Tag Archives: relationships

On any given day… 1

Any-given-day

“She could be a professional smiler, ” Barton thought. “If there was such a thing.”

He stood at his register mindlessly passing the goods from Mrs. Fromeyer’s cart, one at a time, across the scanner. He waved each item back and forth over the single, red-flashing laser eyeball of the machine that logged the purchases until it noted success with a short, innocuous beep.

April, who stood at lane number 7, just two registers away, did the same work, but with more…

Words flashed across his mind as he sought out just the right one. Style? Flair? Zest?

Panache.

Yes, panache was it to a T. It felt like an old word. Like something his grandmother might say, but it fit April and what she was doing in this moment perfectly. While he scanned by rote, April talked to people. She was genuine. She cared. She gave little tidbits of information about the products the people were buying and asked them about their day.

Even though she had a scrunchy at the ready on her wrist, she kept her hair down most of the time. It constantly fell across her face, which required that she constantly pull it back and tuck it behind her ear. An exercise in futility for the hair, but for him each pull back revealed that amazing smile. It hit him like a kid watching a magician pulling his cape back to reveal the end of an amazing illusion.

Barton looked around the store. Most people don’t smile. Mrs. Fromeyer wasn’t smiling. He wasn’t smiling. They were all capable of smiling, sure, but everyone seemed to dole them out as if they were a precious and limited resource best used exclusively for special occasions.

Not April though. If smiling was a precious and limited commodity that should be tightly managed, nobody told her. She had smiles for everyone. She had smiles for no one. She looked as though she could have been born with a smile on her face. She could have been the hardest birth known to humanity and Barton could only imagine the new infant April lying in a small hospital crib and struggling to “make it” – all while smiling.

It was a sweet smile, natural and full. It fit her face perfectly. It never faded. If it ever went away, and he was pressed to think of a time when that happened, you could rest assured that a new fresh smile was coming up to take its place any second.

When some people smile, it looks forced, fake, off-putting in some cases and foreign in others, as if gracing the face it sat on was a mistake. It’s not that these people are unhappy, but more that they are not properly gifted with adequate smile features.

April’s face was made for smiling. Whatever bone structure and musculature nature set up for her provided the optimum conditions for maximum smile efficiency. She had more than a mouth smile. Her whole head was symmetrical and balanced. The trigger of the smile caused her eyes to widen just so to add that extra gleam to them and a subtle, soft blush would grace her cheeks with just the right amount of color. It was art. She was smile incarnate.

He could imagine her face on magazines, billboards, giant animated screens and on TV, not hawking cars and overpriced, sludge-creating, high-speed juicing machines, no. That did not suit her. Instead, she would represent ideals, assurances and lofty aspirations, inspiring  those seeking help or who search for a pathway to a better existence to take those steps needed to be who they want to be in this life. Quit smoking. Read books. Meditate. Recycle. Save puppies. Feed the homeless. Use energy efficient LED light bulbs. Retire at Shady Oaks. Consider Tyler Funeral Home the best option for your loved ones as they head to the great unknown. And more.

He knew he was staring. He tried not to, but still he found himself looking without looking, gauging her movements to make sure that if she were to look up, he could effectively shift his gaze off to some other direction without getting caught with his eyes on her like some distant, creepy, stalker.

He was not proud, but it could not be helped. In his 19 and three-quarter years of life, he had never encountered such a force. It knocked him off balance. Yet, in 19 and three-quarters years of life, he still he knew well the notions of fate and impermanence. His best friend “for life” David Berkingham moved away that fateful day in June the year they both turned eight and look how that turned out. It was like David never existed. Nothing lasts forever. So if the universe saw fit to align his path with that of April Timmons and the smile that could generate universal peace and harmony, who was he to argue?

*Editor’s note:
To read other story entries, just search for On any given day at the top of the page.

Copyright © 2018 – The JEFFWORKS

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Something to Ponder – 2

banaba 1a

Sage advice from an elderly gentleman perched atop a lonely Mountain.

Hello friends! Today our question comes from Myrtle Trisk of Portnoy, North Dakota.

“Dear Banaba,” she writes. “Why are people so stupid?”

To my friend, Myrtle I say, “Because.”

I say because, because there is really no better answer to that question, at least as Myrtle poses it.

It is what some might refer to as a “loaded question.” For without context, the ability to assist her in reaching a higher level of enlightenment is greatly diminished. Despite our very best efforts, to try and divine a satisfactory response that helps illuminate the pathway to resolution related to her specific need is very much like trying to lasso a single star in the great universe that surrounds us.

Let us try instead, to better understand what drives such a question, to then see if a more reasonable answer will present itself.

First, Myrtle is not alone in her search for the answer to this question. Many write to Banaba asking the very same thing with varying levels of related information. But the question itself seems to be more an expression of frustration. The motivation to ask the question comes when understanding the actions of those around us – both in circles close to us and those in representational groups we are forced to recognize – eludes us.

In most cases, it is clear that a person or persons have acted, or are acting, in a way that conflicts with what we see as our own definition of common sense. We see them as behaving contrary to what we deem as “smart” and the action is so far away from “smart” that in order to easily classify them for the sake of discussion, we must ordain them as “stupid.”

As an example, let’s say that many users of the Internet start responding to a common and widely dispersed post that asks, “What kind of cat are you?” You begin to see tens, then hundreds, then thousands of responses from some of your very closest friends and family members to throngs of total strangers, which define for you, and each other, what kind of cat they are.

We know, of course, they are not currently and never will be a cat. Let’s say too, that you do not like cats in the least. Let us say finally, that you find this kind of mindless group exercise to be a fruitless and meaningless waste of time.

You will certainly not be playing the game, for you could care less about what kind of cat you are. In fact, we could go as far to say that your strongest desire might be to post something completely contrary (like being a dead cat) that would wrinkle the noses of those who are playing the game.

However, since you see yourself as better than that, and you are not interested in dealing with the potential rage of a group of angry cat lovers, you do nothing. That lack of satisfactory action and the inability to put an end to the distraction causes frustration. In the worst case, this frustration can make one very angry to the point of wanting to break something, or wanting to punch someone in the face. But again, because you are so reasonable, you boil that frustration down to the point where all you have left is to ask, “Why are people so stupid?”

You don’t really need an answer.

You need a better question.

You need to release frustration that comes with trying to figure out what you may never know. You need to understand that the energy put into figuring out why people do what they do, may never result in an answer that gives you great insights, for the moment you think you’ve seen it all, a whole new crop of stupid is almost certainly guaranteed to rise up and greet you.

Thus, the better question for you Myrtle and so many others; the better possible pathway to a deeper layer of inner peace may be:

Why do I allow people who act contrary to my personal sense of, or definition of intelligence, distract me so that it restricts the progress I make on my personal journey to enlightenment?

Remember too, the you may at one time or another, do something that falls outside of someone else’s personal definition of smart. You will be a distraction to their focus, which feeds the pool of their frustrations, and they may one day write Banaba a letter about you.

Peace to you  – Banaba

The Glorious Sunset of Taffeta Spaulding – Epilogue

“Will there be anything else ladies?”

Taffeta stirred awake from a light nap, as the waiter, whose name tag identified him as Damerae, placed their drinks on the small table next to their lounge chairs.

“Oh, no thank you,” Taffeta said. “This is fine.”

“Not right now Damerae,” Myrna said. “But don’t go too far. I never know when I might just feel like dancing.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Damerae said with a wink.

“Myrna?” Taffeta said, as the waiter moved on. “You are a shameless flirt.”

“I am,” Myrna said, settling deeper into her chair and her sense of self-satisfaction. “I don’t see any reason to change at this point.”

“I’ll drink to that,” Taffeta said, lifting her glass.

She let the cool, fruity concoction work it’s magic and closed her eyes again behind her large sunglasses.

In the dark, the shadows of the past rose up as they always do now. The imprinted residue of resilient memories that can’t be erased, but instead, must be endured until they fade away of their own volition.

A shadowy room materializes, strewn with the bodies of those unfortunates who lurked in alleyways and around corners waiting for a crack at an easier life, but always at the expense of another.

Bright spatters and dark puddles of blood broke up the monotonous, dusty grays and dingy browns. The smells of dirt, mold, decay and gunpowder mixed in a choking, nauseating haze.

Once again Myrna stands with her outstretched arm holding a smoking, hot Cora covered by a patent leather purse now with a sizable hole in the side. The long and broken couch. The money.

Yes. Even in the midst of chaos and fear and death, the siren call of money is strong and clear and seductive.

Once Taffeta and Myrna calmed themselves, Myrna was ready to go, to cut bait and run and just clear out and start the work of forgetting. But how does that happen? For all that went on in that room. The screaming, the fighting, the gunfire, they were still alone. They were in a place that nobody on the outside must have cared much about. When it was over, it was quiet. More than quiet. Silent. No sirens. No men with megaphones shouting “Come out with your hands up.”

Nothing.

It was just the two of them, the bodies and the money.

“Myrna, wait,” Taffeta remembered.

“Wait? Wait for what?” Myrna asked.

“Let’s…just see how much.”

“How much what? How much more mayhem we can get into? No thank you!” Myrna turned again to leave, but Taffeta held strong.

“The boxes. All those boxes must be filled with money. I mean, look at how much it is on the floor.”

“You’re kidding right? It’s bad money, Taffy. Blood money. Money from drugs and crimes and…”

Taffeta looked back at her friend. “And what if we call they police? What if they come and see what went on here. What do you think happens?”

“I’m sure I don’t know.”

“You do,” Taffeta said. “You know they will come and clean up the mess and lock everything up and that’s the end of it.”

“You want to take the money?” Myrna asked. “Really?!”

“Let’s see how much.”

“No. It’s blood money.”

“It’s lost money Myrna. It’s not like this is from a bank or something. I mean sure, some of it’s stolen, but you heard them, a lot of this money people gave willingly – stupidly, sure, but willingly. Just to get high or whatever.”

“It belongs to somebody,” Myrna said. “It always does.”

“Why not us?”

“What?”

“Sure, why not us?” Taffeta said. “We were kidnapped, victimized, harassed, tied up, probably traumatized for the rest of our lives and they were going to kill us. Can we just walk away from that? Can you just, forget all that? Forget it all and just move on?”

Myrna took another step toward the door and stopped. “I killed a man, Taffy.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t get me wrong. I’m not sad about it. He was certainly going to kill you and if it happened all over, I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

“But…”

“I don’t know. It feels wrong. The killing feels wrong even though it was the only thing I knew to do. Taking the money, just feels wrong.”

“I know. You’re right,” Taffeta said. “And we can leave right now and go home and call the police and let them deal with it all. And we will get on with the rest of our lives, however long that is, and try to forget it all and hope that we are stronger than our nightmares, because I don’t think this is going away any time soon. I mean, just look! I’m just not sure that’s how I want my ending to be.”

“How?”

“Alone in an empty house, making sure I’m up by a certain time so that I can take my medicine before my nap and be awake for my afternoon doses of whatever so I can do it all again tomorrow and the next day!”

“Taffy…”

“Myrna, we almost died here today. Right here in this horrible, disgusting, vermin-infested wreck of a place. Right here where we would be forgotten as soon as the next news story came along to replace the one that tells the tale of two stupid old women who got themselves killed because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time!”

Taffeta spun away from Myrna and stared into the shadows, at the bodies and the ocean of bills that poured from the boxes Petey tipped over.

It was some time before she felt Myrna’s hand on her shoulder. “Let’s just see how much.”

It took them a while, but they loaded quite a few boxes into the car that waited for them outside. There was too much to count right there. It was all sort of thrown together. And there was the matter of the three dead bodies. Once they decided to move on their idea, the ladies moved effectively.

For as troubled as he was, Danny Mackenoy, the New Capone, did a fair job of gathering up quite a lot of money. Who knows? If he stayed away from the drugs himself, it might have dawned on him that he was close to getting exactly what he wanted.

They took what felt right. Nothing more. It came as a silent decision between them after loading one of the boxes into the car. At one point or another, it just seemed like enough.

Once they were loaded, they made certain they had all their belongings, and they crawled into the car and headed home – at last.

About halfway home, they found a payphone and called the police. They didn’t know that address specifically, but they gave the general area and expressed concern over what they were certain was gunfire before hanging up.

Once at Taffeta’s house, they ate and had a good sleep before they started rooting through the boxes of money in the front room. With few expectations, it just became clear that it was a lot. Anytime they came across a random pill or other chemical, they promptly flushed it down the toilet.

They split the money into two piles then sat down looking at them for the longest time wondering what next.

They watched television news for any information on their story from the other perspective and it was as it was expected, “Three unknown victims were found dead in quarantined building, two from blunt force trauma and one from multiple gunshot wounds. Along with the bodies, police found a variety of prescription drugs and a large amount of money, possibly related to a recent string of thefts from several local pharmacies. Police suspect gang and, or drug related violence as the cause, but continue to investigate.”

Two days later, the story all but evaporated from the headlines, due to a warehouse explosion on the other side of town with the potential of releasing toxic smoke that posed a danger to the local population.

Then things got quiet.

Taffeta called Angela Deffert of Deffert, Smith and Deffert, blah, blah as her brother did some time ago. Proper and professional, Miss Deffert acknowledged the memory of working with Taffeta’s brother and the firm’s handling of his affairs, including the distribution of the various crates that he left in his will.

Miss Deffert confirmed that Taffeta’s brother had indeed secured their services, not only because they were a top ranking firm, but for their reputation for being discreet.

In short order, Taffeta and Myrna had set up the money in a living trust with conditions suitable to their liking. They arranged for the pick up, delivery and possible long-term storage of a certain crate, which now contained a well cleaned, well oiled and well packed Cora along with the remaining ammunition.

They each sold their houses and pretty much everything else they had short of their most prized possessions and made the plan to head some place, “South. Tropical. Caribbean.”

“Well, I do declare,” Myrna said, in what was the very passable, if not stereotypical accent of a Southern belle. “Why, with all this heat I fear that I am fixin’ to perspire!” She leaned over and tapped Taffeta on the shoulder stirring her again, from her visit to the past.

“I’m heading inside to take a shower before we go to dinner,” she said. “Don’t stay out here too long now, ya hear? Why, you’ll just bake!”

“Go!” said Taffeta, laughing lightly. “Get out of here, you loon!”

“Seriously, you don’t want to burn.”

“I’ll be along,” Taffeta said, downing the very last of her cocktail. “I don’t want to miss the sunset.”

Taffeta shifted in her chair and draped a towel across her legs. Her gaze moved along the beach and out across the water. She squinted and pushed herself to see as far as she could, far beyond the horizon and up into the sky until the very essence of her soul seemed to melt into the churning warm hues of the evening sun, set to drop away to mark the end of another day.

THE END

The Glorious Sunset of Taffeta Spaulding – VIII

Despite whatever went on inside his drug addled mind, and despite the self-inflicted tattoo that boldly, yet sloppily declared himself the “New Capone,” Danny Mackenoy was small time.

On the surface, his story read like the pages of so many others; very few friends, bad in school, truant, fighting, petty thefts, stints in juvie and everything else that would lead one to believe his destiny was either prison or an early death caused by any one of his random acts of stupidity.

On a deeper level, Danny was his own worst enemy. He wanted to be bad. He boldly slapped away every hand that ever reached out to him in earnest with an offer of honest help or reform, opting instead to dive deeper into forming the skin of a big time, hard-core crime boss. The way he saw it, he had the brains, he had the guts and there was nothing but opportunity all around him.

If Danny had anything going for him at all, it was his recent string of pure luck.

His latest scheme involved a line of robberies aimed at amassing cash, for cash meant power and power meant Danny Mackenoy could do whatever he wanted.

The plan was simple enough, steal as much cash as possible or steal whatever he could easily convert into cash. After cracking into a few houses and a gas station out in Millersburg, Danny stumbled upon the notion that drug stores, especially older ones, could render even faster results. They had cash. They had drugs. The drugs could be sold for cash and whatever was left over could help him soothe away the worries of another hectic day. Win, win, win.

Smart enough to know he couldn’t take on such an enterprise without some help, he enlisted the skills of a low-level hacker and petty thief, Hover Johnston. He also brought Petey Chambers in as his primary sales associate to move the various pills and notions into the town’s dark crevices where the lesser knowns hungered for his brand of relief, at a cost, of course.

Once Hover disarmed the security systems, which he often accomplished with a sizable sledgehammer, if there was one at all, they could walk right in and take charge. Hover stood watch at the door, while Danny went to the back to “fill his prescriptions” and otherwise relieve the registers of the burden of their legal tender.

Danny kept an eye on a number of area drug stores, to see if he could tell when their primary shipments came in so they would be ripe for the picking. But it was less an effort to conduct concerted stake out and more an exercise in smoking and aimless loitering. His decision to strike rarely grew from his research, but more from boredom and a lack of patience.

When Cowell’s Pharmacy grew ripe and in his mind, was ready for the picking, Danny was going in shit be damned.

And though he would rather have had the store to himself, Hover was already in the back doing his thing when the two old ladies stepped through the doors. Flies in his ointment to be sure, but small, frail flies at that. Nothing he couldn’t handle.

A soft step or two and he was right behind them without so much as a sideways glance. Dropping his sizable mitts on the far side shoulder of each woman, he pressed them together and brought his face to meet theirs in the middle.

“Good morning ladies. Welcome to Cowell’s. Let’s go shopping!”

He held them there for a moment as his hands curled into a grip on the shoulders of each of their coats, then pushed them forward to walk an arm’s length ahead of him.

“Young man!” Myrna said in a huff, as she tried to keep up with the pace of the man pushing them. She linked her arm through Taffeta’s and they squeezed into each other for strength and balance.

“Shut up lady,” Danny growled at the back of her head. “Just shut up. Not a word from either of you, got it?”

He pushed them through the entryway and turned down the third aisle. Taffeta tried to keep her breath calm as she squeezed Myrna’s arm and caught the blur of the various items that seemed to whiz by them from their places on the claustrophobic shelves. Candy turned into socks turned into lotions before the aisle ended and they emerged on the far end in front of the pharmacist’s counter.

Danny pushed them forward hard into the edge. Myrna whimpered as she took the brunt of the blow. Her breath came heavy.

Danny loosened his grip on Taffeta long enough to reach beyond her and slam his hand down on the small bell that sat innocently next to the sign that read, “Ring for service.”

Ring, ring, ring, ring, ring.

“Hey!” he yelled.

Ring, ring, ring, ring, ring.

“Hey!”

His hand covered the bell. He lifted it up and threw it hard beyond the counter and back into the shelves with a crash.

“Hey, are you deaf back there or what? How ’bout some service?”

He gripped Taffeta’s shoulder again and shifted the ladies together along the edge of the counter so that he could see into the back better.

“Hey!” even louder. “My Nana here needs her medicine!”

The sound of some boxes falling rose up from the back, just before the disheveled pharmacist came stumbling out and into sight. Then he tripped and fell out of sight again behind the counter. Behind him, with sledge in hand, stood Hover Johnston.

“You’re not gonna believe this,” Hover shouted down to his partner. “But Doctor Drugs here was trying to sneak out the back door.”

He dropped the sledge, stepped forward and reached down to grab the pharmacist and heft him up, pushing him too, hard against the counter. A small line of blood slid down over the man’s forehead from a cut somewhere in the mass of his tousled hair.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” the older man spat out through heavy breath, his face held tight against the countertop by Hover’s arm. “How, how,” he huffed. “Can I help you?”

“Like I said,” Danny said, disgruntled at the lack of service. “My Nana here needs her medicine.”

“Which…,” huff. “Medicine.”

Danny stood tall, releasing his grip of the ladies and spread his arms wide before him. “All of them!”

In a swift movement, he stepped back then lunged forward up onto and over the counter landing right next to Hover.

“Keep an eye on ’em. All of them,” he said, before scooping up several shopping bags located behind the counter and stepping back into the promised land.

Hover released the pharmacist long enough to reach back to the floor and grab his sledge. Jumping back, he caught the man just before he slipped off  to prevent him from heading to the floor.

“Where you goin’ Pops?” he said, pushing the man’s head and face back into the counter. “That’s right. Nowhere. Nobody’s going nowhere.

The man on the counter moved his eyes up enough to see the faces of the two ladies. The three stared at each other, wordlessly, with faces aptly contorted to suit their circumstance .

It took three minutes, before Danny emerged with full bags of merchandise – hydromorphone, hydrocodone, oxymorphine and some others just because he liked the colors. All his favorites. His mouth chewed ferociously on some tablets that he tossed in for fun and one small white pill stuck to the side of his cheek for a moment before it fell free and tumbled to the floor.

“That’s it,” he yelled, spitting. “Easy as pie.”

His eyes grew wide as he jumped on to the counter and crowed into the empty store like a victorious warrior.

Then he stopped suddenly, shook his head to shift the greasy long strands of his hair from his face, turned back behind him and said, “Mr. Johnston, our work here is done. While the service here was shit,” he said screaming the last word down to the pharmacist. “We ultimately got what we came for. So, I will let it go…this time, but I doubt we will ever return, and I will be telling all my friends to take their business elsewhere.”

He kicked out at the pharmacist causing him to wince before jumping to the floor, back next to the ladies.

“What should we do with him?” Hover asked, “And the old ladies?”

Danny turned and looked at the three, his mouth gnawing at the last bits of the chalky medications.

“Damn,” he said. “Well, I’m in no condition to drive right now, so ladies – you’re with me. And as for that guy…I don’t care. I suppose the moment we leave he’ll try to call the cops so…whatever might fix that would be…”

“Now you listen to me,” Myrna said through gritting teeth as she stepped forward. “We aren’t going anywhere with you. You have what you want. Just go and leave us all alo…”

Myrna didn’t get to finish before a fist filled with the handles of a shopping bag filled with drugs caught her in the cheek. She fell back slowly into Taffeta, who caught her as best she could, but she couldn’t support the weight and they both fell backward hard into the wall of the pharmacy counter.

“Myrna?” Taffeta said, trying to calm the quiver in her voice. “Myrna, honey. You’re ok. You’re ok now. Myrna?”

Myrna mustered a grown that while soft and weak, was enough to quell the burning fear in Taffeta’s chest. They sat together on the floor  as Danny stepped closer to them and crouched down.

“Wham!”

The sound burst up from behind them, behind the counter followed by a retching scream as Hover’s sledge made sure the last thing the pharmacist’s fingers would do is dial a phone…or do pretty much anything else for a good long while.

“You hear that ladies?” Danny spoke softly. “That there is the sound of anguish caused by an utter lack of cooperation pure and simple.”

“Now, my associate is not very smart. He would be all too happy to make your day miserable with a little wave of his sledge hammer. And the only thing between him and you is me. So, while I like this store enough to fill my prescriptions, this is not where I planned the spend the rest of the afternoon. So if you would be-so-kind, would you get off your fat asses and TAKE ME TO YOUR CAR!”

Danny’s words were well metered until the end when spit filled with the crusty remnants of a handful of tablets splashed into their faces.

Danny stared at Taffeta. Taffeta stared at Danny. Myrna moaned softly as a harsh redness spread across her cheek where the skin began to swell.

Heavy seconds ticked by like minutes.

Then Taffeta blinked. She looked away and hefted Myrna in her arms.

“Come on sweetie,” she said. “We’ve got to go now.”

She moved and struggled until both ladies were standing, Myrna leaning heavily against her friend.

“Now that’s what I’m taking about,” Danny said standing. “Cooperation! After you, ladies.” He swung his arm low as he half bowed inviting the two women to go before him.

Taffeta hefted Myrna one last time to make sure she had a good grip. She settled the strap of her purse on the other shoulder and slowly stepped before their captor heading toward the pharmacy door.

The Glorious Sunset of Taffeta Spaulding – IV

“Myrna.”

Nothing.

“Myrna, honey,” Taffeta said, softly dabbing her friend’s forehead with a moistened towel.

Nothing.

“Myrrrrnaaa,” Taffeta said in a low soft voice, quietly singing out the name and hoping her friend would come to.

From the time the clattering sound crawled through the line and reached her ear, it took about fifteen minutes for Taffeta to hang up the phone and get over to Myrna’s house. As the noise registered in her head, the burn of genuine fear and concern filled her chest, for even if Myrna dropped to the ground simply and directly, any fall at their age could be dangerous. It could mean heart attacks, and broken bones, and long convalescences, and pain, and… She shook the thoughts away.

Once she pulled into Myrna’s driveway, she immediately went around to the back of the house. Even though she could get a glimpse of her friend lying there in the middle of her kitchen floor, she knocked quickly, to be polite. When Myrna didn’t move, Taffeta tipped up the edge of a small potted geranium, slid out the extra house key made her way in.

Dropping her purse and the key as she entered, she ran over to the body as fast as she could without tripping, falling or having a heart attack of her own. She wouldn’t mind, but Myrna would mind a great deal if someone came in and found two ladies of a certain age lying next to each other, or however they ended up dead, on her kitchen floor. Most undignified. Scandalous even.

The handset of the phone lay on the floor next to Myrna’s head screeching the high-pitched buzzing tone you get when you leave the line open too long after the person on the other side hangs up.

Taffeta reached over and pushed the button marked by the small red phone icon filling the room with silence. Then she moved closer to Myrna, her movements torn between eagerness and trepidation. She inched her ear close to her friend’s face in the hopes of hearing a breath. Myrna obliged by exhaling a soft, thin, raspy whistle of a breath. Taffeta sighed, swallowed hard and allowed herself to draw a deep calming breath for herself. Myrna was alive.

And just as Taffeta was about to look for a potential head injury, Myrna countered the exhale with a robust and snarling deep snore that seemed to rattle the floor. Myrna was asleep.

Taffeta got herself up, got over to the kitchen sink, moisten a good corner of the towel that sat on the counter and returned to her friend’s side all before the next snore cycle completed itself.

“Myrna?” she said again, nudging her shoulder a bit. “If you sleep on this floor anymore your back will punish you for weeks.”

Nothing. Setting the towel down on the table, Taffeta reached over and lightly tapped at her friend’s cheek.

“Myr…”

“FIRE!”

Taffeta jerked back uncontrollably at the speed at which Myrna’s eyes opened, wide with confusion. A lucky move, for at the same time, Myrna’s arms and legs shot straight out from their resting places and grew rigid, knocking Taffeta back further still. If she were close enough to take the full, direct blow Myrna might have knocked her across the kitchen and into the cabinets. She was not a large woman per se, but Myrna was sturdy and still had a lot of strength left for someone whose primary form of exercise seemed to be walking, worry and hefting the occasional bowl of chips to the couch when she watched her stories on TV.

Myrna’s eyes quickly darted back and forth as she tried to steady herself, tried to calm down, tried to recall where she was and tried to recall what the heck she might have been dreaming all at the same time.

“Oh my word,” she said. Catching sight of Taffeta rolling backwards, Myrna struggled around to her knees and reached out to catch her friend. Getting a hand on her jacket, she only succeeded in pulling at Taffeta in such a way that she spun away on the smooth linoleum causing her to now fall forward.

“Stop!” Taffeta yelled out at as kitchen whirled around her. “Stop! Stop moving!”

They both stilled themselves until the motion stopped and the two of them lay breathing heavily in a pile on the kitchen floor.

“Jesus, Taffy,” Myrna said now facing down. “You scared me to death!”

“Ha!,” Taffeta said in a puff while staring at the ceiling. “I thought you were dead already!”

“I guess I fainted.”

“I guess.”

They stayed prone on the floor taking the time to get their breathing and the heartbeats under control, taking personal inventories on whether either of them might have actually hurt themselves.

“Whew,” Myrna said. “We must look a sight!”

“We do,” Taffeta said in a small laugh. “Who knew you could move so fast? You almost knocked me into the next room.”

“I’m so sorry Taffy. I should have been more careful.”

“How could you? You didn’t even know where you were.”

“Well, I’m sorry.”

“Oh, it’s fine. I’m fine. How are you?”

Myrna brought her hands up to the floor and raised her head. “I’m fine. I guess once I fainted, I must have just drifted into sleep.”

The two helped each other up and plopped down into chairs at the kitchen table.

“I didn’t sleep very well last night,” Myrna said. “The business of the gun and all seems to have settled into my head. It must be even worse for you. I don’t even have that horrible thing in my house.”

“Actually,” Taffeta said, rearranging the salt and pepper shakers on the table back up against the small napkin holder. “I slept great, like a log really. And you know, it’s not a horrible thing.”

“The gun?” Myrna asked. “The gun, your ‘sub-machine gun’ is not a horrible thing?”

“It’s a thing Myrna. It can be used in horrible ways, but all in all, the thing itself is just what it is. Like a car, or a kitchen knife or a hair dryer, it’s a thing that only does what we do with them.”

“A hair dryer?” Myrna asked. “How do you lump a hair dryer and a sub-machine gun in the same class?”

“People have done horrible things with hair dryers. What about that incident in Cardington where that woman killed her husband by throwing the hair dryer into the tub with him?”

“Oh my Lord, why would you think of that?”

“I’m just making the point,” Taffeta said.

“And I don’t think it was a hair dryer.”

“It wasn’t?”

“No,” Myrna said. “I think I remember it being a toaster.”

“A toaster?”

“Yup.”

“Hm,” Taffeta said. “How did he not see that coming?”

“What?”

“Who keeps a toaster in their bathroom?” Taffeta asked. “I think if I saw a toaster in the bathroom, I’d have to ask some questions.”

“Young people,” Myrna said shaking her head. “Who knows what they are into these days?”

“I guess,” Taffeta said. “Look, about the gun.” She decided the pepper looked better on the other side. “Now that you’re sitting, I meant it. I want to learn how to shoot it.”

“Ugh,” Myrna said, rolling her head back. “Why on earth do you want to do that? It can’t be safe. I mean, it looked like an antique!”

“I think it is.”

“Well, there you go! Another reason not to shoot the thing! Guns, especially old guns are not something people should mess around with.”

“Guns,” Taffeta said, “Especially guns of ‘a certain level of experience,’ can still have a lot of good use in them.”

Myrna trained her eyes on her friend. “What ‘good use’ can you possibly see for an antique sub-machine gun?”

Taffeta met her gaze for a moment, but turned back to her work with the condiments. “I don’t know. Nothing I guess. I just think, I mean…it’s a feeling.”

“A feeling.”

“Yeah, I mean, why do you think I got it?”

“It might be that your brother, God rest his soul, might have been… a little insane. No offense,” Myrna said. “I’m thinking that if you want to go around shooting that relic, and please don’t take this personally, because you know I love you and my only wish for you is health and happiness, but frankly, that seems a little insane to me. Sorry, but there, I said it.”

“I love you too,” Taffeta said reaching for Myrna’s hands across the table. “You know I do. I appreciate your honesty, really, I do, but I’m not insane. It’s just a feeling I have. I look at it and I know that it’s OK. And while I think it’s been through some stuff, I don’t think it was ever used to kill anyone.”

“How can you possibly know that?” Myrna said squeezing Taffeta’s hands hard enough to urge her message through them. “Because we are here, and because this is between us, I can tell you that the things you’re saying right now sound a little more crazy with every pass.”

“It’s a feeling, that’s all I can say.”

“A feeling.”

“Right,” Taffeta said. “I’m going to teach myself how to shoot that gun. I feel like I have to.”

“You have to?” Myrna asked.

“Yes, I feel like a have to.”

They sat in silence as the small table in Myrna’s kitchen with their arms stretched out toward each other and their hands clasped tight.

“Well then,” Myrna said, after a deep and dramatic breath while squeezing her friend’s hands with each word as if to underline her intent. “I cannot in all good conscience allow to do such a fool thing on your own. If you are going to go through this ridiculous exercise, you must must promise me that you will include me every step of the way. If you don’t, I will call the police, no…, the FBI and tell them that my friend has gone off her nut and is planning on shooting up the civic hall bingo center.”

Taffeta smiled. “You hate bingo.”

“I do,” Myrna said. “And frankly, I wouldn’t mind if you ran every one of the…how many bullets did you say you have?

“Two thousand.”

“And frankly, I wouldn’t mind if you ran every one of those 2,o0o bullets through the place – provided nobody gets hurt of course, but the FBI doesn’t need to know that. They just need to know about the crazy lady with the antique sub-machine gun who is out looking for trouble.”

Taffeta squeezed her friend’s hands and smiled. “That is just about the nicest thing I’ve ever heard you say.”

“I can just imagine,” Myrna said. “You’re out there, God knows where, shooting your gun and something happens to to you. You’ll need me nearby just to call the ambulance.”

“Thank you.”

“I mean, God forbid you shoot yourself,” Myrna said. “Or worse, somebody else!”

“I agree,” Taffeta said. “It will be better to have you along.”

“You could end up igniting some international incident. People will think you’ve gone and joined a gang!”

“Who would think that?”

“I don’t know,” Myrna said. “I didn’t think any of all this so far could have happened  and now instead of calling the FBI or trying to talk you out of this foolishness right now, I’m talking myself into going crazy with you!”

“You’re a good friend.”

“I’m an idiot.”

Kilt – Part I

Paul Kilt stumbled through the double glass doors of the emergency room, dizzy, no… light-headed, still moderately coherent…luckily, and clutching the plush towel over the end of his newly stumped left forearm. The lights, while flickering due to the growing storm outside, were still bright enough to make him squint as he took a deep breath and forged on toward the customer intake desk.

Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen steps to the welcomed support of the faux marble countertop and a certain measure of prevention from landing face first on the floor.

His counting steps was something he had done for as long as he could remember. His trying to keep his face from smacking the floor with any ferocity, and losing consciousness, was something he tried to keep from doing since college.

On sixteen, he hit the counter hard and leaned onto it with his full weight, puffing out  heavy bursts of air to match the effort. He let his head rest softly on the window as his breath splashed itself across the glass in small, temporary waves of condensation. His head swam. His arm throbbed. His legs quivered. He was sweating and shivering all at the same time as his resistance to giving into shock started to falter.

“Off the counter and on the line please.”

The voice was heavy, gritty, and colored by age, countless cigarettes, a measure of malt whiskey and fair amount of contempt for those she spent her eight-hour work shifts attending to.

“I’m sorry?” he muttered, still trying to catch his breath.

A burly hand reached across and slid the visitor window open with an air of authority.

“Incoming patients must stay off the glass, stay off the counter and stay on the line. We will get to you as soon as possible.” The hand then slid the glass pane shut.

Paul rolled his head along the glass to where he could see the floor, blurry, but still. “Ha!” he thought. There was a line of tape on the floor about a foot away from the counter. Go figure.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I would… love to step back to the line there…the one you have on the floor, really, I would. But I…”

The window slid open again, fast and loud. The business end of a clipboard emerged. “Due to the storm, our computer system is down. Complete the top portion of the information sheet remembering to add your full name, the name of your insurance carrier, insurance group number, family history, any allergies and what brings you to the emergency room tonight. Then have a seat and we will call you when we’re ready.”

He blinked hard to see the end of the clipboard that protruded from the glass partition. It hung in mid air, waiting for him to take it and his place among the others who had brought themselves here for an evening of gentle care and healing.

“Sir?” The floating clipboard jutted out a couple of times indicating a sense of urgency.

He looked down at the death grip his right hand had on the towel, grown damp now from the mix of rain and blood. His subtle laugh forced a tiny hiccup through his body which sent a fresh shiver of pain into his left arm. “Uh…,” he managed through the wince. “I can’t…I’m not really in a position to…”

The clipboard hung in the air for a moment longer and then, ever so slowly, receded back to disappear behind the glass.

“Name?” the gruff voice asked, but he heard it as “nay-MAH!”

“Paul”

“Middle initial?”

“T.”

“Last name.”

“Kilt.”

“Killed?”

“No, Kilt. K-I-L-T.”

“Like the dress.”

“No,” he shifted again, hoping to ease the throbbing coming from the wound. “And it’s not a dress. It’s a traditional garment worn by men dating back to the 16th century and originating in the Scottish Highlands.” He had explained his name so many times in response to the “dress” question that even in his debilitated state, it just rolled off his tongue.

The elongated pause that followed reflected what he was certain to be the deep soul-searching on the part of the emergency room representative as she considered whether or not she would take this any further because she, most assuredly, was not paid enough to “deal with this kinda shit.”

“Address,” complete with an exaggerated hiss of “sss.”

“67 North Algiers Drive, Cardington proper.”

“Phone number.”

His vision started to blur further, as his head grew heavy. The voice seemed to come from farther and farther away.

“Phone number,” the request came more stern this time.

“Three.”

“Excuse me? Ugh. Do you have your insurance card Mr. Kilt?”

“Forgot…to…grab it.”

Another pause allowed him to hear more clearly the pounding that was starting to build in his ears.”

“Reason for your visit this evening?”

This time, the pause was his. Not so much for payback as he was trying to stifle throwing up. “Bleeding…to…death,” he managed. “And…the allure…of…good company.”

“Cause of injury, Mr. Kilt.”

He tried hard not to laugh. It hurt too much. His eyes traced his surroundings back and forth as if he might never see anything ever again and he was taking it all in. He felt himself slipping away from the counter and into the nothingness that was both the air of the emergency room and the darkness of being unconscious. And in that very last moment of lucidity, he giggled, “dog bite.”

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Boys – Part XII

The energy exchange of the transformation raged through his entire being and into the small human body. It was delicious. Already he could feel the a new sense of life as he forced his essence into the vessel.

Then, like a fast speeding car being tossed into reverse, he hitched. The energy flow crackled and popped in his head. His breath caught he gasped for more air.

The little body before him, began to seize. The legs shook and quivered up into the midsection causing a tremor up into his hands where he held the head firmly down to the altar. The connection allowed him to search, something he should have done before he started the transference, but he right sense fell victim to his eagerness, his growing weariness and the prospect of rejuvenation so close.

Through the connection, he saw concussion, broken bones, bleeding…injuries substantial enough that the transformation would only exacerbate the problems and make the new vessel a very short -term option, if now viable at all.

“AAAARGH!” He screamed, pulling his hands from the boy’s head and stumbling backwards. “He’s broken!”

Dizzy and gasping at breath, his eyes landed on the Calligar. “HE’S BROKEN!”

He reached out toward the beast from the depths, the one who secured the vessel to begin with and who stood by to protect them both and ensure the transformation was completed. His arm shook as it flexed with power that rippled down to his clenching fist and he released it at the creature who exploded into flame and ash, once mighty and powerful, now pushed back down into the earth by pounding droplets of rain.

He stumbled again with a rage so thick and complete that he saw little else but more fire. He swung an arm backward knocking the altar askew and sending the once to be great host to the ground and back into the mud.

Broken. Human. Filth!

He reached down for the boy with the intent of tearing him into oh, so many parts and pieces. The boy struggled to move, propping himself up onto his elbows in a lackluster effort to crawl away to safety.

He reached down to exact the punishment for being broken when a scream came from the darkness.

In a full-out sprint, Taddy screamed from the moment he pushed away from the side of the house to the moment he leapt at the creature. It was all his brain would allow. It was everything he needed to express.

With the kitchen knife held tight in both hands held high above his head, he jumped and swung the knife down in one fluid motion, catching the red flesh of the beast and sinking the blade deep and to the hilt.

The beast raised his arm and howled as much from shock and surprise as from pain. What is this? And, how dare he?

Breathing hard Taddy, held on to the knife handle for dear life. There was no plan. At least nothing beyond getting Gunther and getting him to safety…whatever that meant.

He felt himself being lifted from the ground and brought to dangle in front of the beast’s eyes.

“What is this?”

“Let him go,” Taddy yelled, strong even though he realized he has started to cry. “Let him go! Leave him alone!”

The beast shook his arm once, then twice before the boy fell free and scurried across the ground to where his friend lay in the mud. He reached over with his hand and plucked the knife from his forearm. He turned it before him to assess the weapon this new boy had come to fight with and found it woefully underwhelming.

“This boy,” the beast said, his voice dark and filled with gravel. “He is your…’friend?'”

Taddy nodded aggressively, while backing closer to Gunther who was still trying to crawl away.

“And you wish to…’save’ him?”

Taddy nodded again, stirring his courage and wiping at his nose with his arm.

“With…this?” The beast flicked the knife at the boy, who scuttled away to avoid being hit as it landed in the dirt at his feet.

The boy looked down at knife. The blade glowed with reflection of the orange light still beaming up from the hole in the earth. It looked so very small. So much smaller than he ever imagined. Slowly he traced his vision up from the knife and into the eyes of the new beast. His heart beat filled his chest as if it too were trying to escape. Slowly the air slipped out of his lungs. His shoulders dropped as his hands clenched into the grass.

Shit.

 

Boys – Part III

“No!”

“No, wait!”

“NO!” After yelling in unison the boys fell backwards onto their sleeping bags. The television screen turned from blood red to black, followed by the slow silent scroll of the credits to the 1957 terror classic, The Cult of the Bleeding Eye.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Taddy said. “What a rip job!”

“Dumbest movie ending ever,” said Gunther, as he popped the last bit of his pizza crust into his mouth. “I’m officially removing that movie from the ‘classic’ list. I mean … you can’t kill everyone at the end with a giant explosion.”

“Right,” said Taddy.

“And, what the heck happened to the eye?”

“I dunno. I’ll bet it hid in that cast iron stove,” Taddy said.

“What for?” asked Gunther.

“Duh, to not explode.”

“How would it close the door?” asked Gunther. “It was just an eye.”

“It was just stupid,” Taddy said, sitting up. “Except that part where the eye attacked that those people in the park.”

“That was classic,” said Gunther, jumping to his feet to playact the scene. “Tell me Julia, what’s wrong? You look … scared.” As quickly as he got to his feet to recite the line, Gunther jumped to his left to take the form of the worried heroine, his voice high and his pose demure. “Oh, it’s nothing Cliff. I just … I just … can’t shake the feeling that we’re being … watched!”

“Ah – ha, ha, ha, ha!”

The boys both tumbled down to the floor, laughing hysterically.

“Aaaaah,” said Gunther, “And, there was the bleeding eye trying to hided behind that one little pine tree! Ha!”

They laughed until a couple of deep and hearty sighs brought them to base. While easy to make fun of, the movie did provide them with a few jumps and “eeews,” that set a perfect tone for the evening. In the hour and forty-three minute running time, they laid waste to the pizza and corn chips, had dug deep into the bag of popcorn and finished off two Gremlin colas apiece.

“So, what’s next,” asked Gunther.

“Well …,” said Taddy, as he reached under his sleeping bag. “I found this in my dad’s office.”

“What is it?”

Taddy held up the box.

“No, waaaaay,” said Gunther, pulling the box from Taddy’s hand and pulling it close to read. “Video Hell – Unrated. Featuring twelve shocking minutes not allowed in the theatrical release!” He looked at Taddy. “Tell me we are watching this.”

“We are watching this!”

“I read that this movie was so scary, people died while watching it in the theaters,” said Gunther slowly as Taddy pulled the disc from the box and slide it into the player tray.

“I don’t know if they died, but Boosh Tompkins said his older brother totally crapped his pants he was so scared.”

“Crap,” Gunther whispered in awe.

“Exactly,” said Taddy. With great flare he pointed the remote down at the machine and hit play. This time, the large screen faded from black to blood red.

Outside, the storm was building strength and anger.

 

Boys – Part II

The boys waved from the window as the Reef “Caddywagon,” or “Beef,” as Gunther’s dad called it, drove down Lystrick Street then turned onto Barting Road and drifted out of sight. The growing winds outside marked the event by skittering a small flood of leaves across the road. The crackle and scrape of the dry leaves reached up to them. Their mutual grins spread ear to ear.

“Monster night! Monster night! Monster night!”

Taddy started the chant off slow and low, as if almost a whisper. Gunther joined in while still waving.

“Monster night! Monster night! Monster night!”

The instant the van disappeared the click of freedom was nearly audible. The night was theirs.

“Monster night! Monster night! Monster night!”

The chant grew louder and faster as the boys began to stomp around the coffee table near the center of the room.

“Monster night! Monster night! Monster night!”

Hoots and hollers embellished the base sentiment until the boys were hopping and dancing their way around the room. Their arms shot up and down as they stomped and posed, stomped and posed to the rhythm of their words.

“Monster night! Monster night! Monster night!”

Eventually, in a manic and crazed release of energy, they ran and jumped and hopped and skipped and laughed until they collapsed on the small couch, breathing heavy in the afterglow and the wonder of their youth.

“Oh yeah,” Gunther said. “Monster night at last.”

While this was the sixth monster night for the boys, it was their first where they would be left entirely on their own. At least until their parents worked their way through a “ double date night” out in Beaumont. That would give them at least until midnight, and of course, Gunther would stay over anyway so it was really the best of all possible worlds.

Pulling themselves up from the couch they headed to the kitchen for supplies before settling in up in the attic. Debi Markum had ordered the boys a pizza for dinner and made sure it arrived just prior to their leaving so that the boys would not have let the pizza man know that they were there alone. Taddy tried to protest, saying they might want the pizza later in the night and that they could handle paying the pizza man and making sure the lock was set, but Debi stood firm. It was early pizza or no pizza. The boys agreed that monster night required pizza, period.

In the kitchen, Taddy gave Gunther the pizza and gently stacked a bag of potato chips, a bag of pretzels, a bag of corn chips and a large bag of popped corn on top. He then grabbed the six-pack of Gremlin cola from the counter, a special Halloween-themed brew from Capri Beverages, and perfect for and evening like this, along with a package of Jelli-Strings cherry licorice, a bag of chocolate-caramel Knots, the gum, and, at his mother’s insistence, a large roll of paper towels.

Loaded for bear, they trudged carefully down the foyer an up the two sets of stairs to their new lair in the converted attic.

Taddy’s dad practically made the space specifically for them as his bedroom was so small. The attic space was small too, but provided plenty of room for them to spread out sleeping bags and pillows in front of a large old television that sat under a small round window, place to stash the food, two large benches that converted to boxes for toys and games.

The boys had gathered their potential movie selections after trimming back the list of about 35 possibilities from a list they developed over the last week to about twelve sure to be scary winners.

“Ok, we have to kick off this thing right,” Taddy said.

“There’s only one choice then,” said Gunther, pulling the pizza box to him and flipping open the lid. A grin spread across his face as the pizza was revealed. “Bog Man’s Revenge.”

“We can’t watch Bog Man’s Revenge before we watch Bog Man’s Attack.”

“We’ve already seen Bog Man’s Attack.”

“Then why did it make the list? You said it would be great to watch them both back to back. You said that.”

“Oh, yeah,” Gunther said through a mouthful of pizza. “Then how about The Gore Creature from Nicronus?”

Taddy flipped through the discs. “That works,” he said, but not convinced. “There’s this.” He held up a movie case for Gunther to see.

“The Cult of the Bleeding Eye,” Gunther said in his go to spooky voice. As he pondered the title, he stopped chewing and looked up at Taddy. Without a moment’s pause, they both drew slow breaths.

“WINNER!”

Taddy popped the disk into the machine and hit play. The room filled with the dancing blue light from the large screen. Tiny bits of debris tapped against the small window as if the wind was trying to get their attention.

Doll – Part IX

Thump, thump, thump, thump.

With Margie just behind him, Chalmers paused at the front door. He flexed his hand a couple of times as he slowly reached out for the knob. The approach was hesitant, as if he almost expected it to burn him the second he touched it.

He looked to Margie. She put her hand on his shoulder, first with a light squeeze and then with a slight rub back and forth. She offered a slight smile of encouragement. The gestures poured a flood of familiarity into him. It was a signature move for her and one he remembered finding great comfort in. They were never overly expressive back in the day, but the subtleties of their actions always spoke volumes. It was the shot of courage he needed.

Chalmers grabbed the now less than intimidating door handle, turned it and opened the door wide enough to include Margie in whatever awaited them.

“Sir. Ma’am.”

Officer Telly Granger filled the doorway in full uniform. With a clipboard and pen at the ready, he greeted the man and woman inside with a serious demeanor, but he hoped not without an essence of compassion. In his six years, he never had this duty before.

“Officer,” Chalmers said.

“Sir, I’m looking for a Chalmers Elk.”

“That’s me.”

“Sir, might I come in? I have some information I need to share with you.”

“What sort of information?”

“Sir, as you are probably aware, the recent flooding has caused a level of damage not common in this area.”

“My house was checked out. I was told I could return.”

“Yes, sir,” Granger said. “There is no known problem with either your house or your being back in the area sir.”

“Then I don’t understand.”

“Uh, the problem sir, is with the Cardington cemetery.”

Chalmers stiffened at the sound of the words. His breath hitched and his heart began to beat a little harder in response. Once again, a slight squeeze on his shoulder from Margie, triggered a greater calm in him that worked to quell the uprising of anxiety.

“Please,” Chalmers managed. “Come in.”

Margie offered coffee as they moved into the kitchen and toward the table. Granger declined. She couldn’t miss his eyes catching sight of the doll that sat perched at the far end of the small table.

Once seated, Granger first apologized, for as he understood it, this duty would not normally fall to him, but since recovery efforts were still underway and some parts of the area were still underwater, this task was his as part of the community relations effort.

With Granger on one side of the table, Chalmers and Margie sat on the other. Instinctively, their hands entwined.

“Sir,” Granger said. “The extraordinary flooding we’ve seen from recent storms has caused a substantial amount of damage to homes, businesses and other properties.”

Chalmers and Margie sat still and quiet.

“As the waters continue to recede, we’re finding unprecedented instances of disruption and destruction.”

“I’m sorry,” Chalmers said, interrupting. He had become more of a “pull the bandage off quickly kind of guy” over the years and grew weary of the build up. “What does this have to do with the cemetery? With us?”

“Yes, sir,” Granger said. “The cemetery saw water flow and activity that created a level of damage that might create certain health and safety concerns. You see … several of the burial plots were washed out or severely damaged. I understand you have a relative buried there.”

Chalmers bit down, his lips tightened. His hand tightened around Margie’s.

“Our daughter,” Margie managed softly.

“Yes, ma’am,” said Granger. “I’m terribly sorry to bring you this news, but if at all possible, we would like you to come down and help us identify the remains so that they can be returned to their proper resting place.”

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 IV

“Jesus Christ, CJ!”

Chalmers stirred as the sound of her voice rang down upon him. He wasn’t waking up, because he wasn’t really asleep, but he was being drawn out from wherever he was by her sour tone.

He had yet to open his eyes, but he squeezed the lids shut tighter just the same to eliminate the possibility of any light at all getting to his eyes and ultimately his aching, pudding-head brain.

“Oops,” he said, but it sounded more like, “Ooopshhh,” as he forced his words into the floor.

“Have you been there all night?” Margie said. “Again?”

The linoleum felt cool on his face, nice really. A puddle of drool had formed near his mouth. When the unexpected burp erupted from his lips, his acidic breath splashed the fluid and the smell reminded him of his reason for his current position on the floor … scotch.

If his math was right, and even the slightest thought of math made him queasy, this was the seventh time she found him sprawled out on the kitchen floor, incapacitated, incoherent and incapable of meaningful communication.

“I mean …” Margie stood over him one hand across her stomach, one hand rubbing her forehead. Chalmers dared to open his eyes just ever so slightly. She never came into focus. He never moved his head, so the odd angle at which she appeared while being all fuzzy struck him as oddly funny.

“I can’t do this anymore,” she said. He vaguely remembers her saying those exact words around time number four, but that time there was crying and a little pleading. This time…

“I can’t!”

“You,” Chalmers said with great effort. He paused to erupt in another hiccough/burp that made his body jerk. “Don’t … under … stand. You … never…”

“Don’t, CJ!” Margie shouted down at him. “Don’t you dare! I miss her too, every day! Don’t you dare tell me I don’t understand. At least I faced it. I didn’t hide from it and escape up into some bottle of gin!”

“Scotch!” Chalmers sort of yelled. The need to correct her forced his head from the floor. He held it there in a weary delirium for a three count before letting it drop again into his drool.

“It’s been five years,” Margie said. “Five years she’s been gone. And you left shortly after that! I can’t do this. I want to live! I’m not going to watch you drink yourself to death. She … would hate what you’ve become.”

The soft cushion of alcohol gave way to a torrential wave of anger. He swung out at her with his arm with little chance of connecting. “Shhhhuuddup!”

He rolled over onto his back swinging out at her. “Shuddup! You don’t know! You don’t know!” Tears breached his eyes and began to trickle down his face. He began to sob. “You don’t know!” he tried one last time, but it came out as nothing she could understand.

“I know,” she said, the calm in her voice reflecting her resignation. “I know all too well. I lost everything that day. I lost her. I lost you. Everything. I can’t do this. Goodbye.”

His blinding tears prevented him from seeing her leave. His sobs prevented him from hearing her go, but when the door closed and she was gone, the weight of her absence fell upon him, crushing him almost completely.

Warning

In a small town like Cromwell, it stood to reason that the Bronson Family Funeral Home would see nothing but slow weeks. And that was usually that case. Unless there was a service, Thad Bronson, III was generally in his chair at home plodding his way through the newspaper and capping off his first scotch of the evening by 6:30.

This past week however, proved something of an anomaly. Poor Tyler Montgomery came in after a tragic swimming accident at the quarry. There was the John Doe, found dead on Route 32 and if that weren’t enough, one of the town matriarchs, Maggie Crisp passed away in her sleep last night.

Creature of habit, Thad liked everything in its place, and with three in the cooler, he got to his routine a bit later than he anticipated. Deep in the heart of Fall, it was already dark outside by the time he put the last of the tools away and finished wiping everything down. When he gave the room his last inspection before heading out, he nodded silently to himself in satisfaction.

The Bronson Family Funeral Home had been a staple of the Cromwell community for well over 75 years. It was a fairly simple but effective operation that the people in town seemed to appreciate. Much like Pastor Kirt or Doc Matts, the folks who made their stay in Cromwell were destined to come to the Bronson’s place sooner of later.

Thad took over the family business just over a year ago after his father died. He liked the business overall. It was calming, quiet work that served a purpose. There was a simple level of gratification that came with it, a sense of peace.

Thad washed his hands one last time and wiped the sink out. Slipping his watch over his wrist, he noticed it was much later than he anticipated almost 11:30. He grabbed his jacket from the hook near the stairs and headed up. He was three steps closer to home when he heard the small crash behind him. He stopped, turned and listened. A small frown crossed his face as he stepped back down into the workroom.

A small pile of glass that used to be a beaker lay on the floor. “Hm,” Thad thought with a grunt. He secured the broom and dustpan and cleaned the mess quickly, but effectively to ensure no wayward shards got away. He took a good look around the room, even closer than before to make double sure everything was in its place.

Once more, he headed to the steps, but drew to a stop the moment he heard it…a small, single knock.

Thad turned to face the room again. He squinted as he traced the space from end to end. Sometimes kids like to mess with funeral homes, mostly because they were scared of them. Dares and double dares often led to small and mostly harmless pranks.

Silence.

Thad turned slowly toward the steps as if he was waiting for something to happen. The moment his foot touched the first step, another knock came. He spun around.

“Who’s there?”

He set his posture and decided on one more look, when another knock came and another. They were soft at first, but as the volume grew so did the intensity. Thad’s heart was pounding heavy in is chest. For a moment, he thought of his father who died of a heart attack. The sound of the pounding began to fill the room. It was coming from the cooler.

Thad stepped closer, almost as if hypnotized. The sound of the pounding grew and the cooler door, a good solid and heavy door, appeared to shake and rattle on its hinges. He placed his and on the door to confirm the vibrations. With his heart pounding in his ears, Thad reached for the handle. Taking a deep breath, he pulled that handle and yanked at the door forcing the light inside to click on.

He staggered backwards. Three gurneys sat in a line. All was well, accept for Maggie Crisp who sat upright before him, her drape had slid into her lap.

Thad gulped heavy breaths to try and keep pace with his racing heart. He stared at the woman, his face contorting with disbelief as her head slowly turned to meet his gaze, but with closed eyes. The stiff, deceased muscle made the movement slow and strained. Maggie lifted her hand, again slow and with substantial effort. She began to point at him.

Thad stepped backward. His chest heaved as he gulped in the cold air. His heart beat like a bass drum in his head.

Maggie’s mouth a jaw split open and worked itself a couple of times as if it had just been released from a vice.

Thad had backed himself up against the cooled wall and while he had nowhere to go his feet continued to push.

A long, soft, guttural whisper gushed from the deceased woman’s mouth, “Four Days.” It was then that Maggie Crisp truly expired. Whatever work she was intended to do was done. The corpse collapsed backwards with enough speed and force to knock it to the floor.

It was then that Thad Bronson, III began to scream.

100 Days

Yesterday, I capped my 100-day writing experiment/exercise.

The goal was to write something new every day for 100 days without missing. I had no length requirement, but I found that as I got more into it, the greater effort was in keeping the piece short and interesting than writing something daily.

I learned a lot about my writing style, the mistakes I’m prone to making and I discovered some good things about my imagination. I think there are other lessons there that I’m still working on.

My secondary goal in this exercise was to develop a field of ideas from which to build on. I feel a longer work coming on. Initially, I thought a play, some longer short stories or a book. But to do that well enough, I wanted to get my skills up to par.

Many people have been very kind and supportive in their comments and notes. It is a great compliment for people to ask for more. I really appreciate the time everybody took to check out the stories, or story bits, and provide feedback. That is just the best.

So I ask myself, what now?

I was hoping to get a bit more feedback from the people prone to reading my posts on what they might like to see. Since you are reading it, it seems contrary to produce something you might have little interest in. Some questions come to mind:

  • Is there any interest in a longer work?
  • If so, was there something you saw over the last 100 days you might like to see more of? Something I can flesh out?
  • Is that something you might be interested in reading along the way or would you want to wait until it’s complete?
  • What would you be interested in? A play? A book length piece? An array of dazzling advertising slogans?
  • Any other thoughts?

I can find all 100 posts here on my blog. Please share the link if you can: https://thejeffworks.wordpress.com

It would be great if you could take a moment to comment, or drop me a private message or email and let me know what you think.

I can’t see putting the brakes on now as I feel I’ve hit some sort of stride, so I’m thinking I will continue my posts, unless writing a longer piece takes up all my writing energy, but I’m thinking I might take the weekends off.

Thanks again for all your support. Now…let me have it.

Hamlet

Hamlet jumped ahead as Casper Turlock opened his front door to step out into the brisk fall morning. The smallish dog tugged on his leash with an eagerness that reminded him of a kid who had too much sugar churning through him.

It was early, still dark. Casper judged the temperature and decided to tug up the zipper on his jacket just a bit.

Hamlet continued to tug until they got going and found their pace. The morning walk was a refreshing time for both of them. Casper had no idea what was going through Hamlet’s head. He was really Cheryll’s dog and while the relationship between man and beast started off a bit rocky, the two had come to establish a steady détente through the comfort of routine.

For Casper the mornings were a time of solitude, reflection and relief that he didn’t have to encounter many people. Aside from the occasional car engine, the only sounds he heard, especially on a morning like this, were the light winds brushing past his hear, a rare morning bird and the constant jangle of Hamlet’s tags.

He walked his pace and thought his thoughts while Hamlet nosed his way around the sidewalk and any nearby shrub he happened to encounter, occasionally snarfing, or sneezing, or whatever it is that dog’s do when they get a snout full of something.

The morning walk came with the promise of a carefree nothingness, a time to forget the woes of the moment and a reprieve from the possible woes of the day ahead. A majority of the time, the walk was uneventful. The only time the walk had the potential to go sour was when Hamlet sniffed out a skunk who graciously spared them from an unpleasant spraying, mostly due to Casper’s still quick reflexes. Well, still quick enough to yank a smallish dog back on a leash. Danger averted.

As they turned down Bobolink, Hamlet pulled to the length of his leash to get to a clump of brush and stopped to stick his nose deep inside.

Snarf.

“Come on Hamlet. One more mile to go.”

Casper walked on, but the dog, who would normally follow stood his ground and even fought a bit to stand his ground when Casper gave the leash a gentle tug.

“Come on boy.”

Snarf.

Casper stopped and rolled his eyes a bit as if he was asked to do something he really didn’t want to do.

Whimper. Snarf.

“All right,” Casper said, making a mental note that the dog may be stressing the terms of their alliance. “What have you got?”

He took a few steps back to the dog and pushed him back. The dog stepped back, but that surged forward as Casper reached between the branches.

Bark. Snarf.

Casper pulled out a paper bag rolled down from the top, the kind you only see under the counters of grocery store check out lines any more.

He crouched down to get closer to the dog’s level. “If this is a bag full of bloody clothes or a head or something, it’s the pound for you big man.”

Bark!

Casper rolled up the top of the bag and peered inside. Even in the dim pre-dawn light and the weak glow of a nearby street lamp, Casper could see that the bag was filled with loose, yet densely-packed one hundred dollar bills.