funny to hassle the old guy who lived alone. He stood, nearly giving in to the protest from his knee, and headed to the hallway. He thought about stopping in the kitchen first for some kind of protection, but thought again. Probably just kids.

Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump.

He worked his way down the hall to the door clicking on lights as he went. He turned the porch light on last and as he did, the latest bolt of lightning hit threatening to take all the lights with it. They flickered, but held. The rain spattered window made it difficult to see if anything or anyone was outside.

He unlocked the door and pulled it fast and wide hoping to catch any one who might still be running. He winced again at the pinch in his knee.

As he suspected, no one stood at the door. They ran away. He squinted out into the rain looking for suspects and listening for laughter or footsteps or any clue as to who might pester him on such a night.

It was then he looked down, half expecting to see a smoldering paper bag filled with feces. Pathetic, he thought. But while something was left for him, it was not on fire. It was a damp package, brown packing paper sloppily, or hastily wrapped with a thick piece of frayed jute twine. He nudged it with his toe once and again. Then he looked out into the rain. Nothing. He took the package inside.

Locking the door behind him, another bolt of lightning made the lights flicker. Not one for suspense, he untied the loose knot of the twine and peeled back the paper. Inside was a dirty bundle of blue and white gingham cloth, most from the rain. The cloth was wrapped around something. Dropping the paper and twin to the floor, he slowly unwrapped the cloth.

His hands froze the moment the cloth revealed its hidden secret. They clenched tight as his breath caught and his chest began to tighten. His eyes grew wide. A wave of memory and fear churned through him.

Looking back at him from the dirty cloth was a child’s doll. Small, fragile and dirty, one eye sat half-open as the other seemed to pierce his soul. They stared at each other as he stumbled back against the door. His chest expanded, growing tighter.

“Paisley,” he whispered.

The doll stared. His breath grew shallow, but their eyes never wavered.

He slid down against to door to the floor. Sweat poured from his head. His heart pounded in his chest as if it were looking to escape.

It was Paisley’s doll. He hadn’t seen it in thirty years, and why would he? She was buried with it.

A bright burst of light filled the house. This time, the lights were no match, the house went dark. Still holding the doll tight in his grip, Chalmers Elk passed out.

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Cold

It was the season’s first dip below 32 degrees. And the day’s wind was a harbinger for the months that lay ahead. As it picked away the leaves of fall one by one, and sent so many to their sleep, winter began its long crawl into Sterling Corners.

Chase Hatkins drove down that last mile of 420 before his exit to home. It was dark because it was late, but he reconciled that with the notion that with winter setting in, it would have been dark anyway. He glanced up at the billboard touting “Crazy Low Round Trip Airfares to St. Pete, Orlando and other Locales” and “Round Trip to Miami – $75.” He seemed to catch that one every time, as if it had brighter lights on it which more effectively drew his attention. Just thinking about the cold gave him an uncomfortable shiver in his spine, or perhaps, a touch of nausea.

He didn’t hate winter. It had its charm, in spots, but as he got older, the cold seemed to settle into his bones faster and deeper than he could recall and finding the charm in it all was more o f a struggle each year.

The billboard zipped by, but its message left a subtle impression on him that combined with the slight memories of his past few sightings which seemed to generate some consideration on its message. Chase hated the notion of being manipulated, but damn if the billboard wasn’t doing its job.

It had been over eleven years since he took a vacation. It was a long weekend in Virginia Beach because his feet demanded that they be soaked in the rippling waves of the ocean for a few days. He liked vacations. He liked being away. He was so good at forgetting everything he was responsible for back home that is was almost as if he became a wholly other person. And as he thought about “Crazy Low Round Trip Airfares to St. Pete, Orlando and other Locales” and “Round Trip to Miami – $75,” and balanced that against the pending winter, a tiny ember of longing stirred in his soul.

He could take a vacation, a trip to someplace warm. It would probably be good for him. The airfare seemed right. Then again, he knew those posted airfares were bait meant to lure longing minds like his to dangerous considerations with the promise inexpensive opportunities. A round trip flight to Miami might start at $75, but there would surely be rate windows and limitations, then fees and taxes to make the real cost something higher. Then, there was lodging to consider … and food.

If he tapped out his available savings he could probably spend three economical weeks away soaking up sun rays and forgetting about his frozen existence back home. Work would have no part of it of course. Nobody was allowed more than a week at a time to ensure production quotas. Another consideration was that even after whatever time he could cobble together, he would have to come back. Not only to work, but to the dark and the cold, to his humble abode and to the real life he lead, one far less dramatic and important than the lives he created while away.

He deserved it right? Maybe. Maybe he only deserved what he had because whether by design or by default, that was what he earned.

A burst of wind pushed hard against his car as he left the highway to head up Stiger Road. A neon palm tree flickered in the window of the Southern Heat Tanning Salon. The man on the radio began to talk about the possibility of snow.