Category Archives: Short Story

Wrong Number by Clayton Clifford Bye

 

Ever since reading Dialogues with the Devil by Taylor Caldwell I have been fascinated by the idea of reworking our traditional views of Satan. This theme regularly shows up in my novels and short stories. Today’s short is one example of this. Should you enjoy the story, you may pick up the anthology from which it comes (Behind the Red Door) at http://shop.claytonbye.com.

Behindthereddoorebook

Wrong Number

The bank teller looks a little on the pale side as she turns over the cheque. I glance downward and see the numbers… $666.66. Even though they hadn’t been there a few minutes ago I smile and say, “Halloween has come early this year.”

Things like this happen to me all the time. It’s like the Good Lord wants people to see me for who I am. It never works. People find it hard enough to believe in God; accepting that I exist and stand before them, in the flesh, is just too much to take in. I can guarantee that the woman in front of me will shrug off her fright the moment I leave the building. By the end of the day it will become a funny story to tell to her friends and family.

I walk out of the bank with the $666.66 in my pocket.

When I reach the end of the city block, I look both ways before beginning to cross the street to the car park. A Corvette materializes from nowhere, catches me in the knees and flips me in the air right over the top of the car. I hit the pavement hard, lift my head and pass out.

It’s much later in the day when I wake up in Her Sister’s Heavenly Devotion Hospital. The attending doctor comes by to tell me that both of my legs have been shattered  below the knees. He also tells me the knees will have to be replaced. Aside from that I have some bruising from the fall and a concussion. Apparently that’s why my ears are ringing.

This is how it goes. When I refuse to stay on my own worlds with the legions of the dead, The Lord goes out of his way to punish me. It’s not fair, really. He knows damn well that his lovely experiment has failed again and that this world will be mine sooner than later. Besides, what’s a little pain while my body mends itself? I’m immortal. This little game should be beneath him.

***

Night has fallen, and I slip out of the hospital. All my belongings were conveniently stashed in the drawers beside my bed. However, I’ve been forced to steal a pair of extra-large scrubs on the way out. My clothes were ruined in the “accident.” How do I manage this? Unless the Lord is messing with me, I can go unseen whenever I wish.

Outside, I walk in the crisp fall air and enjoy the wind rattling dead leaves in the trees and on the ground. The stars seem so close that I might touch them. Before long a beautiful young woman in the process of getting into her car spots me and asks if I would like a ride. My own beauty makes this human throw all caution to the autumn wind.

“That would be nice,” I say.

Inside the car my pheromones take over. She’s smitten in mere moments.

“My place is about an hour away,” she says.

“Wonderful! We shall have ample time to get to know one another.”

“Like a first date,” she says, head down for the moment, eyes averted, a shy but firm offer.

Tonight will be a welcome diversion from the ongoing pain of my knitting bones.

***

In the morning, over coffee and toast, Anna tells me more about herself. Being a Harvard student and an undergraduate in Law wasn’t her choice. The family is all about the law—mother, father, even her older brother work at the family firm.   Anna would have preferred the sciences but had been given no opportunity. I sense a lot of anger. Yet … she seems grounded.

How would she react if I told her she was going to hell, that the sixth mortal sin is still on God’s list of punishable acts? True, she won’t stay there long, because she was influenced by my scent. Just a taste of what happens to man when he fails to live by an untarnished moral code. Would she laugh the revelation off like the bank teller? Would she kick me out of her apartment as some kind of crazy person revealed? Or would my musk overcome her fright and anger and bind her to me as it has up until now? One never knows what will happen when strong emotion is involved. His Brightness only allows me to influence, so the winners of these little games I play are by no means pre-ordained.

I like to experiment. It passes the time and helps me gauge how far His Highness will allow me to go in any given situation. Today I just choose to enjoy Anna’s fine coffee and her lively voice.

***

It’s evening now, and I head for one of my favourite haunts. I acquire a stool at the bar and adjust my image so that I am a nondescript example of a human. My pheromones have already been dampened. Tonight is about watching for my next soul.

I soon find one.

A man has a woman trapped at the back of the bar beyond the pool tables. To the untrained eye they are a vibrant couple who have decided to throw caution to the wind and make love right there, against the wall. In reality it’s a rape in progress. Humans!

The rapist finishes as I rise up off my chair, and he heads outside. I follow close behind.

“Jake.”

“Wha … ” He turns his head, unsure of who’s there.

“Jake,” I say again.

He zips up his jeans and turns to face me.

“I don’t know you!”

“But I know you.”

“Get the fuck out of my way!”

“That’s not going to happen.”

The drunk takes a swing but finds himself on the ground.

I reach down, penetrating both clothing and flesh. As my hand curls around the heart a pale blue light flows up my arm and into my mouth. Jake is dead, and I have my soul.

Look, I’m not uncaring. If I had been able to help the woman, I would have. The deed was basically done by the time I noticed she was in trouble. I don’t hate people; I hate the idea of them. Free will is a gift that all other high level, sentient life-forms have embraced. But not man. The creator has given him complete freedom. His glorious experiment, and look at what mankind has done with it.

So … I work on my long-term plans for their ultimate demise, and I hunt for souls.

I think of myself as a vigilante. The Lord wants to deal out all the justice, but he can’t stop me from eating souls. Well, let’s say he won’t stop me, as I only take the deserving. People like Jake. But since there are far too many evil individuals for me to deal with on my own, in singular fashion, I’m always planning for the big ones … the organizations of evil, the armies of madness, the men and women who come forward as potential martyrs. And there are, of course, my legions of demons, those previously claimed souls who now help me in my work. Between the two, life is fulfilling—and this planet doomed.

***

Today I wake up alone, sporting a set of ancient sheep’s horns. Why didn’t he paint me red at the same time? I order a sabre saw to be delivered. It puts a dent in my pocket money, but it also gets rid of the horns. I hide the nubs with my long and beautiful hair.

It’s a lovely fall day. The sun warms me as it passes from one brilliant cloud to another. Snow birds whoosh about in the trees, moving as a single body. I’ve often wondered how they do that. Telepathy? There was a bipedal race on SSV17 that exhibited something similar. The entire world went into a common depression when they sensed themselves falling into my welcoming hands.

Time to look for some souls…

***

I can find what I want almost anywhere mankind gathers, but the best hunting places are the darkened streets and alleyways of rundown city centres around the world. Tonight I walk in one of my favourite cities. Toronto is a super-city with an army of human tragedies to select from. It’s similar in makeup to New York City in that any given moment I can find someone to make my own. It’s not that people everywhere aren’t faced with these choices. No, it’s more a matter of numbers. I can claim more souls a night in Toronto than I can in most other cities. It’s a fun place to be.

I stop for a few moments to recover from a drive-by shooting. Good thing I’m wearing black tonight. It hides the blood and the bullet holes. I give a nod to God in Heaven.

Anyway, for a sin to be Mortal [which makes you dead to Heaven], it must meet three standards:

1) It must be a serious matter.

2) A person must have reflected, however briefly, on the gravity of the situation before acting.

3) A person must have chosen, of his or her own free will, to commit the sin, even if coercion was involved.

So, this means that mortal sins can’t be done “accidently.” A person who commits a mortal sin is one who knows that their sin is wrong, but still deliberately commits the sin. This means that mortal sins are “premeditated” by the sinner and thus are truly a rejection of God’s law and love. And I can see right through these beings. The tainted soul is a golden thing, dusted or even streaked with black. And the truly evil ones? They have no inner light at all. Special projects of mine, they are.

Tracking down so-called BAD PEOPLE is a talent I nourish. In fact, these people are often brought into my inner circle so they can work on my behalf. You would call them devils.

Off I go …

***

I begin this day joyfully. The Lord has been in absentia since the shooting two days ago, and I am quite relaxed. Souls are coming in at a marvelous rate. Prospects are good. And I’m just about ready for some fun with my latest special project.

Bryan Cole has one more meeting with me today, then I’m going to pull the trigger. Caring for Bryan’s admittedly conflicted soul has been a challenge. But a year of work has brought him to the point where I believe he’s ready to take his chosen victims. 9/11 will be small compared to this.

“Hey Rick.” He still has no idea who I am.

“Hello Bryan. Are we ready for the live run?”

“I don’t think so,” he answers, his face like stone.

“What’s wrong?”

“Look, I said I’d do it, and I meant it. But there’s a lot of innocent people who’re going to get hurt.”

“I thought we went over this. If we want to make an impact on society, then some innocents must suffer. People aren’t going to care if we kill a bunch of low-lives.”

“What do you mean we? Sure, you showed me where to find the plans, but I’m the one who built this thing. And I’m the one who’s going to die setting it off.”

“I’ll be staying with you.”

That gets his attention.

“This is something new.”

“I’ve been giving it a lot of thought. And you’re right. All along it’s been you … You planned. You found the materials. You did the building. I just watched. So, I figure I’ve got to take a stand here. I’ve got to stay.”

His jaw drops. Confusion flickers across his broad face and finds a home in his blue-gray eyes. “I find that hard to believe. You know why I’m doing it. People have no right. There should be a law that looks after those who can’t look after themselves. Instead, what do they do? Society puts them into great big boxes, locked up like they were in jail. And then they hire people right off the street to ‘look after them.’ Evil people. People who mock and hurt and steal. They don’t put any safety features in place, like cameras, because it isn’t cost effective. Well, Maggie isn’t going to spend what’s left of her life in a hell-hole like that. I might not be able to take care of her, but I can help her. What’s your reason?”

Bryan pushes his chin forward, challenging me. Daring me to prove myself.

“Don’t need a reason, my friend. People piss me off. The government needs a wake-up call. Today’s a good day to die. It’s all the same to me. What counts is that I’ll be standing right beside you when you hit the switch.”

I smile my warmest smile.

Bryan looks hard at me now. “You mean you’re really going to stay with me?”

“Yes, I’ll stay.”

We’re in an apartment of mine not far from the residential core of Toronto. The atomic device (Bryan has conveniently forgotten it wasn’t “all him,” that it was I who sourced out the uranium we needed for the bomb, but that’s okay) is far more sophisticated and powerful than the last ones used by the United States. The city of Toronto will never be the same. And there will be enough injured left over to last a lifetime. The Lord will be sorry he didn’t stop me.

Bryan stops talking and flicks the switch. Nothing happens.

He resets it and tries again. Still nothing.

Perhaps I spoke too soon about His Highness leaving me alone.

Bryan speaks … “Uhm, maybe someone is trying to tell us something.” He glances upward, rubs his face with his hands. He’s looking tired and edgy.

I don’t believe it. This guy has never, not once, mentioned God and, now, he thinks he’s been given a sign. It doesn’t matter that what he’s thinking is true and that God hasn’t left us alone. What matters is that he’s thinking it at all.

“What, you don’t have a spare switch?”

“Sure I’ve got one. But what’s the sudden rush all about, Rick?” He gives me a probing look. “Is there something going on here that I don’t understand?”

“Yeah, there is. I want all the people surrounding us to be dead. I want it now.”

“And, again, I ask why?”

“Okay, listen very carefully, Bryan. I’m going to say this once, and then I expect you to fix that switch.”

I begin to cough, and I can’t stop. I cough until I see blood, and then I cough some more. Finally, when my throat is so raw I can barely speak, The Master lets go of me.

Bryan is looking more and more like a frightened rabbit.

I get a drink of water from the kitchen sink.

“Bryan,” I croak, “I’m a terrorist. I want this country kneeling before me, petrified of what will come next. But if it will help get this job done, then I’ll leave the rest to someone else. I’ll end my journey here. Because I believe in my cause.”

They don’t call me the King of Lies for nothing.

“I think I knew that you were a terrorist, Rick. But I let you help me, because I believe in what I’m doing. It just seems like today isn’t the day.”

I point to my blood on the floor. “Does this look like the leavings of a person with lots of time on their hands?

“What, now you’re going to tell me you’re dying?”

Bryan is a big man. Almost as tall as me. Right now, he looks like a thunderstorm on the horizon.

I shrug my shoulders.

“I always knew you had an agenda, but it didn’t matter to me,” he says, running fingers through salt and pepper hair. “Maybe it should matter. After all, if you’re so filled with hate that you want everybody around you dead, how much of the hate has influenced my own anger?”

I look up into the air myself. He must be laughing by now.

“Bryan,” I say, “you can do whatever you want. I was just offering you some companionship, so that you didn’t go out on your own.”

He looks at me for a long moment then goes to get the spare switch.

Bryan comes back with a strange look on his face.

“What?” I ask.

“I saw it there not half an hour ago. Now it’s gone.”

“Are you telling me we can’t use the bomb right now?”

He shakes his head.

“You can hot wire this thing?”

Bryan nods but doesn’t move.

“I haven’t been much of a religious man, Rick, but it seems to me God is determined to give me a second chance.”

I can’t believe this. God is really fucking with me today.

“And by that you mean what?”

The big man stands up straight, looks me in the eye and says, “I don’t think I’m going to do it.”

“Today, or not at all?”

“Not at all.”

I can see it in him. He’s been converted.

“Give me the key to the apartment and get out.”

“No, I have to disassemble the bomb”

I laugh out loud. It isn’t a pleasant sound. Thanks to his conversion, I can’t even take his soul. What a clusterfuck.

To rub some salt in my wounds, God sends me a couple of break-in specialists. They go straight for the bomb, waving their guns in the air. I move to stop them (I’m a master of the ancient arts of battle). I take one man down and reach for the other. He beats me by a fraction of a second, the bullet taking me full in the chest. As I lie on the floor, he comes up and points his gun at my head. Wearing a completely bored expression, the thug pulls the trigger.

Some time later I wake up. My head and chest wounds have already healed. The bomb is gone. Bryan is gone.

I go into the master bedroom, grab some clothes and head for the shower. I emerge in a little while, no worse for the wear and tear.

It’s evening now, and I head for one of my favourite haunts. I acquire a stool at the bar and adjust my image so that I am a nondescript example of a human. My pheromones have already been dampened. Tonight is about watching for my next soul.

~ ~ ~

Clayton Bye is the author of 11 books and 30 ghostwrites. The traditional publisher of 5 other works, he also offers writing services and acts as a small business consultant.

Endorsement:

“Clayton Bye is one of the most prolific and talented writers I know. He is an eloquent poet, insightful critic, imaginative novelist, and a self-help expert. The sheer volume of his work makes me dizzy, and he seems comfortable in all genres. From his compelling collection of short stories and essays to fiction winners like “The Sorcerer’s Key” and inspirational works like “How To Get What You Want From Life” and “Getting Clear,” he seems to find more hours in a day than most writers find in a week. He makes you think, touches your heart, and fights the good fight with his pen as his sword. You can number me among his great admirers.” – Timothy Fleming

Culture Clash

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This story is part of a longer piece about the misunderstandings when people or beings of different cultures and abilities must work together.

 

Characters:

Miss. Elizabeth – the president’s daughter who is working on her doctorate promoting education in primitive rural areas.

Miss Emily – one of the younger students recently moved to the mountains.

T’VN – a local youth from the mountains. He is illiterate and has little experience with outsiders.

Ophelia and Lizzy – sisters born to a white standard poodle and a Samoyed dog. Ophelia is Miss. Elizabeth’s companion. Lizzy is now living in the mountains with Emily.

 

Culture Clash

Miss Elizabeth stayed three days in the mountains. Emily tagged after her whenever she could. Miss Elizabeth even allowed the child to ride in the van to visit two other settlements that did not have schools. While Miss Elizabeth felt happy to have Emily with her, she did not appreciate the adolescent T’VN tagging along. His father had puffed himself up and insisted that as the most prominent family in the region, his son should represent them so the villagers would know the family consented to Elizabeth’s plan. To Elizabeth who had grown up witnessing the conflict between her father and the oligarchs who thought they should control the country, this decision irritated her. She understood that taking a local person with her would be a good idea and had planned to take Hannah or N’RA. She sighed, “Perhaps the arrogant lad would learn something.”

After making arrangements for the van to pick up students in each village twice a week for lessons, Elizabeth’s party drove toward home. Elizabeth put her arm around Emily.   “Sweetheart, I’m so glad you came today. You did a great job reading your story to the other children. I think you helped the parents see the advantage of educating girls and showed that our school staff takes good care of our children.”

Emily melted with happiness. The praise gave her the courage to voice something that troubled her. “I don’t like T’VN. Martha says he only flirted with her because he loves our truck.   Now he is flirting with you when Mr. Thomas is your husband.”

Miss Elizabeth laughed and whispered back, “Don’t worry about him. I don’t think he will try to touch me. If he does, I will teach him his mistake, if Ophelia,” she smiled at her large dog, “doesn’t get to him first.” The woman and child shared a giggle before Elizabeth added, “I think you need a room for a gym in your house so you can all practice your moves.” They giggled again.

As the situation played out, it proved that Emily had some wisdom for her age. Elizabeth took only one bodyguard, Lt. Chun, when she visited High Valley that evening to talk about the students needing someplace to study and read. She finally concluded, “Just a battery light by their bed will help. I will add providing one battery powered light per household to my list of things rural children need in order to keep up in school. Perhaps the Ministry of Education can provide that.”

Elizabeth needed to walk from the meeting place at the spring back to the truck waiting on the other side of the pass. She had Ophelia with her. Lizzy joined them just as Elizabeth stood to leave and the two dogs greeted each other joyfully. Delighted with a chance to play together, the dogs danced twenty feet in front of Elizabeth. One of the village elders trailed after her asking Lt. Chun questions about the army. Thus, Lt. Chun dropped behind Elizabeth for a few seconds at the top of the pass.

Things could not have worked out better for T’VN, or so he thought. He had convinced himself that Miss Elizabeth loved him.   Never in his life had a woman treated him so sweetly. Visions of her wealth and beauty danced in his head. He knew that the minute he kissed her she would fall into his arms and pledge her undying love. He’d imagined this so many times that he came to believe that every time she smiled at a child, or her dog, or one of her friends, she was secretly smiling at him, encouraging him.

He lurked in the dark by the trunk of a Scrubnut bush. He’d prepared a bed of ferns under the bush where they would consummate their love. Under his starry eyed fantasies, he nurtured a firm resolve to make this woman his, now.

Elizabeth reached the top of the pass and turned to say something to LT. Chun. T’VN saw Elizabeth pause to look behind her.   He knew she waited for him.   He stepped forward to wrap his arms around her. “My love.”

Elizabeth chose a move that involved elbows, feet and knees. Her master called it Dancing Goat.

All hell broke loose, or so T’VN thought. Something whirled into his chest at the same moment his leg flew up from under him. While he was off balance white demons attacked, throwing him into the Scrubnut. He woke up an hour or so later in the bed he’d made to share with his love. His nose bled, and he hurt in places no man should hurt. His clothes felt damp and smelled of pee.

Poor T’VN couldn’t imagine what had gone wrong. The idea that a girl had beat him up could never gain entrance into his head.   He thought about the problem for three days before confiding to his papa and grandpapa. “I have thought and thought about the attack on me. I think we have evil spirits at the top of the pass.   Perhaps they came for the president’s daughter, and I got in their way. Should we talk with the priest?”

As the next full moon started its descent from the sky, the shaman and High Valley elders crept silently to the top of the pass. Each man carried a smoking sheaf of grain for protection. The shaman had a small bell and each elder carried an instrument made of two pieces of wood that clacked when shook. At the top of the pass, T’VN pointed out the place of the attack. Searching the area by moonlight, one elder found the demon’s nest of ferns under the Scrubnut. The Shaman sniffed the air in every direction and affirmed that the demons lurked in this place and indeed evil spirits surrounded them.

With faces set in concentrated scowls the men began their ceremony. They walked slowly in a circle clockwise blowing on their smoking grain to spread the smoke. At the end of the first circuit, the shaman rang his bell, and the elders clacked their sticks three times. Next, the elders walked their circle counterclockwise while the shaman chanted. At the end of the circle, the Shaman rang his bell and the elders clacked their sticks three times.   After seven circles clockwise and seven counter clockwise had been completed the Shaman stood in the middle of the circle sniffed toward the four points of the compass and pronounced the evil demons gone. The men continued to chant quietly while they marched back to their homes.

 

Bio:  Delinda McCann is a social scientist with a background in working with at-risk youth. She has published 6 novels that focus on the foibles of the human race and their furry friends. http://delindalmccann.weebly.com/

A Siren’s Guide to Puberty by Cody Wagner

 sirens-2-meme-come-back-cropped
My humongous boobs appeared from out of nowhere the morning of December 1st.  Sure, Mom had been saying, “My little Coriander is becoming a woman,” for months. But I didn’t think it would happen so fast. The night before, I had mosquito bites where my chest should have been. Suddenly, and from out of nowhere, I sprouted giant handfuls of breasts.

 

I also woke with a funny warmth in my throat. It didn’t hurt, but my voice definitely didn’t feel “normal”. It’s like someone had wrapped a heating pad around my tonsils. I didn’t think much about it, though, at least not yet. A minor tingling in my larynx took a definite backseat to the emergence of chesticles.

 

OK enough about my boobs. That has nothing to do with what happened. But puberty did, so it’s all connected.

 

I walked to class at Sam Houston Middle School that morning, a little disappointed no one was staring at my chest. It shouldn’t have been a surprise; I was the resident nobody. I’d have given weeks of lunch money for a bully to knock me around. Invisibility was my superpower.

 

I doodled my morning classes away, oblivious to the tingling in my throat. The vertical symmetry of hearts coupled with their horizontal asymmetry intrigued me, so they littered my notebook. It had nothing to do with love, trust me. The boys in my grade were nasty. Besides, they didn’t even know I existed. I didn’t care. Art was more important. And choir.

 

Believe it or not, singing ruled my life more than hearts. I wouldn’t listen to music I couldn’t mimic. No rap or guy singers or sopranos. Only deeper rich altos. I belted Etta James for hours. Maybe some gene lying dormant in my cells and knowing what I would become spawned this love of music. Or maybe I was a bona fide choir nerd of my own choosing.

 

Either way, I sprinted into the choir room right after lunch. Pretending I hadn’t run myself out of breath to be the first one in, I made my way to the boxes.

 

Each of us had a neatly labeled wooden box containing our music. December had arrived and it was Christmastime. Panting, I reached inside to see what we’d be learning for the holidays.

 

The box held two pieces: Everyone Bow Down and Silent Night. Everyone knew Silent Night, so I shoved it back in and walked to the risers holding the other piece. Mrs. Addison, our music teacher, played something on a grand piano and didn’t acknowledge me. I flopped down and pored over the music.

 

By the time everyone had arrived, I knew most of the song. My jaw clenched with determination. I would be the most prepared singer. I would stand out.

 

“Let’s warmup.” Mrs. Addison stretched her abnormally long fingers and played various scales. I used my diaphragm support and tried putting vibrato into my voice, just like I’d been practicing for weeks.

 

We finished without incident (meaning no one commented on my mature sound) and Mrs. Addison said, “Did everyone get the new songs?” When we nodded, she continued, “Good. Let’s open Everyone Bow Down.”

 

I shot to my feet. Oblivious to my enthusiasm, she said, “Let’s practice just the first page.”

 

At that, she stood, lifted a thin baton, and conducted as we sang:

 

The King, The King is Coming,
To Bring Peace, To Bring Peace,
Everyone Bow Down.

 

Suddenly, all the guys except for two fell to their knees and reverently placed their heads on their thighs. The two boys left standing – both unpopular and nerdy – stared awkwardly around the room. I’m sure they felt utterly singled out again, as if everyone deemed “cool enough” was let in on surprise choreography.

 

A few of the cool girls giggled.

 

I rolled my eyes and thought, Very mature. How was I going to get noticed with the guys being stupid? However, I didn’t focus on that for long because the warmth in my throat erupted. I gripped my neck. The sensation didn’t hurt, but it was intense and foreign. Stiffening my legs, I mentally shook the feeling away; I needed to wow everyone, not obsess over warm tonsils.

 

Mrs. Addison smiled. “It’s great to see how much you love Jesus, but I want to make it through the song before my eighty cats starve to death.” OK that’s not what she said. But if Mrs. Addison could always ignore me, I could call her out on being the school’s cat lady.

 

The kneeling guys jerked up and began to look around, confused. One rubbed his head and said, “What happened?”

 

Mrs. Addison shook her head. “Very funny. Let’s sing.”

 

They glanced at each other and a few shrugged. I didn’t buy their little amnesia routine and ignored them until they grabbed their music and we all sang again:

 

The King, The King is Coming,
To Bring Peace, To Bring Peace,
Everyone Bow Down.

 

The same guys shot to their knees again. This time, the other girls about fell over laughing. I grabbed my throat. The warmth was more intense. The two boys still standing peeked at each other. I’m sure they were wondering if they should pretend to kneel. Anything to fit in with the stupid jocks.

 

 

Mrs. Addison clapped her hands to get everyone’s attention. “Enough. That’s the last time, OK?”

 

Only it wasn’t the last time.

 

We tried singing the song five more times. Five! Each time, the same guys fell to their knees. And each time, they acted all groggy after.

 

Mrs. Addison’s hands shook with rage. It was obvious the boys were showing off for the girls, but even Miss Popular Lindsay Thomas (or “MPLT” as I called her) threw her music and screamed, “Come on!”

 

Mrs. Addison slammed a hand on the piano and everyone jumped.

 

“That is IT.” She snapped her baton in half and pointed both pieces at us. “We’re singing solos until this stops.”

 

The class froze. Girls’ voices were young and wispy. Guys’ notes cracked all over the place. Being self-conscious tweens, everyone hated singing alone.

 

Except me. I sat up, excited. Finally. My chance to show how hard I’d worked.
“Lindsay, you go first.”

 

I guess it made sense for MPLT to start. If the boys were acting up for anyone, it was her. Still, I exhaled loudly, letting everyone know I wanted to go.

 

Lindsay stood up, trying to look cool. But her paper shook, betraying her nerves. Mrs. Addison raised a hand and Lindsay began to sing. When she made it to Everyone Bow Down, everyone froze and turned to the guys. Nothing happened.

 

“Finally,” Mrs. Addison said.

 

I stuck my tongue out at no one and pouted, figuring we were done with the solos.

 

But Mrs. Addison was still so pissed, she made the next girl stand up and sing. Again, the boys behaved. I didn’t care about that. I just wanted the chance to wow everyone. I imagined finishing my solo and everyone staring, mouth open. Mrs. Addison would clap and everyone would raise me up on their arms.

 

I shook away the fantasy and watched the procession of singers. As each girl stood, terrified, I drew a tiny heart with my finger, counting the people until it was my turn.

 

Finally, after six girls, Mrs. Addison said, “OK Coriander, your turn.”

 

I smiled and said, “I’m ready.” Then I held out my paper, on purpose, to show everyone my hands weren’t shaking.

 

She nodded at me. I felt the heat build, embraced it, and began singing in my smooth alto.

 

The King, The King is Coming,
To Bring Peace, To Bring Peace,
Everyone Bow Down.

 

The guys flew to their knees. This time, they moved so fast, I heard banging as their legs hit the risers.

 

A few girls covered their mouths. I jerked in surprise and, oblivious to the heat in my throat, started to seethe. Every single stupid shot I had to stand out was somehow ruined. I glared at the guys then turned to Mrs. Addison for help.

 

She looked at me, pure confusion on her face. Apparently, I was such a nobody, she didn’t think the guys would do this for me. After staring a few seconds, she composed herself and said, “It seems as if our boys aren’t mature enough to respect people.” She folded her hands. “Coriander, please go again.”
My heart bounced; I was getting another chance. And this time would be my best. I glared at the stupid boys, took my deepest breath ever, and began to sing.

 

The King, The King is Coming,
To Bring Peace, To Bring Peace,
Everyone Bow Down.

 

Knees hit risers again. Mrs. Addison growled in frustration.

 

Furious, I threw down my music and sang, “Leave me alone!”

 

That’s when my world blew up.

 

Every guy – except the same two nerds who hadn’t kneeled – took off. Most of them went for the door, crashing into each other in desperation to leave. Four eighth-graders raced to the windows. A heard creaks as the windowpane flew open. One-by-one they jumped.

 

A couple girls screamed. It was stupid because we were on the first floor and the windows were like five feet off the ground. Still, I admit my hands trembled. I had no idea what was going on but finally realized it had something to do with me.

 

Sweat running down my back, I put a hand over my vocal cords and turned to the front.
Mrs. Addison stood there, glaring at me. “Office. Now. And you better hope the boys return.”

 

The rest of the class stood paralyzed.

 

My brain was in another world and I didn’t even argue with her. Nodding absently, I shuffled out the door.

 

Tears should have flowed as I trundled to the office. Every scenario I’d ever imagined about being sent to the principal included mountains of tears. But I was so confused, I couldn’t cry. My subconscious knew singing the words, “Leave me alone!” would work. I don’t know how it knew, but it did. And the idea terrified me. I admit it excited me, too. I had done something straight out of X-Men comics. Talk about insane.

 

Stopping, I put a hand on my heart. The feeling in my throat seemed to reach out and grab my chest. I didn’t know what had caused all this, but I involuntarily looked down at my boobs. In that moment, I knew my invisibility cloak was gone forever.

 

About the Author

Cody Wagner loves to sing, mime (not really), and create. He writes about topics ranging from superpowers to literate trees (really). His debut novel, The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren, “came out” on October 27th. See what he did there? Cody dealt with bullying as a teen and wanted to provide a fun escape for all the underdogs out there. He’s also handing out cookie dough to everyone who grabs a copy. Check out his writing and see more of his wackiness at www.wagner-writer.com or find him on Twitter @cfjwagner, Goodreads at www.goodreads.com/wagner_writer, and Amazon at www.amazon.com/Cody-Wagner/e/B016NYGV40.

Death of a Writer by Stuart Carruthers

 

Stuart pic

The End

Bleeding by the edge of a railway line on a cold summer’s evening in Southern England isn’t the best way to end one’s life. But then again his hadn’t been much of a life. Forty-four years old and this is how it was to end. Shivering beside a cold steel rail waiting for the 7:51 from Paddington to come and remove his head. He didn’t remember the next part. It wasn’t a blur it just wasn’t. It ceased to be. He ceased to be. One minute he was staring in the opposite direction to the oncoming train and then…

He blinked, trying to stop the bright white light burning his retina, an instinctive reaction that was part of his unconscious.

“Don’t bother with that.” A voice came from nowhere. “It won’t do you any good. Just open your eyes. C’mon it won’t hurt.”

“Where am I?”

“Who knows, now c’mon let’s get moving.”

“My legs, I can’t, I don’t think I can.”

“Of course you can, now open your eyes, stand up and get walking.”

The room stretched forward for an eternity but, despite many years of arthritis, he felt no pain, no aching as he stoically placed one foot in front of another, turning from a psychosomatic limp, to walk, to a jog, to a trot, to a run. For the first time in as long as he could remember he ran and ran until his lungs were about to burst, or would have done. He had never been a fit man and he should only have been able to run a short distance before his sides stitched and his tongue burned, but when he did finally stop his companion was just a small dot in the distance. With a grin on his face he waited.

“How did you know?”

“See, this arm?”

“Yes of course it looks perfect.”

“Well that’s always been there. But this,” he pointed to his big toe “was chopped off when I was a kid. Now let’s get moving I have a feeling we’re nearly there.”

Where there were was anybody’s guess. They certainly didn’t know as they approached the atrium and saw many thousands of other people facing forward, staring blankly into the distance towards a giant screen. Pulling up a seat, he sat down at the back, near where they’d come in. Moments later he turned around to look where he’d entered only to find thousands more people behind him. No longer at the edge he was somewhere in the center of this ever expanding mass of people of all ages, colors and creeds dressed in white hospital gowns with their backs showing through the slit in the back.

“What now?” he whispered to his companion.

Nothing. It was as though he hadn’t been heard. The man who’d walked with him up that long pathway now sat staring at the screen as though listening intensely to a message being broadcast at a wavelength which was audible to everyone in the room except him. He gave the man a nudge. Again nothing. Not a flicker of movement. He tried harder the next time, but his finger just went into his arm and touched his bone. But there was no response. He tried the person to his left. The same result. Then cautiously, he turned around and looked at the people behind him. The result was the same; growing bolder he stood and walked several rows forward to discover the same motionless people, frozen, unblinkingly at the blank projector ahead of them. He kept walking forward towards an unending supply of people and then he shouted at the top of his lungs.

“HELLO!” His voice echoed around the chamber and reverberated around his head as it bounced off his eardrums.

When he next turned around the room was empty except for one man with a very long red beard.

“Are you?”

“God? Oh dear me no.”

“No, I know that.” The man with beard looked slightly crestfallen, “I mean are you Slartibartfast?”

A smile spread across his face creating a thin pink gap between his moustache and the silky red beard.

“I knew you were the one, the moment I saw you. Now come with me.”

“Can you tell me where we are?”

“Yes I can.”

And he walked off towards a small door beneath the screen.

“We can’t go through there. It’s much too small.”

“Perception is in the eye of the beholder dear boy. Just follow me.”

The man who looked like Slartibartfast, but obviously wasn’t, towered over our hero, for everyone is a hero in death, and walked through the door which was considerably shorter than either of them, as though it was exactly the right height. Cautiously our hero followed him, ducking his head to avoid a bang.

“Slar…”

“Bob, if you don’t mind.”

“Bob? But I thought you said…?”

“No, you called me that I just didn’t correct you. Where are we?”

“Yes, where are we and what just happened?”

“All will be explained.”

And he wandered off.

“This is where it all began, your life I mean. When not on Earth you live here. The trouble is you’re destroying it and we’re not happy about it.”

“Wait, what do you mean I live here?”

“All will be explained, now if you don’t mind.”

Bob, picked up his beard and headed off at such a speed that our hero had difficulty catching up.

“For an old man, you move pretty fast.”

They reached a door in another blank wall and entered what looked like a company boardroom, with its long never-ending wooden table and countless chairs.

“Sit.”

He did as he was told and Bob walked all the way to the other end where, as just a speck in the distance, he was joined by two others, who appeared out of nowhere.

“Welcome, we are Bob. You’ve met Bob and we too are Bob. Together we run GOD Inc.”

“What is…”

“Please don’t interrupt. We run a holiday service which sends people to Earth for a break from being able to have anything you could desire. Think of it as camping trip in the Lake District in summer or a trip to a music festival. And we’re pissed. You and your ilk have royally fucked up the planet and we may have to start again.”

“Excuse me!”

“Yes?” they asked in unison.

“What does this have to do with me?”

“It’s your fault. You started this nonsense and now you will fix it.”

“But I didn’t do anything. I was a branch manager of a small bank in Slough. I counted money in and money out. All major decisions were made by someone in a remote office; I just input data into a form. It was a soulless job in a soulless office in a soulless town. My life didn’t mean much to anyone. My ex-wife was so bored she ran off with an accountant!”

“Not now perhaps. But on your first visit to Earth you were quite the fabler and made quite a comfortable life for yourself. Many of your stories became best sellers eventually. You remember writing a nice little story about Adam and Eve?!”

“Wait, I did what?”

“You told bedtime stories for your kids and your horror stories for your friends to entertain them on quiet nights around the campfire and keep you fed. Of course you won’t remember, but anyway after your grandkids heard these fanciful tales and began telling them to their children they got written down and since life was simpler back then they got taken seriously. You kick started Judaism and Christianity, you fool!”

“But I…” he started to protest.

“Enough! What you will do is fix this problem. Luckily for you anti-theism is taking hold again and we want you to get them to believe in a new kind of god,”

“But I can’t do that. I don’t know how.”

“You did it before and you’ll do it again.”

“But people aren’t as simple as they once were and there are more them.”

“And now you have more ways to communicate with them. You will do it.”

“And if I don’t?”

“You’ll never be allowed to return here again.”

“Is that so bad?”

“You remember Slough!”

“Hmm, Okay. Now, Will I remember any of this?”

“Actually yes. You’ll be returned to your old mundane life and you need to start as soon as possible.”

“How the hell do I escape Slough and convince the world that you don’t exist?”

“Might we suggest you start writing some new stories? I think you’ll be surprised how well they do. Good bye”

——

“C’mon mate you don’t want to do that.”

He felt his feet being pulled and his body dragging along the road as his head banged along the tarmac just in time to see the wheels of the fast diesel whizz past his nose.

“You know what? You’re absolutely right,” he stood up, brushed himself down and thanked his good Samaritans, “I have a book to write”.

The Beginning

 

Image: https://shrapnelcontemporary.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/stairway_to_heaven.jpg

Bio: Stuart Carruthers is a writer of short fiction and lives in Taiwan with his wife and 2 kids. His work can be found on all Amazon sites.

That Thing with Feathers that Perches in the Soul by James L. Secor

 bridge strut

In my wandering, I came across a land that I shall call, for want of a better name, the Land of Waiting. It was, in truth, a fine day when I stumbled upon this country. However, I found that the weather was very changeable, for within no time the climate worsened and my way became clogged with expectation.

My road took me through a low-lying area that I could see had once been marshy. A flood plain had been shored up. I saw fine, tall green grass and strips of cultivated land. Still, I could hear the encroachment of the great river as it sloshed and slapped against the dike.

The road followed the river wall. As with all roads, I knew I’d come upon a collection of houses or even a village and, sure enough, around a particularly wide  bend in the river I saw a huddled mass of people. They were gathered at the edge of the road, gabbling amongst themselves and gesticulating at the flood plain. Something was bothering them. Upon drawing nearer, I could see the ground between the road and the dike glistening and undulating. When I drew nigh the crowd, I could see the river had breached the wall and was once again running onto the flood plain. The grass was now reeds and the crops were drowned or drowning. The hole in the retaining wall was not very large, though the passage of water was wearing it into a larger fissure. But the people weren’t doing anything. That is, nothing other than pointing and complaining. Each time the river water encroached on the road, the gaggle of people jumped back amid screams and hubbub, as if getting their feet wet was akin to courting death.

I stood off to one side and listened to the undulating voices, watched the retreat and recovery of the rabble. Then I stepped closer and spoke to an old woman on the fringe who was not quite so vocal as the others.

“What’s going on?” I asked, as if it weren’t obvious.

“The river’s breaking through the weir,” she answered without looking at me.

“Why is nobody doing anything?”

“What can they do?”

“Is it not possible to repair it?”

The woman turned and looked at me. “You’re not from around here, are you?”

“No. I’m just passing through.”

“Best keep on going then. River’s rising.”

“I was hoping to find a place for the night.”

“Oh, I don’t think that’s possible.”

“Oh.”

“Not that we’re not friendly, you understand. We’re just a little pre-occupied at the moment.”

“Yes. I see.”

“Yes. We’re being flooded out.”

It was true the roadway was becoming a tad muddied along its riverside border but there was no evidence of a flood.

“It’s inevitable,” she continued. “Like life and death.”

“But can’t you be rescued?”

“Nope. We’re done for.”

“The water’s not very deep. The hole can’t be that big.”

“Just one basket of earth shy,” she said with finality.

“Well, that could be remedied–”

“No it can’t.” And she looked at me again, full in the face. “Like I said, you’re not from these parts.”

“How could things come to such a pass!”

“Don’t go getting upset at what you don’t understand, young man.” She patted me absently on the shoulder. “Let me tell you how it is in these parts. Sense is hard to come by but mayhap you’ll understand anyway.” She didn’t say anything for a long time. Just as I began to fidget, she began her story. “We had to stop building. We ran out of dirt. One basket shy of a full load and there you have it. End of job. End of story. There’s nothing to be done about it.”

I looked around. “Seems like there’s enough dirt here,” I said.

“Seems like it, yes. But it isn’t so. It wasn’t requisitioned. Only that much,” she pointed with her chin, “was requisitioned and so that’s all there is.”

“Seems somebody made a mistake.”

“Yep.”

“I guess you could fix it, couldn’t you?”

“Like I said, you’re not from around here.”

I waited for more. When it didn’t come, I nudged her along. “Yes?”

“It’s fate, son. Fate. Destiny.” She chewed her gums a moment. “Pre-destination. Everything’s laid out according to plan, even people’s mistakes. It’d be the greatest pridefulness to think that you could do fate one better.” She chewed her gums some more. “Some things you just can’t change. Life is life. It’s inevitable.”

I stood silently watching the encroaching river water and the ruinization of crops and road and, perhaps, village. I looked at these people, gesticulating, gabbling and groveling before life, waiting helplessly for . . . for the end. The end for them being, of course, the end of all things. Fate.

I looked up at the darkening sky and thought I’d better be on my way. I couldn’t wait forever for food and lodging and there was a copse of trees up ahead. I could rest the night there. Yes. The inevitability of it all.

They had drawn a line in the sand and just waited for it to be crossed, at which time their world would end. There was nothing to be done. If I fixed the leak with rocks and sand and whatever was at hand, I’d be damned. Maybe even stoned to death. What would they have done with such a reprieve anyway–torn away their saving grace? Sad as it may be, I had to leave them to face their problem. Their fate.

You just can’t mend a sinking boat in the middle of a river.

A couple days later, just after passing the mouth of the river where it emptied peacefully into the ocean, I ran into another time marker. There were no retaining walls in this part of the country. The horizon was far and wide and the sky broad, albeit rather cloudy. There was not much wind, though, so the rags that hung helter-skelter on the near-skeleton lying on the side of the road remained limp and unmoving. Yellowed grass, dry and desiccated, grew around him–I could see it was a him. No insects or birds sang, though on and off crows would settle to ground and strut around inspecting the spectacle. Skin draped itself over pointy bones that threatened to poke through. Rubber boot-clad feet lay tilted, both to the same side. Fingernails were long and grimy. Hair hung tangled and dusty about a wizened face with jutting cheekbones, long sun-bleached teeth, lips pulled back in a grin or a grimace and protruding eyes.

I slowed my pace.

The big bulging white eyes with their pinpoint pupils followed me.

I stopped and held my breath.

“Hi,” croaked the near-carcass.

“Hi.” What else could I say?

“Betcha wonder why I’m here,” he rattled on.

I couldn’t see him breathe. The barely flesh-covered ribs that poked out from the remains of a shirt did not move.

“Do you need help?”

“No. No. I’m fine.”

“Well. That’s . . . good.”

“Yeah. Yeah. It is.”

I didn’t know what to do, so I stood there looking down at this replica of a man before the breath of life was blown into him.

“Yeah. I kinda look like death warmed over, right?” I did not feel I could say anything. “That’s ’cause I am.”

“Could I get you some water?”

“No. No. That’d defeat the purpose of living.”

“But you’re dying!”

“Yep. That’s true.”

Neither of us spoke for awhile. His eyes rolled around in his sockets like lopsided marbles.

“I’m here because I’m a fisherman,” he wheezed.

I looked out over the sea. It rose and fell and gently slapped the shore. There were no boats out there. There was no dock.

“Hey. I’m over here.” I turned back to him. “I caught a fish once. Big fish. I ran back here with it. House is all gone now. I was so happy. I caught this marvelous fish. I deserved my title. Fisherman. A time of celebration. Let the good times roll. It ended all too soon. Like everything in life. And so you see me here.”

“Why is that?”

“I forgot my fishing gear. So I lost my chance. Now it’s just the inevitable.”

“Couldn’t you get some more?”

I looked back the way I came. What was wrong with these people?

“Only one chance. I blew it. So long.” He let his eyes roll off to one side.

I did not move. I could not move. This poor man . . . lying there . . .

“Go on. I’m finished. Shoo. Shoo.”

So, I shuffled on down the road, befuddled at such behavior, behavior that defied reason. Was everybody in this country just sitting around waiting? Couldn’t anybody do anything? I felt sorry for them. I hurt for them. So wasteful.

I stopped in the middle of nowhere and looked back the way I’d come. I looked the other way. I had done this before, of course, wondering what was going on around me. Always at a cross-roads. Always coming and going at the same time. And what was my journey for? What was I looking to find? Even with all this travelling, I wondered whether, in fact, I, too, was just waiting for something to happen.

As I approached the northern border, I came upon a great river. There was no bridge over it that I could see but there was a sign that named it: The Great Divide River. It was quite broad and, though the water along the shore pooled and eddied playfully, out in the middle the water streamed by, occasionally splashing dirty sudsy-looking water over submerged rocks. On the far side of The Great Divide there was a group of people with placards. “CRISIS” and “HELP” and “SAVE OUR SOULS” and “DEATH STALKS US” and “SURCEASE PLEASE” and “BUDDY CAN YOU SPARE A DIME.” They were shouting and chanting but no one on my side of the river could hear over the rush of river water and distance. It was maybe a kilometer across. On this side of the river there was only me and a man in a hair shirt type of robe. A washed-out saffron sash sagged over one shoulder and wound its way around his body. He was bald. His arms were folded over his knees but every once in awhile he raised a hand and waved at the people on the other side. A gold ring glistened in the diffuse sun light.

“Hey!” I shouted. “What’s going on?”

The becassocked man stood up and turned toward me. He was wearing thick leather sandals. They looked new. Hanging from his neck was a large round medallion on what looked like a spun-gold brocade ribbon. Perched on his small button nose sat a pair of enormous glasses, encasing eyebrows, eyes and cheeks. He was smiling, a kind of benign, meant-generally-for-everybody smile. He waved at me–or at least, he raised his hand on high, revealing a gold watch on his fat wrist. From the way his gown hung, he was well-fed. What was he doing out here in the rocky wasteland of the northern border?

“They got problems!” he shouted back.

So I surmised.

“Are you doing anything about it?”

He cupped a hand around a large ear and cocked his head to one side. I obliged him by clambering over and around the rock-strewn riverside until I stood at the base of his stone pedestal. He smiled down at me, a silver tooth with a diamond in it gleaming. His glasses were Armani and his watch Rolex. He held out a well-manicured hand, pink and soft in my grip.

“I’m the Great Doylee the Lame.” I looked down at his clean feet. “It’s just a title. Don’t worry about it. What was that you said?”

“I just asked if you were helping in any way.”

“Well, yes. Of course I am. What do you think I’m doing out here?”

I looked over at the crowd across the way and back to him. Here he was, one man across a great expanse of hustling water–what is it he could do? One man and so very far removed from the action.

“Ah. I see. Have a seat, I’ll explain everything to you. I’ve got all day.”

The great gold-bedecked Doylee the Lame squatted on his haunches. I sat on the edge of the smooth boulder. It was warm despite the overcast, grey sky. It looked like rain.

Doylee the Lame raised both hands to the throng on the other side of The Great Divide and then crossed his arms over his knees.

“It’s a sad thing over there in West Rising Branch of Life. They are fighting for their lives, for their sovereign right to life. Everyone has a right to life, even a life filled with illusions and attachment.”

“Is their problem an illusory one?” I knew that people did get upset over perceived wrongs, striking out haphazardly in their delusion. Could it be that these people were, basically, protesting nothing?

“Oh, no. Their brutal domination is real enough,” he answered.

“Surely they did not bring it upon themselves.”

“No. No. For a fact I know, no. Though it is true that people can bring down the wrath of the gods on their heads seemingly out of nowhere but in reality due to their own dirty souls though they are unaware of their sin, maybe.” He spoke in a soft, compassionate, sing-song counter-tenor. “Maybe there are some there clinging to illusion but in general not.”

“You certainly know a lot about those people.”

“Yes. Yes. I do. They are my people. I know they are kind, decent, obedient, respectful people who know their place. Their place in the great scheme of things. They are good people, my people. Though, of course, there are always a few bad apples. No one knows where evil comes from but anyway it is an illusion as so much of life is, you know. My people are trained to look deep into themselves to see their weaknesses and attachments, their faults, for if there were no faults in them they would have no problems in the world.”

“Why do you call them my people?”

“Because that is what they are. My people. I am their leader.”

“But you are here and they are there!”

“Yes. So it seems. But you see I escaped the evil empire. Those who in their mad illusion spread lies and deceit and mete out death as if they were emissaries of the gods. I escaped. They helped me to run away so that I could continue to lead them and be an inspiration from a distance. A dead leader is no leader at all.”

“You can’t kill a martyr,” I countered.

“Seeking after martyrdom is earthly attachment. That kind of renown and hubris is a passing fancy, an illusion. To die by the sword runs counter to the doctrine of peace.”

“You believe in peace.”

“Why, yes. I have a medal to prove it.” He held up his gold heraldic device.

He placed the heavy ornament in my hand. It was a mighty chevron with a man-cameo and bend sinister and around the edge was engraved Pris de noblesse oblige de pièce de résistance. I turned it over. Emblème carte blanche was beveled into the gold.

“You must be proud,” I said, handing it back to him.

“Quite the contrary. I am humbled by the honor.”

“I have heard of this honor before. It comes with a bequest, does it not?”

“Yes indeed it does. I dedicate the money to the life of peace.”

“You are truly amazing.”

“Thank you. Glad you enjoy me.”

I looked over at the horde on the other side of The Great Divide River. They were becoming more animated, jerking their signs up and down. Still, they could not be heard.

“What are you doing for them?”

“I told them to protest non-violently but of course they didn’t.”

“Why not?”

The Great Doylee the Lame shrugged his shoulders. “You know people.”

“I cannot believe that you believe you are helping them–your people–sitting over here on a rock waving at them.”

“I’m not waving at them. I’m blessing them. The more blessing the better. And I am giving them moral support.”

“What?!”

“Yes. Moral support. The bulwark of the hope of the people.” He sighed. “And. . .I sent a statue of the Great God of Mercy, Abera Khardomumma Shaktiputakaka to them.”

“That will help?”

“Worshiping his likeness will bring the miracle of mercy, peace to the people.”

“How did you send it to them?” No one was powerful enough to throw anything one kilometre.

“I threw the clay idol into the river to let the water of life carry it to them.”

Just then there was a hullabaloo on the road. We turned. A large ox-cart with a roof and red interior stood in the middle of the road. Three men in robes were shouting at us.

“Ah. There is my ride. I must leave you now.”

And off he went. I followed him to the roadside. He mounted the cart and sat in the plush velvet interior and waved good-bye to me, the ever-present dazzling benign smile still on his face.

“Peace be with you.”

He did not offer me a ride. I was left, instead, to continue on my way in his dusty wake. More than once I choked and had to stop for coughing. It irked me that, to get out of the Country of Waiting I had to follow in the tracks of a self-proclaimed hero and leader of people.

Finally, I could take no more and stopped, moving off the road and onto the golden sands of the riverbank. The water rippled over rapids here, filling the air with a cool mist and peace settled around me.

 

Jimsecor spent much of his life traipsing all over the world. Rarely as a tourist. He was, too, a wandering scholar. All those cultures and histories inhabit his writing. So, too, does his social activism, born during the avant garde American theatre days. The absurdism of his theatre and the times have only deepened, colored by his travels. He has led many lives. He has published in three countries and three languages but to no financial success. But what else is there to do? Write, write, write. He writes by hand with an ink pen, a real fountain pen. He has many, many, many. And some “forever ink.” He can be found at Linkedin, at http://labelleotero.wordpress.com (named after and/or to honor me, Minna vander Pfaltz) and can be cursed or praised as you wish at hellecchino@eclipso.eu.  Jimsecor is also a Chicago Editing Specialist, though, actually, it was his teaching that kept him (us) afloat. For awhile.

THE THANATOPSIS PROJECT

a
The second time he died was a Thursday. He had prepped for it since April’s last snows piled a perimeter of walls surrounding the institute like some fortified castle. Here it was now, deep into June, and from his window Trebor Patrokos could detect the late appearance of saffron crocuses on short stems, poking yellow crowns through garden beds. The mystery of nature: the cyclic journey from seed to bloom to death to seed again.

 

Scientist Carr had asked, “Why not human beings? Why not after death to blink one’s eyes like newborns and awake to the flash of new sunlight?”

 

“What do the mort-pics show?” he asked Carr. “Was I dead again?”

 

“Very much dead, Trebor. Deader, as they say, than a doornail. Dead as stone.”

 

Trebor Patrokos raked a quick hand through long graying hair. “How long this time?”

 

Scientist Carr checked his notes and read the Thanatos-meter he had attached to Trebor‘s temple. “You were dead for nearly thirty hours. No heartbeat, no brainwaves, no coursing of blood, organs somewhere down in Death Valley. Total inertia. I’d call this one even more successful than your first outage. You did just fine, Trebor. Once we set the Thanatos-meter at zero, it sucked the life out of you. For all intents and purposes you were a corpse, but the meter took on vital operations so that, yes, you were physically and mentally gone, but it transferred your life force into itself.”

 

Twice Carr had sloughed away the multi-tiered personas of his ersatz life. Trebor had been pronounced dead, a fact he had known all his life. The bald truth? Trebor Patrokos regarded himself a nothing, a kind of Invisible Man divested of clothing and facial bandages. Volunteering for the secret Thanatopsis Project, he had harbored a secret of his own, a longing that the Thanatos-meter would fail, and the death it had delivered him and then stored in its chip would prove his undoing.

 

Scientist Carr had, in an accidental but momentous experiment, managed to defang venomous death. In his laboratory he had failed to unravel the mystery of insidious cancers, find cures that would prolong lives, but all that was moot now. He had bypassed the long winding road through the mire of failed steps, leaping from Point A to Point Z in a single bound. He had conquered death! And those who would flock to his door would pay heavily to relinquish their fear of endings.

 

“To you and to the others in this study I am indebted beyond words,” said Carr. “In these experiments, time and again, the Thanatos-meter has replicated death and then restored the dead to life again. This tiny black box,” Carr said, raising the meter as if to announce it to the world, “attached to the temple…” The scientist allowed himself to drift off into fantasy. Then to Trebor Patrokos he said, “One more time?”

 

Trebor nodded, proceeded to lie down on the white surgical table where shortly before he had returned after thirty hours dead to the world.

 

Scientist Carr sang off-key while he attached the Thanatos-meter to the supine Patrokos. It was a song made popular decades before when Carr attended Columbia Med. School and wanted so much to show them all he had what it took to realize his dreams.

 

“And the world will be better for this

That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star.”

 

Trebor felt the cold black metal of the meter against his forehead. Carr’s voice trailed away. Trebor’s eyes lost their grip; objects in the lab were fading fast. But so far his mind was clear. He did not want to live again. For what? Life had not been kind.

 

When Trebor heard the whining blue siren beating inside his head, he reached up his hand, touched the pulsating Thanatos-meter and yanked it from his temple just in time to take death like a man in despair.

 

Scientist Carr screamed Trebor’s name.

 

#
BIO
Salvatore Buttaci is a retired teacher and professor whose work has appeared in The Writer, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, and elsewhere here and abroad. He was the 2007 recipient of the $500 Cyber-wit Poetry Award.

 

Sal Buttaci’s recent flash-fiction collection, 200 Shorts, was published by All Things That Matter Press, and is  available at  http://www.amazon.com/200-Shorts-ebook/dp/B004YWKI8O/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1369920397&sr=1-2&keywords=200+Shorts

 

 

 

FLASH BULLETIN: Today’ s the perfect day to order copies:

 

 

MY FIRST PUBLISHED SHORT STORY by John B. Rosenman

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Have you ever looked at a photograph of yourself when you were young and thought, “Whoa, is that me?” Did you gaze at the smooth, unlined face and search your now crumbled, ravaged features for some vestige of it? Where, you perhaps wondered, did that young boy or girl go?

In a way, this is what happened to me when I recently ran across my first published story. While I’d been scribbling since I was a tyke, “The Patriot,” which appeared in a small college magazine was the first work I actually shared with the world. I’d just turned twenty and was starting my junior year at Hiram College. I won’t tell you the year, but folks, it was looonnng ago.

I offer “The Patriot” here, warts and all, to encourage older writers to revisit their early writing and to reflect on the passing of time and what it means. To me, my story seems the product of a callow fellow, crude and immature. It’s as if I wrote it as a baby in another lifetime. Yet at the same time, I recognize distinctive traits of my style and thinking. The child IS the father of the man. For readers who are young, THIS WILL HAPPEN TO YOU. One day you will be sorting through the bric-a-brac of your youth, the archaeological remains of your childhood, and discover something that jars you, perhaps even rocks you to your core. Just as Adolph Schmidt is rocked in my story…

THE PATRIOT

Adolph Schmidt pounded a last nail into the sole of the shoe and tossed it into the pile by his side. From outside came a shout, a barked order, and then the tramp of boots, the sound of soldiers. Within the shop Adolph sat undisturbed, for here the sounds entered faint and curiously detached. Adolph reached for another shoe and in a moment the pounding continued. Presently he sighed and rose from his work, his frame tall and his shoulders stooped as he walked over to the shop’s lone window and peered out. The soldiers were almost at the end of the street now. In a minute would come the bark of authority and then the unthinking robot would return. Disinterestedly, Adolph turned back to his work.

The door opened and a short and very corpulent man entered. Adolph looked up briefly and then turned back to his work. The visitor shut the door and walked in.

“Hello, Adolph,” he said, wheezing heavily and shuffling into the shop.

“Hello, Otto,” returned Adolph, his voice dead, and this time he did not look up.

Otto stared down at him for a moment and then spoke.

“Well?”

There was a long pause, one broken only by Otto’s heavy breathing. Adolph raised his head and for a moment the eyes of the two men locked.

“I’m sorry, Otto,” he said, “but it’s out of the question.”

The matter thus dismissed, Adolph picked up another shoe and examined it critically. But Otto was not satisfied. He stalked about the narrow confines of the shop, one fat finger explosively punctuating the air, his arms gesturing violently in his impotence. Through it all Adolph worked undisturbed. At last Otto pulled up short before him and snorted disdainfully. “It’s out of the question,” he mimicked, slapping his fat thighs for emphasis. “It’s out of the question, he says.”

There was a pause and Adolph looked up.

“Look, Adolph,” said Otto, “we’ve been friends for a long time. We grew up together. This country, Austria, is our home. We have families, women and children to protect.”

Adolph said nothing. Otto, seeing that his words bore no effect upon his friend paused and then furiously roared, “In the name of God, Adolph, does our suffering mean nothing to you?”

Adolph sighed and tiredly raised his head. “It’s not my fight, Otto,” he said. “I work, I sleep, I bother no one, no one bothers me. I am not disturbed. For me there is peace.”

“Peace?” echoed Otto, his face incredulous. “Peace? Adolph,” he said, resting his elbows on the bench before him and speaking softly as if to a child, “there is no peace. No peace when your home is not our own but belongs to the enemy, no peace when your wives and daughters can be wantonly defiled and as wantonly discarded, no peace when your mind is not your own and your highly prized liberty paid for with the grains of your integrity.”

The shoe done, Adolph tossed it into the pile by his side and reached for another.

“All right,” said Otto resignedly, “all right. But will you at least come to the meeting tonight? Will you at least come and hear what we have to say?”

Adolph was a long time in answering, and when he did, he did not raise his eyes from his work.

“I’m sorry, Otto,” he said, “but I’ll have too much work to do.”

Otto heavily shook his head, as if the answer had been one long expected.

“I’m sorry, too, Adolph,” he said, and he bent his head and dejectedly shook it. “But it is so hard to fight when even those of your side are against you.” Tiredly he crossed to the door and stood poised with his hand on the knob. “If you should change your mind,” he said, his eyes on the hunched, silent shoulders of his friend, “the meeting will be at nine prompt, at the home of Ludwig Wagner. You know the way.”

“Yes, Otto, I know the way.”

Otto nodded and turned to open the door but halted at the scrape of boots on the outside platform. There was a knock, sharp and challenging, and Otto turned in the dead silence of the shop and looked at Adolph with eyes that pleaded the unspoken word.

It was at once a dilemma for Adolph, for Adolph was not one accustomed to the need for decision. Another man, perhaps one who would have acted, would have assessed the problem with the eye of his mind and, the thing resolved, acted positively one way or the other. But Adolph was not such a man. Such a man was Adolph in fact, that the dealing with problems of any kind was distasteful and to be avoided whenever possible. As it was, he did nothing, and so it was that Otto’s plea went unanswered.

The knock was repeated, louder and more insistent this time, reverberating as thunder about the dingy walls. Standing as he was, with his shoulders stooped and his brow wet, Adolph trembled and released his shaking breath as softly as he could. The pounding ceased, abruptly and with a note of finality. There was a brief silence, a sudden barked order, and then the crash of shoulders against the wood panel. On the third assault the door gave way, its rusty hinges torn from the wall as it thundered to the floor. German soldiers armed with death burst into the shop. Otto was quickly seized, his arms pinned behind him as he struggled in vain to escape.

Adolph recognized instantly the tall form of Colonel Silvanyuk, the commandant of the village, as he swaggered into the shop and disdainfully extricated his fingers from one delicate white glove. “Ah, Otto Goering,” he said, his voice suave and cultured, “how good of you to let yourself be caught.”

Otto stopped his struggles and glared back balefully.

“You must excuse my delight at having found you,” continued the colonel, “but we have reports that you have conspired against the occupation. You understand, of course, that we cannot permit such actions to go unpunished.”

“No,” repeated Otto dully, “you cannot.”

“That is,” said the colonel, steepling his fingers as he turned about the shop and stopped once more before Otto, “unless you give to us the names of those who conspired with you.”

The effect of the words was immediate. Otto lunged forward in the arms of his captors and spat in the commandant’s face.

The insult brought him stiffly erect. “Very well,” he said, “if that’s the way you want it. Take him outside.”

The soldiers forced the struggling Otto through the open doorway into the street. The colonel turned to watch them and then turned back to Adolph. “It will be most unfortunate for you, sir,” he said, his voice stripped of its previous politeness, “if we should discover that you are among the conspirators.”

Adolph stared back at him and moved his lips as if in a nightmare. “My friend, Otto,” he said, “you’re going to kill him, aren’t you?”

The commandant smiled half-amusedly. “Yes,” he said, “we’re going to kill him,” and with that he laughed and mockingly saluted.

Adolph stood for a long time after the colonel’s departure, his head bent in the darkness. At last he aroused himself and squared his shoulders. “I’ve been wrong,” he thought. “It is my concern. It is my fight. Otto. I have wronged him. All along I have wronged him. He was my friend, my countryman, but I have wronged him. _I_ was not _his_ friend.”

He turned to the clothes rack and lifted his coat from it. “I must hurry. I have an engagement, and I must not be late.” He stepped out through the shop’s open doorway into the snow. For a moment he stood, and then he started walking, his broad shoulders squared against the winter wind.

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/John-B.-Rosenman/e/B001KMN69E

Website: http://www.johnrosenman.com

Into the Woods by Monica Brinkman

 

stream-690325_1280 mAY 20

“Wait for me Sissy”!

Sissy Jones looked back to see her little brother stumbling through the tall rock laden grass. She ceased her walk and hollered back, “Hurry up Timothy or we’ll miss finding them.” The young boy smiled and huffed his way to his sister.

The sight of his blonde locks, now wet from the humid heat of the summer softened her reserve. “It’s okay Timmy, you catch your breath. We still have time. Here drink this.”

Without hesitation Timmy gulped down the entire contents of the thermos and wiped the cool water from his mouth with his right hand. “Thanks Sissy, I sure needed that.”

“I guess you did cause now we don’t have any water left for later. I don’t want to hear any complaining about how hot and thirsty you are. Geez. You didn’t have to hog it all.”

Sissy felt bad as soon as the words left her mouth. She kept forgetting how young Timmy was and that he hadn’t learned yet to think about the next person in line. She patted him on the head. “Come on, we better get going if we want to find any arrow heads.”

She took Timmy’s hand and led him into the woods, noticing the temperature dropped considerably from the shade of the multitude of trees surrounding them. It was a natural gift from nature; one she appreciated on such hot humid days. Soon, the sound of water traveling over rock covered ground could be heard; she knew they were near and her excitement rose.

“We’re almost there.”

Hearing his sisters’ words, Timmy let go of her hand and raced ahead to the river’s bed. He waited, knowing better than to enter the water until Sissy joined him. It only took a moment and there she was, at his side.

“Look at the little frogs. Aren’t they cute? Sissy squealed and circled the water with her fingertips, watching as the frogs swam for perceived safety.

Sissy adored frogs and was delighted to see the tadpoles swishing their tiny forms and swimming among the small frogs. Surely many would not make it, but there would be enough to keep the species populated. She noticed Timmy was bent over the edge scooping up mud and grassy soil, seeking those arrowheads and artifacts from the Neshaminy Indians who had lived in this woods for decades before them.

The woods was always magical. Silent yet boasting the rustle of birds, reptiles and insects for those who hesitate long enough to listen. Ah, it was the time of her life and Sissy revealed in it, taking in the richness of life, the simplicity of moment, never anticipating what would come next; experiencing what was happening now.

 

***

His white lab coat rustled as he approached the silver-haired woman and spoke to his assistant. “You know, Fleckner, it never ceases to amaze me how peaceful and happy she appears. Don’t know that I’ve seen her without a smile on that wrinkled face. Whatever could it be that holds her in such a state?”

Adam Fleckner nodded. “Alzheimer’s is sadly still quite a mystery to us. I suppose it is merely her reflexes and nothing more. Sissy cannot speak or hear us, or if she can do so, she surely has not given us a sign. It is sad, this disease.”

The two doctors walked pass Sissy Jones who continued to laugh, smile and find joy as she experienced the past, or perhaps to her, it was the present.

 

Monica Brinkman writes stories of life, the paranormal, horror and suspense. Visit her web-site @ http://itmattersradio.wix.com/on-the-brink

And radio web-site:  www.itmattersradio.com

Life or Death by James Secor

 

Edgar Allan Poe, it is said, would read the news, the scandal sheets and even the Federal Register looking for stories. Today, we have the Internet, which can be an amazing scandal sheet. But sometimes there’s just news, weird news, stupid news, horrible news (the norm). And this story came via a news outlet. I just left out the hook. I also colorized the story. I intended it to be a horror story but something happened along the way. The ending was intended, though. A kind of, “and then this happened,” as with children telling what happened.

And then, in a story the following day, I ran across another graveyard item. It is now being written on the dining room table, listening to Memphis Minnie. This one, upcoming, is intentially absurdist. Life or Death was not intended so. It’s just. . . something got hold of me. . .

 

stella pirella deirdre webb's headstone modified Jim Secor

Life After Death

by

James L. Secor

 

Imagine your most fervent wish came true. Immeasurable bliss. Of course, for appearance’s sake you’d have to withhold public displays of joy and thanksgiving. Perhaps not so difficult to do, as the wish was also secretly held. But sometimes the inner workings of human nature have a tendency to work their way up through layers of consciousness and self-protection to appear unbidden and miraculously into the public domain. Then, you just make excuses for your ill-got behavior, explaining it away, if, indeed, your sentiments are not in agreement with others. Which, of course, they are not for this story. For this story is about wishing and repercussions.

Roxanne was a strong woman with dearly held beliefs. However, her mother-in-law was a domineering bitch. Though Roxanne was able to keep her at a distance—Roxanne and Will lived elsewhere—but Mama Stella Pirella Deirdre Webb insisted on daily phone calls to “Billy.” Whenever anyone is trying to control you, they will lie. Inevitably. Although Will knew this, knowledge seemed to be on the back burner whenever Mama Stella called  “Billy.” The word “Billy” was a button pusher. Will did not whine on the phone but he was acquiescent. A mama’s boy yes man. Not that, at this distance Will necessarily did his mother’s bidding but he did mention it. Whenever. And whenever Mama Stella visited, more often than necessary or welcome, adjustments of a sort had  to be made in order, as Will or “Billy” had it, to keep her, if not happy then moderately content.

During one such visit, Roxanne and Will sat in the kitchen, a late night moment of togetherness.

“What do we need with servants?”

“We’re rich enough, Rochester.”

“Why do you insist on calling me that?”

“Because I can’t live without you.”

“I might as well be Jeeves.” Roxanne’s dish washing become noisy, water sloshing about.

“I have Mama for that.”

“Ain’t that the truth!” More sloshing.

“Don’t be too hard on her, Rochester.”

Roxanne rinsed her hands and turned to face her husband, wiping her hands on a bright flowery tea towel.

“Surely you’re not conspiring to have her move in here? I’ll have to buy another oven to cook in.”

“Why?”

“She keeps her Zinfandel in the oven.”

“Oh, yes. I forgot.”

“How could you?!”

Will shrugged. Then, “Where’s she keep it when she’s here?”

“Writing desk drawer.”

“You’ve checked?”

“In a manner of speaking.” Roxanne sighed. “Warm wine!”

A sudden creaking from upstairs cut short the conversation. Quietly they listened to the wandering sound. That could only be Mama Stella. Mama Stella with a tank full. Roxanne looked at Will.

“Beer?” Her voice was unnaturally loud.

“Yes.”

“Val-Dieu?”

“A little bit of God from the valley can’t be bad.”

“Let us hope so,” grunted Roxanne as she took the beer from the fridge. She went in search of appropriate glasses. Not a search at all, as Roxanne was rather OC about her kitchen.

A pop of the cork and a scurry of creaking from above greeted Roxanne’s return to the table. Will poured, careful about the head. Not an  easy task with Belgian beer.

Roxanne drank her way through the foaming head, pulled away with a bubbly brown moustache and smiled. She refilled her glass.

“Funny how she can drink and wander around a strange house and not meet calamity.”

“Calamity Jane.”

“Why do we have to do things her way?”

“Only when she’s here.”

“Bullshit.” Roxanne took a long swallow.

“Well, alright. But it keeps her under control. . .somewhat.”

“Somewhat. No truer word. She’ll probably rise up to make sure she’s mourned and buried just so.”

“You’d like that?” Will looked at her over the top of his glass.

“God no! The thought of your mother rising from the grave is too frightening for words.”

“Yes. I think you’re right.”

Will and Roxanne laughed heartily, requiring  more ale to mellow this world they’d conjured up.

“I don’t think you’d know what  to do without her.”

“Lord give me the chance to find out.”

“This is my mother you’re talking about, y’know.”

“Exactly.”

“You really wish my poor mother dead?” asked Will, holding his glass up for more.

“We could travel without your mother.”

Will took a long drink.

“She is still my mother.”

“Impotent dreams.” Though Roxanne wished they had children so a toy could be left on the stairs one night.

When it happened, it wasn’t via misplaced toy. Where  would she get the children? There was only Will and he was doing something wrong, not to have given his father a son; but for Mama Stella, it was all Roxanne’s fault. The snide comments irked both Roxanne and Will. All the more reason for short, well-spaced visits. And, of course, Will was not assertive—or perhaps reckless?–enough to reprimand his mother, as it were. Set her straight. Or, more upsetting to Roxanne, not defending his wife or his marriage.

When mother was out of the picture, Billy as a different person. Billy was Will. Sometimes willful. Which made the marriage exciting.

So, Roxanne spent a good deal of time dreaming of ways in which Stella Pirella Deirdre Webb might meet her maker after each visit, and, for that matter, before, at the phone call announcing her intention. Toys on the stairs was the least offensive, as was a drunken stupor fall, even though Stella did not drink so much in quantity, just whenever. So she had good tolerance and never stumbled. Still, Roxanne’s fantasy was a good one, though not the most shining. Roxanne was very creative.

When it came to pass, Roxanne’s fantasy deaths for Mama Stella could never have matched her mother-in-law’s true demise. The accident was rather inconsequential. She hit her head on the stove reaching for her Zinfandel, which had somehow worked its way further back on the middle rack than it was accustomed to be stowed. She hit her head on the door, bounced off the stove door and fell heavily on her nose and forehead. Estella Pirella Deirdre Webb lay on the kitchen floor all day and night holding her Zinfandel, which had not broken, when Mr. Webb returned from his business trip. She lay there awhile longer until her husband could gather his wits  to call 911. At which point he became suspect in a suspected spousal death. His alibi panned out and the accident was officially declared an accident.

The church service, the viewing and the graveside epistolatory diatribe went without a hitch. The perhaps excessively tall and ornate headstone was placed and life went on.

On the seven week, 49th day, anniversary of Stella Pirella Deirdre Webb’s death, when the dead person’s soul is supposed to take on a new form, the family gathers to say good-bye, for it is all over. Truly and forever all over.

Roxanne and Will went to Mama Stella’s grave to lay their gift of flowers, a beautiful large gathering of Queen of Hearts, a large red-almost-to-black bulbous flower flaring out from a green centre, like great lips ready for a kiss. The opening in the shape of an upside down heart. Silky and slim. Biological name Nepenthes robcantleyii. Roxanne had chosen the flowers, making sure they were potted so they would not die quickly.

With the birds chittering away, Roxanne bent over and placed the over-sized pot at the foot of the headstone. The marble edifice fell over and the bronze angel mounted on the beveled carved rays topping the black stone clouted her on the head and killed her. And then it was very, very quiet in the cemetery.

 queen of hearts

 

Bio: Jimsecor is surviving in Kansas under the Brownback Horror and the first rain in a long time. A former student from China came by for a visit; he’s now teaching in Chicago. His new hip is coming along, though slower than he’d like. He is now at Covington’s Who’s Who but otherwise an unknown celebrity with publications here and there, in 3 countries, and some theatre production in China, where he staged an all-female Lysistrata that passed the gov’t filming. He thought it was nice that he remained a good boy; in the US he’s not so good, I think is the way to put it. At least, he’s very outspoken, including over Obama’s not reading Lupeé. Jim can be found at Linkedin and, via Minna vander Pfaltz, at http://labelleotero.wordpress.com. And can be reached directly at hellecchino@eclipso.eu.

 

Stuff It by Stuart Carruthers

a

 

The light streamed through the large window and cast dark shadows around the otherwise white room. Sara opened her eyes. She didn’t know where she was, it looked like a hotel room, the white linen was soft to the touch and the duvet that covered her was full and voluptuous. It was expensive. But there was something wrong. She couldn’t put her finger on it. There was something subtly out of place. She got out of bed and walked over to the window and looked down, where she could see cars and people scurrying around like mice.

Behind her she heard the door open. She wanted to turn around, but either through fear or bloody-mindedness, she kept looking out through the glass.

“Sara, I’m Doctor Smith.”

“A doctor,” she said to the window, “am I sick?

“Please sit down, Miss Jones.”

“Miss Jones? Why the change of address?”

“Miss Jones, I really must insist that you come and sit down.” The tone was firm and one of a person who was used to getting his own way. Sara complied.

“So Doctor, what’s wrong with me?”

“Nothing that a short stay here won’t cure. But before we get into that let’s talk about you.

“You’re Sara Jones and you live at this address?” He showed her his clipboard. She nodded in confirmation. “Excellent, excellent. You have a good income Miss Jones, one that many would envy, especially for a single person. Lots of disposable income.”

“I’ve worked hard and had a degree of luck,” she answered defensively.

“Of course, of course. Nobody resents you, please don’t take offense. I’m just checking a few facts.”

The questions went on for a while and the doctor eventually left, without telling her why she was there or how she got there. When she tried the door, she was pleasantly surprised to find it unlocked. Having dressed in her own clothes that were neatly folded in the white chest of drawers, she walked along the corridor until she found a lift. It arrived after she pressed the down button, but nothing happened.

A voice came from a speaker. “Miss Jones you can only go to the roof, where you will find the canteen and the garden. The other buttons won’t work for you at this time.”

She pressed “R”.

When the elevator stopped, the doors opened on a Japanese garden covered by glass panels to keep the elements out. Around her she heard the sound of flowing water and the splashing of orange and white koi leaping in excitement at being fed.

Sara sat on one the benches that bordered the area. She was alone and she disappeared into her thoughts, trying to make sense of the situation.

“Miss  Jones.”

Startled, Sara’s almost jumped, but she controlled the impulse. Her job relied on not showing emotions, and she was well rewarded for this ability.

“Doctor Smith. Do you have any more questions?”

“No, but I may have some answers. This is a recovery home; you’re here to help us determine how we can help you recover from an illness. You will be released when we deem you are well enough to return to society. Your salary is still being paid and you’ll actually be able to work from here for the duration of your stay. There are full office facilities on the floor below and your laptop has been put in your secure locker. Here’s the key. Just return it when you return to your room. There are a few rules whilst you’re here, but you’ll be advised of those if you come across them.”

“What am I recovering from exactly?”

“Your spending habits.”

“But, but I buy very little!”

“And that is the problem. You don’t have enough stuff. Your credit cards are hardly used; your store cards have only the essentials registered. We’ve inventoried your home and quite frankly it’s very disappointing. You have one TV, one computer—a laptop—and a cell phone that quite frankly should be in a museum. You don’t even have a car; your bike is 15 years old. Your bank accounts show that you’re not living beyond your means or even close to it. You do, to your credit, have a bit of an alcohol problem and you eat out quite a lot, and a personal trainer helps you keep trim. Sorry, we can’t have him here, but there is a gym and pool two floors down.

“The thing is you’re supposed to want more.  A person in your position should have two televisions, a good selection of never used kitchen gadgets hiding in cupboards, many electronic gadgets that have long ceased to be useful, and of course lots of clothes that you hardly ever wear. Are you aware that interest rates are kept deliberately low to encourage you not to save and to spend more on credit?”

“Are you saying that not being a shopaholic is a crime?”

“Not technically, but it is an anomaly and as such is reason enough to have you detained here.”

“So, what do I have to do to get out of here? Promise that I’ll buy more junk? Max out my credit cards on Amazon? What do you want?”

“Well that would help, but it would only be a short term fix and you’d soon slip back into your old habits. What you’re here for is a long-term resolution, not just for you but so we can learn how to help all those who suffer in the same way. Thanks to MRI scanners, we know how to target most people’s sweet spots and we can target advertising in such a way as to get 62 percent of the population to buy anything we sell them. But there are a few of you on whom these methods just don’t work. We need to know why. You’ll be allowed to leave once we’ve found the reason.”

 ***

The days and weeks dragged by as Sara worked, exercised, and was tested, prodded, and interviewed over and over. Eventually she was let go. One day she stepped into the lift to go to the office. She pushed the button, but instead of going up the elevator automatically went down to the basement. There she was met by a driver and shown to a black car with tinted windows. In the back was an open bottle of champagne with a note around the neck.

“Thank you for your patience Miss Jones.”

Sara poured herself a glass of wine, relaxed back into the embracing seats and watched the television. It was a new sitcom sitcom. Sara chuckled at some of the jokes. She didn’t notice any advertising. But she had this feeling, a strange urge to buy a new bicycle and, yes, she really did need to upgrade her cell phone.

***

Stuart Carruthers writes speculative fiction and childrens stories and can be found on Amazon. He lives in Taiwan with his wife and two young kids.