Tag Archives: Fiction

PUMPKIN By Eduardo Cervino

pumpkin-writers group copy

 

I KNEW that a family from a nearby city had converted a double-camber roof barn on the property next to us into a large, comfortable, open-plan home. As the conversion had progressed, I had sneaked inside several times after the carpenters ended the day’s work.
They built a large bedroom in the former hayloft, and added a terrace outside the rolling door once used to stow bales of hay into the loft.

THE rumble of the construction crane broke the silence. I went out to watch. The crane lifted the massive blob of a young man’s body from the bed of a red pickup and hoisted him up in the air. Neighbors from the adjacent farm gathered to watch the surreal spectacle.
A bird flew by the crane and escorted the boy through his short trip.

The operator deposited him on a bed on wheels waiting on the terrace. Afterwards, I walked back inside my house.

“I guess I will never have direct contact with that young man,” I said to my mother that afternoon.

That’s how he entered my life.

The local TV station had gotten a whiff of the situation and dispatched a film crew. They transformed a moment of privacy into bizarre entertainment news.

Now I knew who would occupy the bedroom under the heavy rafters of the remodeled barn. On subsequent mornings, the boy’s parents rolled him out to the open terrace where he basked in the sunrise.

Curiosity molded my behavior. My bird-watching binoculars allowed me to spy from my house window.

His pale face reddened the first day. His large blue eyes and pleasant expression kept me watching.

“Gee, what could make a guy like him smile all the time?”

I made up my mind to visit him.

FOOD was an inappropriate housewarming present. Flowers? A plenitude of them carpeted the fields following a bee-filled spring.

He could use my softball cap during his terrace escapades. It didn’t cross my mind that the pink color could be objectionable to him.

To go, I chose the short way through the field where my father grew pumpkins for Halloween. One stood out above all others. Destined for the annual competition, we touched, hosed, and admired it every day.

My father estimated its weight at six hundred pounds or more. On my way to the neighbor’s, its waxy orange skin attracted my hand as a magnet draws a nail.

I noticed the young man on his distant outside perch. I’d learned his name from the news program, Mario Hidalgo. I was sure he was observing me.

A hummingbird buzzed my ear and hovered midair, inches from my face. The iridescence of his feathers and vibration of his wings froze me in place. The bird took off as fast as he had come. My eyes followed the trajectory of his flight until he landed on Mario’s terrace.

“I’m Samantha Jones, from the next farm over. Welcome to you and your family.”

“How sweet. Thank you. How old are you?”

“Seventeen. Why?”

“No reason. Please come inside. I’m Anna, Mario’s mother.”

I thought she acted with the guarded courtesy of a protective parent, but she guided me upstairs and out onto the terrace.

“Mario, you have a visitor. May we join you?”

“Of course, Mom.”

“Hi, Mario. I’m Samantha. I live over there.” I pointed.

“I’ve watched you come and go to see that pumpkin. Want to hear something funny?”

“I guess so.”

“Tell her, Mom. Tell her my nickname.”

Anna hesitated, turned to me, and said, “Pumpkin.”

Mario let out a genuine, ponderous laugh. It shook the bed. His flesh rippled like Jell-O, and we laughed with him.

“Please sit if you want,” he said.

His mother offered me a chair, and I accepted after a quick look around the terrace. From his high-up nest, Mario could enjoy the expanded horizon like a child in a tree house.

Anna measured me. “What can I offer you, Samantha?”

A cup rested by Mario’s side, close to his hand.

“Whatever he’s having would be fine.”

“Coffee, black, no sugar?”

I nodded.

“I’ll be back. Make yourself at home, please. ” She took two steps backward before turning and leaving.

“How old are you, Mario?’

“A very old twenty.”

If something is not done soon, you will not reach thirty.

He smiled at me and waited. I had nothing to say.

With his eyes on my face, he extended his arm in the air. The gesture distracted me.

A hummingbird appeared, another one flew in, and both landed on Mario’s arm.

His mother returned. The birds flew away, leaving me speechless. She looked at me as if she understood my amazement.

“Hope I’m not disturbing. I just wanted to welcome you. Being our new neighbors and all.”

“Don’t mention it, please. We love visitors,” Anna said.

Mario interrupted. “Maybe the Universal Spirit preordained our encounter as he chose the paths for both our lives.”

Wow, what kind of talk is that?

Mario and I started talking about school, and his mother put down the tray with coffee and looked at me. She relaxed.

I hope she knew I wasn’t motivated by insensitive curiosity.

Mario talked nonstop, and I learned of his interest about school, which he could not attend. Anna and various tutors had home-schooled him. He was eloquent, his prose lyrical at times.

“Do you like poetry?” I asked.

He pointed to still-unpacked boxes strewn around the room. “My books: novels, poetry, and history.” He pulled a book from under the pillows and handed it over. “Tales of the Alhambra, by Washington Irving, 1851 Edition. Have you read it?”

I began to feel inadequate in his presence.

“No. Tell me about it.”

He explained the content and its connection to a poem written by Alexander Pushkin and an opera by Rimsky-Korsakov. This conversation challenged me, but I liked hearing it. It differed from the kind of talks I had with my friends in town.

“Take it with you. I just finished it for a third time. Reading is my way to travel. I do not get around much, as you might imagine.”

Mario’s constrained body couldn’t tether his vivid imagination.

He gave me a short rundown of his family, city dwellers not enthusiastic about rural communities.

Mario’s health had declined in the city. In their suburban home, the patio door in Mario’s room looked onto a barren, fenced yard.

His father purchased the small farm to let his son enjoy the outdoors, the stars, or the sun whenever he wanted.

When fall breezes undressed the trees, golden leaves carpeted Mario’s terrace.

“Don’t clean them, Ma.”

“It’s a mess out here.”

 

“But I like the crackle of leaves under your feet. I imagine I’m walking on them. They and the birds are my visitors.”

In fact, flocks of birds flew away from the terrace every time I visited him.

Mario’s magical relation with birds puzzled me.

He hardly moved, and they flew all day. But we never talked about it.

We read and discussed books together. By mid-fall, we were the best of friends, and I was in love—but not with him.

MY high school’s Halloween Parade Committee met in the library. We took charge of the school float design. We developed a concept, selected music for the school band, and chose costumes for the float riders.

Mario’s friendship had increased my confidence and improved my vocabulary. Now my opinions turned heads.

“We need lots of your father’s pumpkins for the float,” Francis, our treasurer, said. “I hope he gives us a decent price and we don’t have to buy them at the supermarket parking lot.”

I would have to stand on my toes to kiss him, I thought. He looks gorgeous in his football uniform.

Francis’ olive complexion, black eyes, mane of hair, and square jaw excited me.

“Would you talk to your father?”

“Talk about what?”

“Did you hear a word I said, Samantha?”

“Yes. The pumpkins.”

He neither encouraged nor discouraged my infatuation. However, he glanced and smiled at me more often than he did the other girls, except for Roselyn. With her long legs and resemblance to a movie star, she made me jealous.

One afternoon we got a tip about the competing school’s float. It was similar to ours, but already under construction.

“Everybody will say we copied them. You have to come up with a different idea,” the drama coach said and sent our brains into a spin.

THE same afternoon, I visited Mario. He commented about the big pumpkin in my father’s garden patch. “It’s bigger than me,” he said and laughed. “I’ve given it a name: from now on, she is Cinderella.” We grinned.

“Okay. Cinderella does look a lot bigger.” As soon as I said it, an idea popped into my mind.

“Mario, would you like to go to the parade?”

His laughter faded.

“Are you kidding me?”

“Not at all. Would you like to go?”

No answer, only a questioning stare into my eyes.

“I’m sorry I asked. I did not think it through.”

An awkward minute later, Mario spoke.

“I would. I would like to go to the parade.”

THE committee loved my extreme concept. Ideas flowed like chocolate syrup, and the next day I called Mario’s house to ask permission for the group to visit him.

Anna remained silent for a moment.

“Let me put you on speaker. Tell it to his father.”

“WHAT? Do you want to parade my son as a circus freak?” Mario’s father yelled when I explained. “The cheerleaders’ boobs are not enough excitement?”

“Calm down, please,” Anna said. “Mario can hear you.”

Mario’s voice came loudly over the phone, “Daaad! It’s about time.”

“About time for what, son?” yelled his father.

“To stop hiding me. Despite what you see, Dad, I’m a human being. I’m willing to go if they take me. Descartes once said, ‘I think, therefore I am.’”

“What does that have to do with this?”

“Oh shit, Dad, you should read a book once in a while. I’m sorry to shame you. Let them come here and talk.”

Anna came back on the line. “Samantha, you are welcome anytime.”

THE project moved quickly. Every day, I kept Mario in the loop. Sometimes others came with me. We laughed and planned every detail.

“We need insurance for me,” Mario said, “in case the crane splatters me on the ground. Like an egg falling from the nest.”

One day I came too early. Anna asked me to come back later.

“We are giving him a bath,” she said.

I had never thought about it. The images that flooded my mind sort of revolted me.

“I’m sorry about that,” I said. “I mean, I’ll be back.”

I left, walking faster than usual. I looked back at the house and caught Anna’s sad expression.

God, help me be a better person.

MARIO turned anxious as the day approached. He obsessed over the move to the float.

“When alone, I watch Cinderella from up here. That pumpkin is growing like a sumo wrestler. Just like me.”

I ignored the remark, but the pumpkin’s girth had increased. Mario, too, had added pounds.

“Can’t explain it, but I feel connected to Cinderella,” he said.

Halloween morning, we moved the float below Mario’s terrace. The float depicted a vine and carved pumpkins crawling up a hill amid girls in rabbit and bird costumes. Atop the hill was Mario’s place. The crane flew him from his bed to the float. He sat inside a customized orange sphere as big as Cinderella. His voluminous arms dangled over the curved sides. A microphone would allow him to engage the crowd.

We drove away from the farm. Mario looked at the pumpkin. “Bye, my friend. I know how it feels to be stuck. I will tell you all about it when I return.”

The parade route through our small town overflowed with spectators. Happiness permeated the afternoon.

The school band marched in front. The girls on the float exchanged quips with Mario. His cleverness gave them a harder time than they expected. People applauded. We heard no pity, no cruel remarks from the crowd. Francis and others from the football team rode on the float.

“Get on the team, Mario,” a man shouted. “They need help. They are playing like sissies this year.”

Mario was a town celebrity.

BACK at the farm, the crane carried Cinderella onto a trailer truck to move her to the fairgrounds the next day. The truck driver parked beside the house and near Mario’s terrace.
When we returned, the sun had declined over the evening’s edge. The crane operator lifted Mario up.

“Would you raise me as high as you can before taking me to my bed, please? Then shut off the engine and let me rest a few minutes in silence,” Mario said.

The operator complied. He leaned back in his seat, lit a cigarette, and grinned, watching Mario floating in mid-air.

In the early darkness, I thought a bird landed on Mario’s knee.

“How did you feel up there?” I asked later.

“Like a hummingbird with lead wings. I had an out-of- body experience. My mind connected with Cinderella on the trailer. She wanted to know what I did today.”

Almost everyone had gone home. I was alone with Mario on the terrace, releasing the lingering euphoria. We heard voices and I went to see. Francis and Roselyn were looking at the giant pumpkin. Then they sat at the end of the trailer, their backs toward Cinderella.

“It was nice to win first place, and we did not spend the entire budget,” Roselyn said, unaware their voices carried up to us.

“We were lucky that Samantha convinced that freak to go along for the ride. We couldn’t lose,” Francis said. Rosalyn leaned on his shoulder.

“She is so naive. She thinks you are in love with her.”

“It saved us almost three hundred dollars on the cost of the pumpkins.”

“Poor thing. She should look in the mirror,” Roselyn said. “My gosh, Samantha is at least thirty pounds overweight.”

“I know, love. The two of them could compete with this huge pumpkin.”

My eyes got glossy. I turned my face towards Mario. His eyes flamed with anger. His clenched fists yellowed, and his bed shook as he attempted to stand up.

I heard a snapping sound and looked down. The cinch holding Cinderella had broken, and she was rolling along the trailer’s bed. Francis and Roselyn turned around, looked at the pumpkin, and saw me.

Surprised, they did not move. Cinderella barreled down on them. They jumped to the ground, but it was too late. Cinderella vaulted from her bed and landed on top of them. I gasped, and looked away.

“OH my God, Mario. My father said Cinderella weighed fourteen hundred pounds.”

 

About the Author

Eduardo Cervino, AKA E. C. Brierfield, was born in Havana, Cuba, and has resided in the US since 1968. He has traveled extensively throughout the US, Europe, and Latin America working as an architectural designer.

He is also a painter and his oil canvasses have been exhibited in the US and abroad.
He has written and published several novels and numerous short stories. He resides in Arizona with his wife and writing collaborator, L. S. Brierfield.

www.ecbrierfield.com

 

THE PRISONER by John Rosenman

Ahab

They put me in this cell eight months ago and locked the door.  I gaze out through the window at a world ravaged and barren.  There Famine rules, and her sisters Death and Despair.

Three times a day they bring me sumptuous feasts.  Steaks.  Chops.  Lobsters swimming in butter.  Pancakes and bacon and every kind of omelet you can imagine.  I eat and grow ever fatter.

The guards who roll these banquets in look like skeletons.  Their ribs strain against their skin.  Their lips drool as they lift off silver lids and fragrant clouds fill the air.  But they don’t take a bite.  Not one.

They keep me well supplied with women too.  Lord, you should see them.  They are tall and short, lush and lovely.  And they all exist for one purpose.

To please me.

Why, you ask?

That is the question I’ve asked myself ever since they brought me here.  Why do they go to such extremes to keep me happy when the Great War made the entire world barren?  The wine, women, and song they provide must drain what little wealth remains.  They treat me like the king of the world, and my slightest wish for pleasure, no matter how frivolous, is always granted.  There are only two problems.

(1) I can’t remember a damned thing before the day they brought me here.

(2) I can never go anywhere or contact anyone outside.

One day I’m listening to a Bach concerto, when an idea strikes me.  They are fattening me up for the kill, so they can eat me!

But it doesn’t make sense.  Why waste all that sumptuous food for a few pounds of overfed flesh?  It would be foolishly wasteful and my meat wouldn’t go very far.  Besides, my captors are not cannibals.  At least, I don’t think they are.

I pat my swollen stomach and sit back on velvet pillows.  Soon another explanation comes, and I sit up in fear.

They plan to sacrifice me as an offering to . . .

But that’s the rub.  To whom?  To what possible God?

I settle back, realizing that theory makes no sense either.  Seeking an answer to my imprisonment is as foolish as asking the guards, who never say anything.

The door to my cell rattles and opens.  Mr. Black, my warden, enters, followed by several guards.

“Please come with us,” he says.

I rise from the soft, scented couch and take a (last?) look around, feeling the beginning of fear.  I call this a “cell,” but it’s a large square room with a thick carpet and lavish furnishings.  Still, it comes with a lock, and I’ve never been allowed out even for exercise.

I search the warden’s eyes for a sign, something that tells me why he’s here, what this is all about.  His black eyes lead to eternity.  I retreat in panic.

“Mr. Mann,” he says, his voice deep as death, “please come with us.”

I get a grip and head for the door.  Outside my room (for the first time ever), I move down a corridor surrounded by guards.  The Warden marches at my side.

After an elevator ride, we enter a new corridor.  We walk, we walk.  We turn left, then right, then left again.  How big is this place anyway?

Eventually we stop before a black door.  The warden knocks and the door opens.  He turns to me and smiles.

“Mr. Mann, we’ll leave you here.”  Gently, he pushes me inside.

The door closes behind me.  I see two men in rumpled suits.  One is smoking.

I stare at them.  They stare at me.  The man on the right, the one who’s smoking, ambles forward and looks me over.  He shrugs.

“I don’t get it.  What is he doing here?”

The other shrugs too.  “You might as well ask, what are we doing here?”

“What do you mean?”

“Look around, for God’s sake.”

As the man scans the place, I do too.  There’s almost no detail.  This room goes beyond nondescript.  Except for a table and a few chairs, it’s almost featureless.

“I see what you mean,” the smoker says.  “This room looks unfinished.  Why’s that?”

“It’s obvious,” his friend says.  “The writer has absolutely no idea where he’s going with this story.  The opening is over the top but it ain’t bad – a prisoner treated like an emperor for some mysterious reason in a post-nuclear-war world ravaged by famine.  Problem is, the writer has no clue where to take it.  So you and I are basically twiddling our thumbs while he keeps scribbling, hoping that the situation generates a viable plot thread.  View it as a lame exercise in metafiction.”

I’m as lost as the smoker.  “Meta – what?” we ask simultaneously.

He lifts an eyebrow.  “It’s an artsy-fartsy term.  Basically it’s fiction that self-consciously addresses the devices of fiction and whose characters may be aware they’re in a fictional work.  It –  look, I don’t have time for a crash course in literary criticism.”  He points at the man’s cigarette.  “What’s your brand?”

The guy studies it and frowns.  “Damned if I know.”  He pats his pockets.  “And I don’t have a pack.”

“Uh-huh.”  The other comes forward.  I notice he’s black, though I’m sure he wasn’t when I entered.  “And if you search your memory, you’ll find you don’t know if you drink coffee or what your name is.”

“That’s not true.”  He scratches his head.  “It’s Fred . . . something.”

“Hooray, the writer’s got a few facts, but not much.  And when he wrote me in, he knew even less.  I don’t know what my handle is.  Nor, I’m sad to say, do I know what the hell to do with our guest.  I know he’s a prisoner, but that’s about it.”

Listening to them talk, I’m getting more and more lost.  Their words make no sense at all.  I thought they were going to kill me.  Surely they can’t be right about us being victims of some schmuck’s writer’s block.

The smoker drops the cigarette and grinds it out with his heel.  “You’re right.  There’s almost no details here.  I don’t even know if I like women.  The jerk who hatched this turkey must be heading toward a dead end.”  He snaps his fingers.  “Hey, could this be a minimalist story?”

The other shakes his head.  “Naw, a minimalist tale has a purpose, delicacy of handling.  The joker who still-birthed this aimless narrative is stymied and has no idea where to go.  For all I know –”

Suddenly the door bursts open and two masked men leap inside.  Unlike the others, they are finely drawn and wear brilliant red uniforms of elaborate detail.  They both hold lethal-looking weapons.

“Oh, shit.”  The smoker reaches inside his coat.  “Where the fuck did I put that thing?”  Finding nothing, he rummages through his pockets.  His friend is more successful, but his gun barely clears leather before bullets kill them both.

One of the killers seizes my arm.  “Come with us.  Only you can save the world!”

They hustle me into the corridor, which is filled with dead guards.  As we race toward an exit, I wonder why I didn’t hear any shots.

We crash through a door and run up stairs.  Around and around, higher and higher.  Once I fall but my escorts grab me and haul me up.  Exhausted, I stagger through another door onto a roof.  A helicopter sits unattended, its blades whirling.

In seconds we’re airborne, the city wheeling beneath us as we rise.  Everything’s moving so fast, I barely have time to think.  But one thing stands out.  The pilot had said that I – only I – could save the world.

When I ask him about it, he doesn’t reply.  The copter ascends.

“I did hear you say that,” the other man says.  “What’s it about?”

The pilot turns the wheel slightly.  “It’s classified.  On a-need-to-know basis.”

The other man adjusts his mask.  “At least tell me why we’re wearing these things.”

“So no one can identify us.”

“So no one can identify us?  Who cares about that?  We’re freeing a goddamn prisoner and just want to get him away.  And if we’re going to wear masks, why these tiny, silly, pansy ones?  They make us look like Zorro.  Another thing: in our line of work, stealth and secrecy are essential.  These faggy red uniforms practically shout that a mission is in progress.”

The pilot stiffens.  “Uh-oh,” he says, pointing out the windshield.  “Enemy at three o’clock.”

“And more at nine,” his colleague observes.  He flashes me a look.  “This man must be important.”

Important?  This is madness.  Surely, they have me confused with someone else.  I have no special skills and can’t remember my past.  My whole life has been that room where I received everything I wanted.  It’s hard to imagine I ever wanted to leave it.  As the copter rises, I find myself wishing I were back dining on lobster and watching strippers.

Soon the sky is filled with attacking aircraft.  Laser and mortar fire strafes the air.

The man with the questions grabs a machine gun on his side of the copter.  He fires in a continuous burst.  BANG!  BANG!  BANG!  BANG!  BANG!  He swings the gun on a tripod, blasting the enemy as an ammunition belt rattles like a snake.

Above, to the left, a plane erupts in flames.  Gotcha!

The copter wheels, turns.  For an instant, I see a deep giant crater far below in the heart of the city.  A memory stirs.  Nuclear attack, but when?

“Hey,” the gunner shouts to me, “use the Browning beside you!”

“WHAT?” I shout back over the sound of incoming mortar.

He sights on the enemy.  “The M2!  Help me blast ’em!  Just sight and pull the trigger!”

ME?  He wants ME to shoot the enemy?

A burst of fire narrowly misses us, shaking the interior.  No time to argue.  Turning, I find a machine gun beside me.  How did I miss it before?  I grab the handle and draw a bead on an attacker.  Hold my breath and pull.

It erupts in a flower of flame.

Touché!

In seconds I’m completely into it.  I blast plane after plane.  They go poof, they go kaplooey, erupting in pretty patterns.  Fiery debris rains down toward the city.  I swing the gun and pop another plane, then another and another.  I’ve never felt better in my life.

Finally, except for us, the sky is empty.  We’re kings of the clouds!

“Status report,” the pilot says.

The gunner inspects the cabin.  “Everything looks AOK.  Just a little superficial damage.”

“Good.”  The pilot taps the instrument panel.  “Everything checks out here too.  Nothing to worry about.”

“I’m not sure,” his partner says.  “There’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t make sense.”

A pause.  “Yeah, like what?”

“Well, just for openers, why are we using the M2?  The darn thing’s antiquated.  We haven’t used them in twenty years.  But even more important, where did all the bad guys come from so suddenly?”

“What are you talking about?”  The pilot adjusts his course.  “They saw we were freeing Mr. Mann here and tried to stop us.  He’s important to them.”

“And to us.  But no one seems to know why.”  He frowns.  “If the devil’s in the details, then Satan’s laughing like a madman.”  He points out at some burning debris.  “To me, this huge attack is a plot convenience with cheap special effects.  It’s a Deus ex machina to rescue a stalled narrative.”

The pilot snorts.  “You should never have majored in English lit.”

“C’mon, think.  There are more holes in this plot than you can shake a cliché at.  The critics will ask how we destroyed a hundred planes and barely got our hair mussed.”  He looks at me.  “And our brain-damaged passenger turns out to be an ace sharpshooter, a regular Hawkeye.  The end result is that the reader will find it impossible to suspend his disbelief.”

The pilot swings the copter around.  “Hold on, we’re going back.”  He glances over his shoulder at me.  “You Okay?”

I nod.  In fact, I’m better than ever before.  I feel exhilarated and complete, liberated from my misery.  But I do wonder about something.  Why are we returning?

I glance at the gunner.  He spreads his hands and shrugs.

Heading back, I see terrible destruction below.  Outside the monstrous crater, the city and surrounding landscape are ravaged by the horrors of nuclear warfare.  Something about the desolate scene stirs my memory.  An expansive laboratory, the whir of centrifuges.  And I . . .

I straighten in my seat.  I am Dr. Joshua Mann, neurobiologist.  I remember an assault on my lab, people trying to kill me.  Something struck my head and the world went black.

“My God,” I gasp.  “I’m Joshua Mann, a scientist.  Men attacked my lab.  I saw people die.”

“Yes!” the pilot said.  “That’s good, tell us more.”

I close my eyes, feeling it come back.  “I was injured.  Something knocked me out.  Later, our people tried to jar my memory.  Drugs, shock therapy, everything.  Then . . .”

I stop, drawing a blank.

The pilot continues for me.  “Finally, on the advice of psychiatrists, we put you in an ultra-pampered environment.  The latest theory is that for a work-driven, goal-oriented person like you, the boredom of easy living would be intolerable.  You would rebel and your amnesia would lift.”

“But it didn’t work,” he goes on.  “You chafed at the forced inactivity, but didn’t remember your work.  Maybe, in time, that would have changed.  But after eight months, we couldn’t wait any longer.”

He doesn’t have to continue.  “So the government decided a little excitement was in order, that it might stir up my memories when nothing else could.”  I frown.  “Only you didn’t expect to be attacked, and by such a large force.”

“A contrived force,” the gunner says.  “I still don’t think that scene’s plausible.”

The pilot glares at him.  “What else is coming back to you, Dr. Mann?”

In my mind, more pieces fall into place.  “My secret formula.  I memorized it so spies wouldn’t steal it.  The formula would lift the contagion, make the earth grow again.  But there were people who didn’t want that.”

“Yes, the Enemy,” the pilot says.  “They profit from a world filled with death.  They’re like scavengers, living off carrion.”

The other man laughs.  “Hallelujah,” he says.  “It’s not only another plot contrivance, but a bloody cliché to boot.  A secret formula.  You’re going to convince me that a few scribbles on paper will save humanity?”

“Fasten your seatbelts,” the pilot says.  “We’re about to land.”

We touch down on the roof where we started from and get out.  Before we enter the building, though, the pilot stops me.

“Take off your clothes,” he says.

“Why?”

He starts to strip.  “Because we’re going to change outfits.”

I hesitate in confusion, realizing for the first time that we’re about the same height and weight.  Then I obey.

Soon, we’ve swapped everything but the mask.  He removes it, then peels off his hair, making himself bald.

I gasp.  I’m staring at myself!  He looks just like me!

“Put the mask on,” he says, holding it out.

“How . . .”

“Surgical alteration to make me look like you.  The enemy must think you’re in prison and beyond their reach.  But it will be me taking your place while we fly you to a fully equipped lab.”

I take the mask, put it on.  “That’s brilliant.”

The skeptical one snorts in disgust.  “Bullshit, it’s just another cheap plot contrivance.  How would they even know he’s a prisoner?”

“They’ve got a spy on our staff,” the man with my face says.  “We know who it is and keep him away from Dr. Mann.  At the same time, we control the information he receives, so he won’t know about this switch.”  He pats my bright red uniform.  “Thank God, our trick worked and jarred your memory.  Our hopes for man’s future depend on you, Dr. Mann.”

His colleague steps forward.  “You know, for the first time, this narrative makes some sense.”  He stops, his eyes widening.  “Man.  Dr. Mann.  I . . . I can’t believe I didn’t see it!  Let me deconstruct this narrative, determine its deeper meaning.”

“Stop,” his superior orders.  “I’ve had enough.”

“Just a minute,” the other says.  “I thought this was a botched story by an inept writer.  But I see it’s not!  It’s deceptively nuanced, an amusette to catch the unwary.  It –”

“I’m warning you,” the pilot says.  “Shut your trap.”

“It’s actually a deeply symbolic allegory about the nature of man.  You see, Dr. Mann

represents all men, just as Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress represents all Christians.  And like men everywhere, Dr. Mann is a prisoner, confined by the existential limits of society.”

The pilot pulls a gun.  “I’m warning you!”

“Yes, yes, I see it!” the other cries.  “Ultimately, we are all prisoners in separate rooms, isolated from each other and exposed to life’s chaos and inexplicable events.  Viewed from that perspective, the sudden, seemingly unwarranted appearance of enemy planes is ingenious, a profound statement of the human condition.  It represents the unpredictable nature of life, the –”

BANG!  The man stops talking and peers down at a smoldering wound in his chest.

The pilot smiles.  “How’s that for a fucking plot hole?”  He watches the other fall, then holsters his weapon in disgust.  “Silly ass, I got tired of his jargon.”

I shudder, gazing down at the man’s body.  “I rather liked him.”

The pilot leads me inside.  There, I find Warden Black waiting for us.

“Welcome back, Mr. Mann,” he says to the pilot.  He gives me a meaningful look, then nods at several guards.  “These gentleman will accompany you to your destination.”

To the secret lab, he means, where I shall heroically endeavor to save humanity.  Funny, though I’ve learned a lot, I still can’t say this story makes much sense.  The only thing I know for sure is that I’ll be glad to get out of it.

My replacement seems to read my mind.  “This isn’t just a story, you know.”

Not just a story?  I start to ask what he means, but remember something.  “It’s a novel, isn’t it?  And this – is just the first chapter.”

He grins.  “Worse than that.  This is the first chapter of a whole action-thriller series.  If it’s any consolation, it’s going to be popular.  Over twenty best sellers.”

I groan.  Twenty novels of this dreck!

I gaze at the new Dr. Mann, tempted to ask for my old job back.  The life of a spoiled sybarite isn’t so bad, especially when you get laid often.  It certainly beats getting your ass shot at all the time.  But I guess I have a job to do.

I return to the roof, escorted by several men.  Reaching the copter, I halt in amazement.  The dead man’s sitting behind the wheel, munching a sandwich.

“I thought you were dead.”

He swallows.  “The author screwed up again, forgot he even whacked me.  Anyway, while these guards ride shotgun, I’ll be flying you to the lab.”

I peer at him in suspicion.  “Hey, do I know you?  You look familiar.”

He takes off his mask and winks.  “Like you, I’ve had amnesia and just realized who I am.  I’m Louie, your faithful sidekick in the series.”

Christ, I recognize him.  He looks just like Claude Rains who played Louie Renault in Casablanca.  That makes this chapter’s ending strictly a rip-off.  I climb in the copter and sit beside him, trying to prepare myself for all that lies ahead.  Deep down I know I’m even more of a prisoner than before.

“Louie,” I finally say, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” *

 

* Originally published in Chimeraworld 2008, a book to rejected fiction.  Well, it figures.

 

John has published twenty books and three hundred short stories, most of them science fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, horror, and paranormal romance.  He’s the former editor of Horror MAGAZINE and Chairman of the Board of the Horror Writers Association.  Recently, he’s focused on his Inspector of the Cross series which features a 4000-year-old hero fighting to save the human race from seemingly invincible aliens. The Merry-Go-Round Man, a coming-of-age novel featuring three boys in the fifties, can be found on Amazon and elsewhere.

Web site: http://www.johnrosenman.com

Blog site: http:// www.johnrosenman.blogspot.com

FB page: https://www.facebook.com/JohnBRosenman?ref=hl

 

Stiletto

Warning:  This story contains explicit language.

 

Gunners_stiletto_01

What happens when society begins to paint individuals in colours they don’t like? Well, I think I have an answer for you. And it begins and ends with my stiletto. This was a blade I had fashioned a few years ago, as part of my Knights Templar collection. But unlike my ceremonial swords and daggers, this piece was battle ready. Good strong steel, utilitarian design—its point proclaiming its wicked function; this triangular blade was made for stabbing.

A stiletto, you see, traditionally refers to a type of knife blade which is triangular in design rather than flat. It’s also longer than an average blade. And while it’s often referred to as a knife, a better term would be a dagger or a sword dagger―due to the cross piece between the handle and the blade. The triangular construction of the blade makes for dull edges. On the other hand, the blade is strong, much stronger than a normal knife. And then there’s that extremely sharp point. It’s this function that makes the blade ideal for stabbing, and in the past it was known to be damned good at passing through the ribs to get at the heart or lungs of an enemy.

The Italians developed the stiletto in the late 1400’s, when the art of the Vendetta, or honor duel, was openly practiced by the noble and the wealthy. A rapier (long, thin sword) would be held in one hand, and a stiletto dagger with wide cross guard would be held in the other. The stiletto could be used to fend off an opponent’s sword or catch and trap it along the cross guard. It could even be used for attacking.

The blade was also made in circular and diamond shapes, but they all had the common needle-like point. So popular were these blades that they went on to be adopted by professional assassins as their weapon of choice, both for the stabbing ability and because the dagger could be easily hidden on the body. In fact, the stiletto was so effective that entire countries banned its use.

And so we come to another reason I had the stiletto made. It was as a thumb-jerk reaction to the Mounties pulling my gun license. You see, I’d grown up with rifles and such, and right or wrong, I’d always felt safer knowing there was that kind of protection in my home. You might ask “Protection from what?” Home invasion, the drunks that have twice tried to break into my home, societal breakdown, war—I could name any number of reasons, and they would all seem somehow less frightening, because I had a good weapon at hand. Anyway, now, due to the onset of Bipolar Disorder and a three week hospital stay, I was suddenly unfit to be around firearms. I had been banned from owning or using them―painted by the same brush as those ancients who would have used the stiletto. Well fuck them; I was going to have protection. And I loved the deliciously circular nature of my situation and weapon of choice.

You see, the situation I alluded to at the beginning of my little story has nothing to do with the original issue of protection. It’s about justice…an eye for an eye. You know, that fucking McGonagle didn’t even get jail time. Road conditions, they said. Black ice, they said. Yeah, that’s why my baby’s chest was flattened. Not because the asshole was driving too fast, but because the road was icy, and Penny had enjoyed a couple of drinks before heading out for the evening. My ass. Penny would never have been that close to the side of the road, drunk or not. She always walked as far away as she could get from traffic. Her mom had lost a brother to a drunk driver, and there was no way Penny was going to repeat the tragedy. No, the fuck was driving too fast for the road condition and lost control of the vehicle. I knew it. So did he. I’d seen it in his eyes—they gleamed when the verdict was announced.

Well, I was going to fix him. No more thinking about it over and over and over again. The time had come to clear my mind. I stuck the stiletto in my waistband, the cold metal burning against my bared flesh, and I headed out. McGonagle was going get it right under the rib cage and straight up into his black, fucking heart.

I waited until midnight. The cops should have gotten their quota of drunk drivers by then. The town would be quiet, but there would still be enough traffic that I wouldn’t stand out. When I got to his place, I left the car on the street and walked up to the darkened house. I wasn’t worried about getting caught, see? But I wasn’t going give the OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) a slam dunk, either. Trying to act like I belonged there, I went to the front door and pretended to jiggle the lock with my car keys. I needn’t have worried; the idiot didn’t lock his door at night.

Now for the tough part. There were going be two kids and a wife in the house. I’d cased the place and had figured out everyone slept upstairs. Kids at the back of the house and the parents up front. Their door would be right near the top of the stairs.

I went into the house, took the stairs quietly in my soft-soled Keds, and opened the nicely weighted, oak bedroom door without hesitation, without sound. I was going to get one shot at this, and I wasn’t wasting a second. The streetlights, shining through a large window, illuminated both the man and the woman.

I’m never going to forget McGonagle’s face… My luck, he was sleeping on his back. I walked around the bed, lifted his blanket and I shoved that steel pin as hard and as deep as I could. He made a huff and his eyes opened. I shoved my face into his and leaned into the weapon. It was just like killing a trapped fox. Take hold of the chest and keep the pressure on until the heart stops. He was trying to buck now. I didn’t want to have to deal with his wife, so, keeping one foot on the floor, I laid down right on top of him. There was very little blood. A stiletto is like a wedge, and it doesn’t have grooves for bloodletting and easy removal like a hunting knife has. No, the thing went in and stayed put until I wanted it to come back out.

And that’s why I say it begins and ends with the stiletto. There’s only one place in Canada that makes a dagger like that. If the cops were on the ball, they’d find out I bought one. But it wasn’t going to be a free throw by any means. I paid cash for the blade, used a fake name and had it sent to a U.S. mail drop. We Canadians have a lot of those drops just over the American border. They don’t care what’s in a box. Don’t even care where it’s from.

So, yes, there was that paper trail, but I bought enough in the way of weapons and supplies, I was hoping it was never put together. And when the cops asked me about it, well,  I wouldn’t know what they were talking about.  “I collect swords, gentlemen,” I would say. “Used to collect rifles, too.” Then I’d pause… “No, the only knives I have are a hunting knife and a set of carving knives.” Hopefully they would be stumped.

Anyway, I’m home now. McGonagle’s wife didn’t wake up. Even when the prick shit himself. It’s late, my clothes have been burned, the stiletto’s gone forever. And I’m nursing a double shot of Blair Athol single malt, rare, 27 years-old and the perfect end to a very good day.

 

Copyright  2014 Clayton Clifford Bye

LAST SUPPER by Roger Ellory

 

 use

 

 

 

 

 

 

For some considerable time, David had known he would kill his wife.

David was a creature of habit, and yet he had learned to accept his anonymity and predictability as a blessing, not a curse.  He rose at the same time, dressed in clothes indistinguishable from those he wore on any other day, ate the same breakfast, took the same route to work.  He filed insurance claims until lunchtime, and then he walked to the park.  Here he sat for forty-eight minutes to read the newspaper, to eat his sandwich, and then he walked back to the office.  To him, this routine had become a comfort.

David had made no definite plans as to the means of disposal for her body, nor how he would explain her sudden disappearance to family, friends and neighbors.  Perhaps he believed that once the deed was done he would be struck by a brilliant solution, a streak of lightning, a bolt from the blue.

David had decided the manner of her death, however.

He would stab her in the eye.

The chosen instrument of death was not a knife, but a knitting needle.  He had bound half its length in duct tape so as to provide a firm grip, yet with six inches exposed he believed that the needle – if driven suddenly, and with sufficient force – would pass directly through her eye and into the brain.  There would be little, if any, blood, and death would be instant.  She had given him fifteen years of comfortable, predictable marriage, and he did not wish to cause her any undue pain or distress.

In fact, David did not think of it so much as a murder, but more of an execution for some unknown crime.

And so it was, on a cool summer evening, that David and his wife sat at the kitchen table to eat.  She had prepared a chicken salad and opened a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.  They ate in near-silence, the stillness punctuated by the odd pleasantry, the fact that rain had been expected but not arrived.

“Perhaps tomorrow”, David had commented, finding it ironic that he was mentioning something of which she would know nothing.

David sat calmly, the knitting needle beneath his thigh.  He felt a sense of philosophical resignation regarding the inevitability of what was about to happen.

There would be no struggle, no raised voices, no desperate drama as she fought against hands tightening around her throat.  There would be no blood spatter, no scuff-marks from frantic heels against the linoleum.

She would find herself at dinner, and then she would be dead.

Perhaps she would not even notice.

“You’re having no wine?” he asked her.

“No,” she said.  “I have a slight headache.  The wine will worsen it.”

It was then that David experienced a sudden pang of something.

She had smiled at him, and smiled in such an innocent and unaffected way, and there had almost been a sense of sadness in her tone.

She could not know what he had planned, for he had planned nothing beyond her death.

She could not suspect him of any deceit.

Each day had been the same.  He had done the same things, expressed the same thoughts with the same words, continued with routines that had remained constant and unchanging for years.  In fact, it was safe to say that the single most defining characteristic of their marriage was that nothing ever happened.

But now he was feeling something.  Was it regret?  Guilt?  Was he even now questioning the determination he had made to kill her?  Why was he experiencing this sense of disorientation, a feeling of agitation in his stomach, a fleeting wave of nausea?

Why did he now feel so weak, so uncertain?

He opened his mouth to speak.

His words were thoughts, but they were not sounds.

She looked at him, the same sense of sadness in her eyes.

The stab of pain in his gut was breathtaking.  It snatched every molecule of air from his lungs and throat.

He had never felt anything like it.

The pain did not last so long – thirty seconds, perhaps forty.

He felt his cheek against the plate of moist salad, and then he felt nothing at all.

David’s wife carried the wine bottle and the glass to the sink.  She was methodical as she washed them, ensuring every grain of sediment was removed from both.

And then she stood in the kitchen doorway, and she looked at her dead husband, and she believed that during the last days – as she had planned his murder – she had felt more than enough emotion to compensate for a decade and a half of feeling nothing at all.

 

As if writing powerful crime novels were not enough, British writer Roger Ellory is also a musician. Indeed, making music may be the greater of his two loves. RJ is guitarist and vocalist with Zero Navigator.  To find RJ’s books in the US visit

http://www.amazon.com/R.J.-Ellory/e/B002IVGFJO/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1403962252&sr=8-1
In England use
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Roger-Jon-Ellory/e/B002IVGFJO/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1403962965&sr=1-1-catcorr

You Don’t Beat the River by Kenneth Weene

Ken Weene PastedGraphic-1

 It was a good day for being on the river—warm, bright, a few clouds to make the sky interesting. It would have been better if the two river guides had been there for fun or even if they were doing a normal tour group, what the company called a float. It’s a great run—that section of the Colorado; just not when you’re looking for a dead man.

“Find him,” Ray, the rafting company manager, had instructed. “Take your time, stay in contact, and find that sucker.”

“Yeah, sure. Like the river is going to give him back.” Mike groused to his partner Jackie. “What was he thinking anyway? Get these high-end tourists, thinking they know better than us guides.”

The smartass remarks always burned the guides’ sensibilities. Full of I know it all:

“I don’t need a lifejacket.”

“Don’t worry, I’ve climbed mountains all over the world.”

“That’s why I go to the gym.”

“Hey, I’m paying you guys.”

Usually, they didn’t die, drown, or disappear. But this guy Floyd Murchison, Dr. Floyd Murchison, “You can call me Doc.” World-class neurosurgeon. Traveling with his wife Bernice—herself a college professor, political science it said on the forms.

One of the trip guides had asked him, maybe she’d even told him not to. He shucked the vest anyway and climbed up onto the rock.

“Just want a few minutes of peace and quiet. This is a break, isn’t it?”

“Okay.” She turned back. “Just, be careful, Doc.”

“Don’t worry. I know what I’m doing.”

He hadn’t. Ten, fifteen minutes later, Butch, the trip leader, yells, “Let’s saddle up. Another ten miles before lunch.”

Everybody’s grabbing paddles. Bernice is hollering, “Floyd!” “Floyd!” But there is no Floyd. He’s disappeared.

He must have slipped, gone into the water. Even if Floyd Murchison had been wearing his life vest, who knows if someone in the group would have spotted him? But they hadn’t. More than likely he drowned dashed against a rock, dragged under by the current, food for the fish.

Butch radioed in first chance he got a clear channel. Lot of good that did. Couple of runs with a copter. Again, maybe if Murchison was wearing that orange vest. Anyway, he wasn’t. Not a sign.

Ray, the office manager, said, “Mike, Jackie, you two run the river. Real slow. You look everywhere. Find him. Take your time, stay in contact, and find that sucker.”

Jackie’s sitting in the front of the two-seater. Mike in the back. Enough gear for four nights—extra for Murchison just in case—and of course a first aid kit.

The two guides look up at the pocka-pocka sound of the search helicopters heading back to their base in Vegas.

“I guess they didn’t find him.”

“I guess. Now it’s up to us,” Mike said.

As they pushed off, Ray said, “Mike, you find him. Call in. We’ll get a chopper in first thing. Even if he says he’s okay, we get that chopper in. Got it?”

“Sure, Ray.” He couldn’t hold it back. “Hey, Ray, you don’t think—”

“Not a chance in hell. It may not be brain surgery, but you don’t beat the river.”

He laughed like his little joke was real smart. That was Ray, always thinking he was funny.

“Glad I’m not working that float,” Jackie said.

“Yeah, pass me the water.” Mike took a swig, passed the bottle forward to his colleague, and they dug into the river. It would be miles before Thorny Bend; that was where Murchison had gone in; that was where the search would begin.

“You watch the south bank. I’ll take the north.” There were still a couple hours of daylight. No sense wasting it.

“Sure. Sure.” Jackie bites off her words even shorter than usual. Sounds more like she’s saying “Sh Sh”

“Hey, I’m not telling you what to do.”

“Maybe she’s thinking about last night.” He smiles to himself. Mike figures the search is useless but hopes the nights won’t be wasted.

Jackie nods and shifts her head to left and right, ignoring Mike’s plan. What the hell, he does the same. At least it makes the scenery more interesting. No matter how many times he paddles the canyon, he still loves it. The subtle variations of rock. The desperate vegetation rooting into every crevice. The river, alive, sometimes placid, at others roiling. The sky so far overhead. The occasional coyote, or elk, or bobcat. All kinds of life. In the sky, too. Especially the hawks and the eagles.

Mike still loves the river three days later when they pull out. The truck is there to meet them. Good thing about radios; they make it easier to plan.

“Nah,” Mike says before Ray can ask. “Not a sign.”

Jackie doesn’t say anything. There’s no reason.

The two guides allow their hands to touch for a moment.

*****

 For weeks the dead man weighs heavily on the guides. It is a silent weight marked only by the occasional blurted word.

“At least she’s rich.” Terri, one of the guides is reading a newspaper.

“Who?”

“The widow. You know that guy got killed?”

“In June?” Another guide asks like there was more than one.

“Yeah, that guy, the doctor.”

“What about him?”

“Her. His wife. She got the insurance. He had a ten million dollar policy. I guess that’s not so surprising him being a famous doctor and all. Twice that if they decide it was an accident.”

“That’s good,” It is said with no enthusiasm.

Butch, who hasn’t said much since that fated day, slams the door on his way out of the break room.

“There’s more. Seems like his own brain was going.” Terri turns another page of the paper.

“What do you mean?”

“Parkinson’s. Early stages. Least that’s what the story says.” Terri points at a something in the newspaper. “Says he couldn’t practice anymore.”

“That must of sucked,” Mike comments.

“Fer sure,” Jackie adds. She’s holding Mike’s hand. Jackie’s been doing that a lot lately.

The guides are hanging, waiting for Ray. An organizational meeting he calls it. Usually, that means he’s going to yell: mostly about obvious stuff like those life jackets. Like the guides don’t know. Like the customers will listen.

“You don’t think he—” The question hangs in the air.

Who knows? A guy gets depressed—even a famous neurosurgeon.

“Sure, sure,” Jackie says, biting her words short.

“Mike! Mike!” Ray’s voice shakes the young man out of wherever his mind has wandered.

*****

 He was shaky: the expected results of fatigue, hypothermia, hunger, and thirst. The Indian should have packed in more water, food, and a better blanket. At least the camouflage worked; he hadn’t been spotted that first day, when the helicopters were overhead and he’d hunkered down and waited for them to head back to the northwest.

The Indian’s trail markings had been hard to follow, but here he was. Now if the damned Indian didn’t forget, didn’t get drunk, didn’t just decide to leave him in the wilderness. He hated having to rely on other people, especially someone untrained, somebody like Charley Chained Horse.

“Due north from river.” The Indian had pointed in a random direction. “Follow trail I leave sign.” He dropped four stones, the first three the vertices of a triangle and one more stone next to one of the three. “Follow fourth stone. Easy hike. No take more than day, but wait them stop search. I meet when safe.”

“Easy hike indeed? What did he think I am, an aborigine like him?” Floyd was frothing his anger as Charley Chained Horse trotted across the rough landscape towards him.

Charley held out his hand in greeting. Reluctantly, Floyd took it. He wanted to carp, complain, and shout. If it was back at Denver General, if they were in the operating room; but Floyd still needed the squat Indian with his pocked complexion and straggled hair. “Took you long enough,” was the best he could muster.

“Raft company send guides look. Not safe before. Now we go.”

“Did you bring something to drink? Eat?”

Charley was already gathering the remains of Floyd’s campsite. “No trace. Hikers come and see.”

All the while, the White man was changing into hiking clothes. He slipped his feet into well-broken-in boots, laced them tightly, and tied the knot with special relish. “I always loved tying knots,” he observed to no one.

Floyd had planned it for months. “Not so hard,” he thought, “not like brain surgery.”

As he and the Indian walked south, back towards the river and their fording place, Floyd sucked two bottles of water dry and ate the candy bars Charley had brought. Much as it offended his fastidiousness, Floyd wiped the chocolate from his fingers onto his kakis and rubbed his mouth with the sleeve of his shirt. Soon enough he would be out of this damned place and on his way to a new life.

“We hike down river few miles, cross there.” The Indian pointed downstream. “I leave horses, more food, water. Stay night. Catch helicopter out in morning.”

“I’ve been thinking about that, Charley. I’m not sure about that helicopter. Somebody might recognize me.”

“What you want do?”

“I figured we could ride out, up to the parking lot.”

“Cost more.”

“That’s fine. What, another fifty.”

“Two hundred.”

“Come on. Be reasonable.”

“Two hundred reasonable. Ride trail in dark. Dangerous. Ride down more danger. Two hundred.”

Floyd laughed to himself. He had worried the Indian might demand thousands. The gun in the old Dodge’s trunk would have been the solution if Charley got too greedy, too untrustworthy. Two hundred he could live with. Two hundred and he could let the Indian live, too.

Floyd had to admit it. Charley Chained Horse had followed his instructions, done his job, and kept his mouth shut. That was the most important thing—secrecy. “What the hell does he care?” Floyd asked himself. “He just wants money. Can’t blame him for that. How the hell can he earn a living down there anyway?”

“Let’s do it.” Floyd walked in the direction the Indian pointed. Without a word, Charley followed.

The shadow of a hawk passed over. Automatically, both men looked up and watched the bird float easily against the blue of the sky.

“Long way,” Charley grunted.

It wasn’t an easy hike. Riding raw-boned and uneven gaited nag had been harder. By the time they arrived at the parking lot the sun was setting.

“You make it down alright?” Floyd asked as he pocketed the keys to the battered Dodge.

“Horses know way, Mr. Jones.”

Floyd gave a quick wave in response as the Indian headed over the cliff’s edge and down into the Canyon.

Floyd wondered if all Indians were this laconic. Certainly it had seemed so when he’d made that first visit. “Herb Jones,” he’d introduced himself—an easy alias to remember. “I need a guide, somebody with a couple of horses and willing to do some hard riding for some good money.”

That had been in the little tribal store. “As good a place as any,” he thought. And he had been right; the plump storeowner’s cousin was just the man. Now Floyd figured everyone in Supai were cousins. Not that it mattered, just as long as this one kept his mouth shut.

It took three more trips to work out the details. “A consultation,” he explained to his colleagues at the hospital on two of the occasions—not elaborating, not needing to. “Just getting away with Bernice” was the reason he used the other times. Each time, he had shown just a bit more tremor, a bit more hesitancy of gait, a bit more involuntary movement of thumb and forefinger. As careful planning as ever went into an operation. After all, this was his life, and Floyd was determined that the patient should survive.

 *****

 Ironic, much as he hated the hospital administrators, Floyd wanted to thank Earl, the chief operations officer.

“Great pictures,” he’d commented two years earlier when Earl and his wife had returned from their trip. Just an automated response; he didn’t mean it. Dr. Floyd Murchison had no interest in nature, camping, or especially white water rafting.

But it had been Earl’s pictures, stuck in the back of his mind that gave Floyd the idea.

“Remember that trip you and Francine took? To the Canyon wasn’t it?”

“Yeah. What about it?”

“You still got the pictures?”

“Of course. Why?”

“Bernice and I were thinking. You know, I’m thinking of retiring. Well, we figured we’d do some traveling. She remembered my mentioning your photos and suggested. … If you don’t mind.”

“No, of course. I’ll make you a copy.”

“No, no. Why don’t you guys come for dinner, bring them with you, and you can tell us all the details.”

Details: good planning required details. A doctor didn’t cut into somebody’s head until he had planned every move. He wasn’t going to have a phony death until he had just the right method. Not until the new life policy was fully vested—eighteen months before the double indemnity for accidental death clause took effect. Two years before suicide would be covered.

So many details to be arranged: Fake passports and papers, booking the tour, finding the right Indian—knowledgeable of the terrain, willing to do what was needed for a reasonable price, able to provide the horses—buying the old car and putting it in Charley Chained Horse’s name, having the Indian drive it.

“Look like Indian car,” Charley said when they bought the green junk heap in Flagstaff.

That was true enough. Nobody would notice the junk-heap sitting in the middle of the tribal lot high above the Canyon. It would be waiting for its owner to come up from the rez. For what—a monthly trip to the supermarkets or maybe a visit to a family member who had moved out of the Canyon.

“You want me get tickets?” Charley asked, incredulous at the next instruction.

“Don’t worry. I’ll pay the fines. Nothing big. Speeding. Couple of parking violations in Flagstaff or Prescott, enough to show it’s your car.

The trip had to be booked. Then calling Charley with the dates. That was one of the most difficult tasks.

“Not much service on rez,” Charley explained.

“Charley.”

“Yes, Mr. Jones.”

“Do me a favor. Go up and check the car. Make sure it’s ready to go. I have a long trip.”

“Where go?”

“Don’t worry about that. Just make sure the tires are good, the battery, that there’s gas.”

“Sure. You pay; you boss. Fifty dollars.”

“Fine. Another fifty—it didn’t matter?

Floyd made one last quick trip to drop a suitcase and carryall in the car’s trunk. His cover this time, an appointment with a neurologist in Phoenix. Bernice, following instructions, let that tidbit slip at her bridge club.

The plan was ready to go operational.

 *****

 “Suicide? Absolutely not!” Bernice Murchison said. “Parkinson’s or no, Floyd and I had a good life ahead of us.”

Even if the insurance company rejected the accidental death claim, there would be ten million to add to the millions already safely in her name. And, with double indemnity, make that twenty million.

Floyd had a plan. He always had a plan, seldom one that involved what she wanted. Rio? What about her life, her career, her thinking about running for office? No matter to Floyd.

Still, Bernice had to admit it: Floyd’s plan was excellent. Planning was one of his great strengths. Once he decided it was time to get out of medicine, he had created a game plan worthy of a five star general.

“It used to be fun,” he complained. “I loved the O.R., but now? Now, it’s all paperwork and dealing with administrators. Who do they think saves people—somebody with a clipboard or me with my knife.”

She wasn’t sure if she believed him. It didn’t matter. Bernice always made believe she bought Floyd’s lies. Why not? Their marriage had been built on lies for years. The great man: she knew better. Bernice knew it all, from the cheating in medical school to the tax evasion, to the nurses he balled in the recovery room.

Would his colleagues believe it? Maybe. But the insurance company? Too obvious; there would be questions. No, better to develop symptoms. Easy enough for a doctor. Getting his friend in Phoenix to write the prescriptions. Just dump the pills and order more.

“Where will you get a passport?” Bernice asked.

Floyd laughed. “Didn’t I save Stankovitch’s kid? Why save the goddamned kid of a Russian Mafia don if you don’t get something in return.

Two weeks later, Floyd waved the documents in front of her. “Meet Morris James Finklestein.

“You’ll retire right off, soon as the semester ends. The grieving widow,” Floyd reviewed the plan. “Of course you’ll take a couple of trips…you know, to forget. Places on our list. Then you meet a man in Rio. A whirlwind romance, and you’ll be Mrs. Morris Finklestein.”

“Sure,” Bernice said, her tone flat.

Floyd kissed Bernice quickly on the lips. That was all she ever got, a quick kiss. At least Sammy gave her more than that.

Sammy only met Floyd once; that had been enough. He, too, could not imagine the great doctor sitting around on the Copacabana Beach, each morning walking the promenade, sipping coffee and watching the endless waves of the Atlantic. “Well, you’d know better than me, Love, but I think you’re right. He isn’t a man for retirement.”

“No, but he is a man for getting what he wants. Whatever the hell that might be.”

They both chuckled.

Sammy put down his beer and rested his left hand on her right knee. “It’ll work out.”

Sammy was the great consolation in Bernice’s life. First her graduate assistant, then her colleague. At some point their liking had become friendship and then slipped into an affair—not love but a liaison that had lasted twenty-seven years.

“Why don’t you find somebody?” she asked more than once.

“I’m waiting for the right woman.”

“How are you going to find her if you don’t look?”

And Sammy’s inevitable reply. “I already found her. Now, I’m waiting for her to dump her husband and come away with me.”

“Away, where?” Bernice would ask as she kissed his ears and neck.

“To the South of France.”

Bernice would laugh and ask if he liked topless beaches.

“Only with the right bottom,” he would answer.

It was their routine. Nothing would come of it. Just one of those little dances couples do.

“Copacabana? Brazil? What the hell am I supposed to do?” Sammy seldom showed irritation. He was willing to wait and wait some more. Twenty-seven years and more to come. But for Bernice to leave—to go off with Floyd: that he could not accept.

“I wish I could ask Floyd; he’d figure it out.” Bernice was sorry as soon as the words left her mouth. Making light of it. What was she thinking? Giving up Sammy would be one of the hardest things.

 *****

 Floyd sold the old car—no questions asked—in Juarez, took a bus to airport; and traveling under the name Brian Louis York was soon in Mexico City. “What the hell, another twenty grand for a set of throwaway documents,” he had thought when Stankovitch suggested it.

“Always a good idea, Doc, just in case somebody spots you. Then that guy disappears. Easy.”

Brian York, Saint Louis businessman, took a cab to a decent hotel, where he spent the night—but not really.

Later that evening, all according to plan, Morris James Finklestein boarded his flight for Rio. Everything executed with operating room precision.

Even though he knew it would take months for the insurance to come through. Floyd, unable to restrict his lifestyle, had almost run out of his available money by the time Bernice was due to join him in Rio. Only twenty thousand American left in the carryall he had brought with him. It bothered him that he hadn’t left himself more cash.

That was the first inkling Floyd had that things might go wrong. The second was the phone call he made to Bernice’s office at the university.

“What do you mean she no longer works there?” The term was not yet over. Why would she draw attention by leaving early? Had something gone terribly wrong?

Bernice had no problems at all. Now officially a widow, the newlywed and her Sammy were on their honeymoon. The Mediterranean was beautiful that time of year.

“There is nothing like a good plan,” she said as Sammy ogled the topless women on the beach in Cannes.

 

Lover of life’s ironies, Ken Weene also loves white water rafting and Arizona. His novels including the soon to be released “Broody New Englander,” are published by All Things That Matter Press. In addition to writing, Ken co-hosts It Matters Radio ( http://www.itmattersradio.com ) You can find Ken’s books at http://www.amazon.com/Kenneth-Weene/e/B002M3EMWU/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1406397310&sr=1-1

HORROR IN ROOM 323 By Rosemary “Mamie”Adkins

HORROR IN ROOM 323

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By

Rosemary “Mamie”Adkins

  At first, Jeannette found the vacation weekend to be as beautiful as they’d hoped.  The sun shone, and the hotel sparkled like diamonds with fresh flowers that lined the lobby and fine furniture arranged in a clustered style for visitors to rest and visit with one another.  She and Earl just knew this weekend would be heaven sent and filled with memories of them celebrating Mother’s Day and Earl’s birthday! For added memories they had taken with them the small Service Dog they had rescued from the Humane Society and which was still in training.  They hoped Maggie would enjoy her first exposure to a motel and the beach.

Their room was warm and inviting, decorated with pristine linens and spread with large downy pillows. The mood was set with special lighting and a bay window, allowing them to view the beaches while admiring the clear blue-green waters and watching the moon set in the evenings or the sun rise each morning. The vanity even came with a large picture frame mirror that magnified images on one side.

Everything was perfect!

Before enjoying dinner, they savored their first walk that evening on the beach strolling hand in hand, sharing an embrace and watching Maggie romp in the sand.  She even dove into the waves as they crashed upon the beach, and they all found such peace and restfulness.  They were tired from the long travel so they returned to their room for the evening and had dinner served there.  A special meal was even prepared for Maggie.  After watching the sunset they decided to retire early so the next day would be fun-filled, enjoying what they loved most, playing at the beach and teaching their new dog how grand life could be together. They found the bed to be just perfect so they fell asleep almost immediately.

However, the night was not as restful as they had expected.  Jeannette woke with itchy red spots that resembled mosquito bites and she wondered which of them had left the window open.

next night, the same thing happened to both of them.  Even though Jeannette double checked to make sure the window was closed, both she and Earl tossed and turned and woke with itchy red spots over half their bodies.  They were only mosquito bites they told themselves.

They bought insect lotion and poured it liberally on the bites, sighing at the partial relief it gave them.  Then they checked out early and went home, grateful their dream vacation had been only partly marred and expecting the bites, itching, and the inconvenience to disappear when they returned home to friendlier and more familiar surroundings.

* * * *

That night, Jeannette basked in the comfort of her cozy and intimate bedroom.  She watched Earl turn down the white, down-filled comforter and move around the bed to embrace her.  They shared a long, warm kiss, and she leaned her head against his broad shoulder.

“Home again,” he said, his voice deep and reassuring.

“Yes,” she said.  “Safe again, and now we can relax completely.”

He smiled.  “Here it’s better than any vacation.”

He turned out the lights, and they slipped into bed beneath the covers.  For a long time he held her close, stroking her temples as he always did in order for Jeannette to sleep.  She felt safe, blissfully at peace and reassured by his manly embrace and eventually by his gentle snores.  Home.  Yes.  Home and safe again!

Why she woke she couldn’t say.  She imagined something moving up her leg.  Then biting her arm.  A foolish dream.  Silly, she wasn’t in the hotel anymore.  Ah, another bite!image2-small-18

Jeannette found herself standing in her bedroom near the magnifying side of the mirror.  A flash of light lit one area of the glass, and to her horror she saw an ugly black and brown bug streak across its surface and drop to the floor.

She tried to see where it went, but it disappeared too fast.  Refusing to believe what she’d seen, she decided to return to bed, but something made her grab her flashlight before she slid beneath the covers.  It was probably just her imagination, but oh God, something couldnt have followed them home from the hotel, could it?  Though it was impossible, she would keep watch so none of the mosquitoes—or whatever they were—would harm her, Earl or Maggie ever again.

Eventually, being so tired, she drifted to sleep.

Later, she felt something bite her on the hand.

“Oh, my God, Earl,” she gasped.  “Wake up…there’s something in bed with us.  And it just bit me again!”

She felt something crawl on her foot beneath the blanket and what felt like tiny teeth.  “There’s something crawling on my skin…it must have long nails—God, it hurts so bad!”

Maggie, being a Service Dog, growled, trying to warn them something was gravely wrong.  Then she barked as though to say, “Get up!”

Jeannette leaped from the bed, blood streaking down her arms.  She stumbled to the mirror in fiery pain and there, in the side partition which magnified, she saw an image of what appeared to be a hairy, six-legged monster with its two antennae sniffing for its next bite.  She turned her head to see that this creature or one like it had already bitten and suckedimage3-small-20 the blood from her face.  Feeling faint, Jeannette struggled not to pass out in fear and disgust.

“It’s happening again in our own home,”she cried.  “Only worse!  Earl, what are these things?”

In her terror, she turned and saw that Earl was still sleeping, peacefully unaware of the crisis in their own bedroom involving these new invaders.  Maggie, though, was another matter.  Jeannette could hear their pet cry and whine in her crate.  She looked miserable.

Oh Christ.  Here we go again!  “E….Earl,”she whispered in a panic, “wake up!”  Then she shouted.  “Damn it, Earl, wake up!” image4-small-22

She took a deep breath as Earl finally opened his eyes and sat up in bed.

“Listen,”she said.  “Maggie is crying and squirming in her crate and we have to get her out.  She looks so sick.  They must have bitten her too.”

Earl rubbed his eyes.  His hair stuck up in tufts, the way it often did when he slept.

“What do you mean…‘They’ bit her?”

“The mosquitoes,” she said. “Only theyimage5-small-24’re not mosquitoes. They’re something worse.  They’re monsters, Earl, and they have come home with us.  I think whatever it is hitchhiked on our clothes or suitcases.”

Suddenly she saw blood from yet another bite running down her neck.  How had she missed it?  “This can’t be happening,”she said, barely suppressing a scream as she felt a stab of searing pain.  They were all under attack, only this time in their own home where it had always been safe.  Now safety was a thing of the past.

Earl rose and came to her.  “Oh honey, you’re bleeding,”he said, lightly touching her skin.  “And look, here’s another bite on your leg.”  He held her close and glanced around.  “What in the hell did this to you?”

“I’m not sure.  I saw one on the mirror.”  She did know she had been attacked from head to toe with puncture wounds, two to each bite.

All she could see in her mind were the cold eyes piercing into hers.  She knew the repulsive creature wanted only one thing: their blood.  There must be so many of them, and they were here for only one reason.

But what were these things?  The pain they caused was so intense.  It felt like red hot pokers burning through her skin and setting fire to her bones!

Then the loathsome visitors started to appear, to attack from all directions in the room.

At one point, Jeannette stood frozen in fear with Earl, unable to respond.  She knew they had to fight back, to beat these monsters as they came at them from everywhere.  All she and her husband could think about was surviving the night.

As Earl stamped and stamped and struck these invaders and Jeannette kept swinging her flashlight, she was all too aware that Maggie had no real way to fight and defend herself.  They both kept checking her to make sure she was safe.image5-small-24

The night seemed never to end.  Finally, with daylight the monsters began to melt away into their hiding places.  If only they could find the tiny elusive things, maybe someone would know what they were.

Home!  Suddenly, it did not feel so safe, and there was nowhere else they could go.

Trapped, Jeannette knew they had to find someone to look at Earl’s, Maggie’s, and her own bites, which covered much of their bodies. But Jeannette’s doctor was away, and she had image6-small-26wait ten days.  That felt like an eternity, so instead they went to Urgent Care where she was told she had Shingles and to take pain meds until the sores stopped hurting.  She did not have to be a genius to know the diagnosis was wrong.

Finally, when she got in to see her regular doctor, he told her he had no idea what the bites were…he only knew they were bites—not Shingles as he could clearly see two puncture wounds at each site.  He prescribed enough medicine to avoid further infection for the three of them.

image7-small-28Two days later Jeannette phoned her doctor and reported her condition had worsened.  Now she was swollen as if she’d become allergic from so many bites and was badly bruised as well.image8-small-30

Her doctor advised her it had become critical to identify these bites as her health was in jeopardy.  He referred her to a Dermatologist, and another week passed while all three of them continued to be attacked.

Even after several weeks the scars from the bites remained.  They proved to be tenacious, refusing to disappear.

Finally they were seen by the dermatologist, and his immediate remarks were: “No, this is NOT Shingles; No, these are NOT mosquitoes.” Jeannette asked him,

“Then what is this?”

He peered through his glasses at her.  “Have you stayed in a motel in the last month?”

Jeannette remembered their vacation.  “Why, yes.”

He followed by asking if the problem had started there. Again, she answered yes.

The dermatologist sighed.  “I’m sorry to tell you this, but these are Bedbug bites, and you are highly allergic to them.”

At first, Jeannette was shocked, unable to react.  Then she cried like a baby.  She remembered being told that bedbugs happened to dirty housekeepers, and she was a fanatic about her home.  The dermatologist assured her that these pests hitchhiked in luggage or on your body, so they were likely in the car too. Sobbing all the way back to the car, Jeannette told Earl they were not even safe in the car!  After she informed him of the diagnosis, he pulled her close and kissed her cheek.

“We won’t let them beat us,”he said, and then he used his cell phone to call Orkin.

Within two days the pest company inspected their home and discovered they indeed did have bedbugs, but it was an early infestation of only about four to six weeks.  This was the exact time since they had taken that special weekend vacation to the coast, splurging to stay at the grandest hotel there, the Bates Hotel (not the real name).

Jeannette had always thought bedbugs were a bit funny until she heard the dermatologist’s diagnosis.  The jocular line “Don’t let the bedbugs bite,”would never make her smile again.image10-small-34

Jeannette and Earl were informed by the pest company that whenever anyone sleeps, the bedbugs are attracted to the carbon dioxide one exhales.  They only mate after feeding and mate quickly, spreading in every room and traveling through electrical outlets from one room to another.  They hide under dresser drawers, splits in the headboard, crevices in the mattress, drapes, tight, snug places along the walls, folds of fabric and about anywhere else one would never think to look.

That night after fighting sleep as long as possible, the three of them fell fast asleep  only to awaken with the bedbugs covering every inch of their bodies, sucking the blood from their flesh and leaving them sick and weak.  It broke Jeannette’s heart to hear Maggie whimper in her crate, and she went to pick the bugs from her body as best she could.

But until their home could be treated, their suffering would continue.  Each night it kept happening, and they fought the hairy, six-legged monsters.  The way they were bitten was so vile and unfair.  As for the bites, first, the bugs injected them with an anesthetic—as if that would make them hurt any less.  Then they stuck them with another sharp pointer and drew out their blood, leaving them with wounds and blood-soaked night clothes and sheets.

Laundry waiting to be processed

Getting their home reaimage12-small-38dy did not happen quickly either, as their work involved a long list of
preparations if they were to stand a chance to get rid of their most unwanted guests.  Working one full week, day and night, they were finally able to schedule the treatment to kill these mangy pests that had destroyed their lives by creating wounds, sleepless nights, a crying puppy, a need for exhaustive medical treatment, and, last, nightmares that would linger for months or even years to come.

They had nowhere now to hide or ever feel safe.

THE HORROR OF BEDBUGS RAISING THEIR HEADS to bite them in their own home was a major shock, and suddenly the possibility of being safe anywhere in this world seemed gone forever.image11-small-36

Look around your home, Jeannette wanted to tell everyone she saw.  Every shoe, drape, linen, dresser drawer and closet had to be taken out of the house and bagged; shoes were frozen for 24 hours, woolens dry cleaned or frozen; fabric and clothes—if clean already—had to be dried at high temperatures with a light load for 45 minutes and then re-bagged in contractor heavyweight bags and taken elsewhere to be stored until everything had been processed and then home treated before returning any of their belongings.                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Shoes waiting to be frozen

Jeannette had to dry and iron 800 yards of her expensive quilting fabric. image13-small-40

\Get the idea?  Not to mention, almost 200 hand-knit imported woolens from Ireland had to be all dry-cleaned before selling them (which was an Import business for Jeannette and Earl). Yes, for Jeannette, Earl, and Maggie, life had changed. No more walks, playing with a new puppy or anything else but trying to stay alive for weeks and months to follow.

Even after the treatment, when returning home six hours later to air out the toxins so they could breathe, Jeannette and Earl had to strip their clothing outside—that is, strip down to birthday suits, folks, and then change into safe treated clothing and shoes only to try to put the house somewhat back to order.  BUTwait!  Toxins were everywhere.  Now, every dish, piece of silverware, counter, pot and pan had to be rewashed and floors scrubbed before the home was safe for them to be in.  Look around again, in your kitchen! Can you imagine how long it would take to do that much washing?  Oh, did she tell you that she and Earl have also completed over sixty loads of laundry and have another eighty-eight loads to finish before they ever see the clothes or shoes again or begin to put their home back together?

Below is a bedbug full from a good feeding of blood.  The picture clearly shows the six legs.

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Now, imagine it crawling over your body every night.

Are you wondering what the response from the hotel was? The hotel’s response: they want to blame it on the Service Dog, Maggie, but if anything, she should be awarded a claim for her suffering.  As they were informed, she is not old enough to have traveled to other hotels to bring home bedbugs…just the ones that came from their hotel!  They did send an investigator out, and one of their requests was to photograph the pets in their home.

So, here is what is suspect in the eyes of the hotel:

                         image15-small-44                       image16-small-46

Maggie                                           …                                       Sara, Parakeet

Want an exercise in shock therapy? 

Check out this link!

http://www.bedbugreports.com

  I wish to thank two special people for their help with my story.  I have never written a horror story, so I consulted and was mentored by John Rosenman, who writes on this subject extremely well.  I’m sure he must have grown tired from so many endless hours of support, but he did so in order for me to learn and for you to have this story to read. We would also like to pay homage to his late dog, Tempest for being the same type of dog as Maggie. Most of you know Clayton Bye, publisher of this blog but perhaps do not realize the work he does for so many of us.  His kind support and dedication go beyond what most publishers would consider the end of their day.  He is always there to advise, support, and guide you should you need the help. Thank you, John and Clayton. Don’t forget to visit their web sites and read the horror that exist behind the pages of their books.

Thank you for joining The Write Room Blog and reading my story.

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Rosemary “Mamie”Adkins

http://www.Reflections-of-Mamie.com

http://www.ExtraordinaryIreland.com

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The Wedding

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Old man S’TO was a curmudgeon, or at least his sons thought so.  Rue and Hau wanted to move to the city and work in the factories where they would make real money.

“And then you’ll just spend the money paying for a room to live in and food to eat.  Here you live in a house that belongs to you and to your grandfathers before you.  You have food to eat and extra to take to market.  You mark my words,” the old man would shake his finger at his sons. “Here you are rich.  The S’TO’s are important men in this valley.  In the city you will be a poor nobody.”

The sons continued to grumble.  Other young men from the valley had gone to the city to work in the factories.  They’d bragged about how rich they would be and Old Man S’TO’s sons wanted to be rich too.

The old man took to watching his sons with narrow eyes and snarling, “And you don’t see those boys coming home with money bags full of gold do you?  They’re no better than slaves.”

One day the boys saw their father in the yard walking a circuit around house.  He stopped to look at the house then he’d continue his circuit.  He made ten full circuits of the house before he announced to his sons. “The house don’t look right.  I want you to gather up all the sticks in the fields and build a fence around the house.”

The boys built the fence according to their father’s directions.  They agreed that planting would be easier when they wouldn’t have to clean the sticks from the field at planting time.  They could hear their father crashing around inside the house.  Occasionally he’d carry armloads of stuff out and toss it on the ground in front of the house.

By the time the fence was half finished every possession the small family owned littered the ground in front of the house.  The old man spent the next few days sorting out old animal skins from those that could be used.  He emptied jars of grain and took a particularly rancid-smelling earth pot out behind the house and buried it.

By the time the fence was finished, the young men had become certain an evil spirit had bitten their father and driven him crazy.  Now, they were afraid to try to run away to the city because they didn’t know what would happen to the old man.

Well, next, the old man made them sweep every inch of their house inside and out then he made a mixture of water, white clay and mashed turu root and they spread this on the house, inside and out.  The turu root smelled horrible, but the house looked fresh and clean when they were done and the smell went away when the house was dry.

The next day the old man sent Rue into the fields to dig up some plants with blue flowers and put them in holes around the house while he took Hau up on the mountain to dig up the white flowers that grew there.  He dug up a small tree and carried it down to the house.  Now it was the son’s turn to look at their father with narrowed eyes and wonder what he was up to.

“You see.  Our house is beautiful.  True.  And, it is ours.  You will never be this rich anywhere else.  Now, in the morning, before light I’m leaving for the day.  I’ll be back just after dark. I want you to have dinner waiting for me, air out all the sleeping palettes and put fresh straw in the goat shed.

“We don’t have goats Papa.”

“You do what I tell you.”

Rue and Hau assumed that when Papa walked away in the early morning with a bag of beans over each shoulder that he intended to return with a goat—maybe two.  They cleaned and repaired the goat shed.  In the afternoon they went fishing then traded the fish they caught for some bean cakes baked by the widow S’PU.

As the moon rose over the mountains in the east, Rue saw three people coming up the path beside the creek.  “Hau, we have company.  Better fetch some fresh water.”

By the time Rue and Hau had set out a gourd of fresh water, they recognized their father as he led two young women up the path to their house.  He brought the women inside and announced.  “These women are to be your wives.  Treat them with gentleness and respect.  They shall have command over everything inside the fence.  You may sort it out between yourselves as to which one you want.”

The old man turned, left the hut and made his way to the goat shed leaving two giggling young women and two stunned sons to sort out who would have whom.

 

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Delinda McCann is a semi-retired social psychologist who has taken up writing novels based on her experience in the world of social psychologist and an advisor to several governments.  You may see her novels on her web site.  http://delindalmccann.weebly.com/index.html
 
She plans to write more short pieces about the S’TO family so watch her blog for more stories like this and her other slice of life writing.  http://delindalmccann.weebly.com/blog.html

Big Trout Lake Blues (a Mike Money short)

 Beech King Air

Mike Money wasn’t enjoying this at all. It was one of a few recurring tasks that he, as the “town cop,” couldn’t ignore. There was too much of an opportunity for trouble to arise.

Why these young pilots couldn’t manage to keep it in their pants, when they had been warned, he never understood. Yes, many of the young First Nations women were stunning, and they were almost always willing partners, something the white boys were completely unprepared for. Which is why they were warned. Sleep with a local girl and you faced a BCR, a Band Council Ruling, ordering you off the reservation.

The owners of the airlines (Big Trout Air and Bearskin Air) had no choice but to fire any employee who received a BCR and ship them south. If they didn’t they would find themselves unwelcome on the rez.

And the girls? Well for the most part it was boredom that had led to the formation of the game. It was a simple one—seduce a pilot and then let the chips fall where they may. The council was always there, just in case.

It was too much for some girls to resist. They were often as curious about the white boys as the boys were about them. And there probably wasn’t a girl on the reserve who really expected a BCR. After all, that would mean all sorts of trouble for them, parents being parents. But it did happen. Yes, it did.

Mike knocked on the door of the pilot’s shack. He soon heard someone shuffling toward the door.

It opened on a blond-haired, good looking kid. It was hard to believe this was a pilot with hundreds of hours under his belt. Bush piloting was definitely a young man’s game.

“Morning, John,” the policeman said.

The kid nodded his head and looked confused.

“Can I come in, John?” Mike queried.

“Yah, lemme get a shirt on,” he said, heading for one of the 3 bedrooms that opened onto the main room—living room and kitchen as one. It was a beautiful building, really, an all log construction that was meant to create a sense of home for the young men who flew all over this part of the country, from Winnipeg, Manitoba to Thunder Bay, Ontario and as far up as Moosonee, Ontario, on James Bay. Mike had once flown a twin engine Seneca to Winnipeg, with a friend. There was nothing but bush and water all the way there.

“What is it, Mike?”

Mike turned his attention back to the friendly man who now stood fully clothed in the middle of the great room.

“I’ve got some shitty news, John, and I don’t know how to deal with it except straight up.” He walked over to John and put his hand on the pilot’s shoulder. “You’ve been BCRed, John.”

“What the fuck?”

“I know it’s a bad deal. But you know as well as I do that it’s a risk anyone sleeping with the girls must face. Whatever’s going on between you  and Josie is done.”

“I get to talk with her?”

“No. this thing is all done for but the crying. In fact, there’s a plane headed for Sioux Lookout in about 15. That’s how much time you have to pack, then I’ve got to escort you up to the runway.”

“This isn’t fair Mike.”

“I never said it was, son. It’s political mostly, with some racism thrown in.”

“Don’t suppose the fact that I love her makes any difference?”

“No, it might even make things worse. You’ve got to clear things with the elders when relationships get serious. It’s not so different from the way things are down south, except for the fact that the southern parents have no real power of influence in a bad situation and the band council does.”

The young man stopped asking questions and began packing. You could tell he had some guts, considering how busted up inside he must be.

* * *

Next on Mike’s list was another contentious duty: the dog shoot. The guys were heading back from the air strip when he put John on the Beech King Air.

Dogs on the rez ran free. Some were mutts that had been starved at home or had been abused. Whatever the reason, they were homeless and slowly reverted to a feral state—which pissed Mike off to no end. Once they reached such a state the dogs were ruined and had to be shot. He found the process barbaric, as it was not the dogs’ fault. They had once been loving creatures with an emotional age of a 5 year-old child. No one would ever put a child on the street, would they?

But now… The wild dogs would think nothing of cornering and pulling down a child. This reserve had been lucky in recent years and only had  a few maimings on its record. Not like other places where there had been deaths. Hell, he remembered the day when the crazy French man who lived in the village had flown over to Osnaburgh for some reason or another. Mike was on the same flight. And when it came time to go—no French man. Mike had to go looking for him. The guy had gotten himself cornered by a pack of about 10 dogs with a ringleader that was this small poodle-type mutt. Its constant yapping had built up animosity in the other dogs until they began to close in. The only thing that had saved the French man was his walking stick. With the man swinging the stick like a wild man Mike booted a number of the dogs, catching them by surprise and breaking up the ring. He was able to rescue the French man, but the dogs—unafraid—sat off a ways and just watched, sullen and hungry.

This time, Big Trout Lake had a pack just like Osnaburgh’s, and the band was going to do what they always did. Two shooters would stand up in the back of a truck, rifles steadied on the roof of the cab while another fellow drove around looking for the pack. Sometimes, there would be someone in the front passenger seat with a loaded weapon and two extra shooters sitting in the back of the truck on low chairs. Mike’s job, even though he understood the necessity, was to stop them. He couldn’t condone the use of firearms within the limits of their little village. The shoot had been advertised heavily, so everyone would stay indoors for the next few hours. But that just didn’t cut it. One stray bullet and someone could end up dead.

But stopping the hunt wasn’t as easy as it sounded. Everyone carried firearms in their trucks. Usually on homemade window racks. Others just threw them in the back of their vehicle or along the runner of their snow machine or under a heavy fur on a dog sled.

“Hey, Ben,” Mike said to the tall fellow in the back of the truck.

The first nations man gave a nod that was almost imperceptible. It was the white man’s way to say hello and goodbye, not those of the first  nations.

“You seen the dogs?

“They were over on the mainland early this morning,” Mike said.

“They got Mary Land’s dog last night. Killed it bad.”

Mike shook his head.

“You guys the hunting party?”

No answer, and no guns in site. They might be a decoy. Hard to tell, as he hadn’t heard any gunshots yet.

They banged on the roof of the truck, hollered directions at the driver and drove off.

It was about an hour later that Mike found the men at the garbage dump. He had been on the mainland when he heard the shooting. There were about 15 carcasses and no guns in site. Not even in the window rack.  Mike sighed in relief. Out here there was no way anyone could get hurt by accident. He nodded to Calvin Skead, took a deep breath and walked away. The landfill was set up in such a way that the pack had been pushed up against a hill of garbage. There was nowhere for them to go. And even though the shooting had seemed to go on forever, the job must have been done in mere minutes.

Mike was so upset he didn’t even comment when the driver put the truck in reverse and drove away. What was a dump for anyway?

* * *

Mike went home for lunch. Marion had a rich and creamy potato soup on the stove. She met him at the door with a big hug. These shoots always left Mike in a terrible state. They talked about it after Mike had finished up the deeply warming soup.

“How many this time?”

“Fifteen.”

“Are you okay?”

“Not really. I didn’t catch them in the act.”

He sat silently for a few moments.

“If the people would just think before getting an animal. Most of the families barely squeak by. It doesn’t take very long before they realize how expensive a pet can be, just in food costs alone. Then they just boot the dogs out, leaving them to fend for themselves. It’s no wonder they pack. Think of a bunch of 5 year-old kids thrown out on the street. How long would it take them to go feral? Either that or die.”

Mike shook his head in disgust.

“There are times I really hate this job”

“Can’t the dogs be reintegrated into the community?”

“Not once they’ve gone wild. You could never really trust them again, and they wouldn’t really trust you. Sooner or later someone or a dog would be hurt. And we both know what the solution to that is. No, these guys did the right thing, even though the law doesn’t agree.”

Marion changed the subject.

“How did the eviction go?”

“Eviction? Oh, the pilot. He was a nice kid. Deer in the headlights though. He didn’t know what hit him. It probably didn’t begin to sink in until they were in the air and headed down to Sioux Lookout.”

“Girls will be girls, hmm?”

“Something like that. Can’t say he wasn’t warned.”

Mike rubbed his face with his hands.

“What people don’t understand is that they’re submerged in another culture. They would take great care not to offend if they went to Japan or just about anyplace foreign. It’s like this in Quebec too. A whole different culture most of us know nothing about.”

Marion got up and massaged his shoulders.

“Strangers in a Strange Land?”

“That’s about it, honey.”

She kissed him softly and deeply.

“What was that for?”

“Something to look forward to at the end of the day.”

Mike smiled and said, “I love you a lot, honey.”

With that, he got up, put on his Jacket and stepped out into the bright sun. It was a beautiful spring day, with the snow sparkling like diamonds and the air so clean and cold it almost hurt to breath. He thought for a moment and made the decision to go ice fishing later in the day. For some reason this end of the lake made for poor ice sport, but it would be a nice way to relax.

However, he had one more unpleasant job to do. But it was necessary, to say the least. One of the elders wanted to talk to him about his grandson. He was pretty sure he was sniffing, and he thought Mike might talk to the boy. They both wanted to find out who had the supply of glue that had recently appeared on the reserve. Maybe he could get the boy thinking straight and maybe he would talk. One never knew.

Another problem of heartbreaking proportions.

***

Mike, drove silently, thinking hard about his decision to become the first stationed policeman at Big Trout Lake. It used to be the OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) had a regular rotation of visits and were always on call in Sioux Lookout, some 250 miles south. Now, here he was, an OPP officer by training, but a band cop in principal. After all, they funded his paycheck.

Things were strange here. Mike was native. Ojibway, mostly. But this was a Cree reservation. He was almost as much an outsider as the whites who lived and worked on the rez. The young people were highly suspicious of him, the elders tolerated him (It was their decision that had led to this pilot program) and the old ladies loved to poke fun at him. Their last joke was to send him a plate full of Elk strips. They had been delicious when fried like bacon, but Mike knew darn well he would never want to know how the meat was cured. He still shuddered at the thought of the moose meat Old man Beardy had offered him. The gutted moose was lying, hide on and all, in the middle of the warm kitchen. It appeared to have been there for some time, the old man just lifted a flap of hide—showing that about a third of the moose was gone—and sliced off a nice sized roast. Mike knew he couldn’t refuse the meat.

He never remembered such behaviour when he was growing up. A moose was hung in a cool room for 3-5 days, depending on how warm the weather was, then it was butchered. And the meat was damned fine. As good as the Beardy roast he had forced himself to eat. The dogs? He had seen plenty of dogs kicked in the ribs, but he had never heard of one being abandoned. The girls? If they wanted a white man, they had to move off the reserve. Mike supposed it was a form of BCR, but at least the couples were allowed to stay together.

No, Big Trout Lake was different. About the only thing he approved of was that it was a dry reserve. Natives just can’t hold their liquor. There must be some sort of missing gene, because it was a fact that held true throughout all the Indian Nations. And it wasn’t any different with glue or paint or gasoline. These things were easy highs for those willing to risk the substances, and they were most definitely habit forming.

Mike stopped in front of the Elder’s home. The boy, Martin Redsky, was at home and waiting for him. Mike accepted tea and passed some time talking with the senior Redsky. The man was in his 70’s but he looked a lot older. The rawness of a life lived in the outdoors had taken its toll on his skin. Eventually they came to the problem at hand.

“How long have you been sniffing, Martin?”

“Didn’t say I have.”

“Your grandfather seems to think it’s true.”

“He’s old. His mind runs off with him.”

“Maybe, but I notice you’ve got a bad case of the slurs.”

“So what.”

“I can get you into a program that will help you get sober.”

“Don’t want to.”

“Do you respect your grandfather?”

“When his mind is working right.”

“Then don’t you think you owe it to him to try and kick this thing.”

“Ain’t got a thing.”

“Do you mind if I check your room.”

“You gotta have a warrant Five-oh.”

“Not if you say it’s okay.”

“Not gonna do it.”

Mike looked at the elder and shrugged. “I can’t help if he doesn’t want help.”

The old man nodded and swung his palm low and flat.

They were done here.

Mike left without saying goodbye. He was that much of a native, anyway. Then he thought of his wife, waiting for him at home and he decided fishing could wait. There was nothing better than a little lovin’ to cure the Big Trout Lake Blues.

 

Copyright © 2014 Clayton Clifford Bye

The root of all evil by Stuart Carruthers

picture for blog

“That’ll be two and a half hours please.”

“Two and a half hours!?” he interrobanged, “but it only took you 10 minutes!”

“Ah, but it’s not actually the length of time it takes one to do something, but the length of time it took to do the training. It’s all in the guidelines. Paragraph two point three subsection D. “Where a tariff is not directly applicable, the service provider may set their own rate based upon the amount of training they believe they have had.”

“But you’ve only changed a tire! How much training did it take?”

“That sir! Is not the point, could you have done it?”

“Of course I could have done it! A trained chimp, no offense, could have done it.

“Then why didn’t you? Sir!?” the mechanic, with the air of someone who knows he has the other party over a barrel, obsequiously asked.

“Because, I didn’t want to get my bloody dinner jacket dirty! Oh whatever, give me your card.”

The mechanic, now smiling, handed over his debit card and the surgeon held it against the back of his cell phone and deducted two and half hours off his total.

“Thank you, sir. It was a pleasure doing business with you.”

“A few more of these and I’ll be able to earn a holiday,” the mechanic thought.

A grass roots movement of communities began trading their time, rather than money, for goods and services. What started off as a good idea, started to get out of hand when law suits were filed when people didn’t get the hours they thought they were owed. After several hundred of these and the courts having their time wasted over petty civil disagreements, the government stepped in and issued guidelines as to how many hours a certain task and profession was worth. They tried to consider all jobs, but inevitably things slipped through the net and certain caveats were put in place and in the event that an agreement couldn’t be reached and independent ombudsman was placed in each area to deal with these disputes, his time was charged at a fixed rate payable by both parties.

The mechanic forgot all about it and went on his way, charging whatever he felt was appropriate. It was now manual labour workers who were time rich. Bakers could make a three-dozen loaves in three hours, yet could charge thirty minutes for each loaf. Mechanics could charge two hours for a full service and could do it in one. Solicitors, who in a cash society could charge whatever they wanted, could now only charge one hour for a ten-minute letter. Still a nice markup, but at least people weren’t going to the poor house to visit one. Our friend the surgeon was upset because, despite still being very time rich, he didn’t like being ripped off.

The surgeon contacted the ombudsman, and the ombudsman found in favor of the mechanic who once again smiled slyly at the surgeon. Now, fate is a wonderful thing and it wasn’t long before their path’s crossed once again.

“Help me doc.” The mechanic didn’t recognize his mark, with his medical Google Glasses perched on the bridge of his nose, a fresh tan from a Caribbean holiday and holiday beard he hadn’t gotten round to shaving off.

“How much will be cost?” The mechanic asked once he’d received his diagnosis.

“Hmm an appendix operation? Simple enough. Let’s say one hundred hours!”

“One hundred hours!?” it was his time to interrobang. “But the guide says it’s only worth ten hours!”

“But I foresee complications and besides which, could you do it yourself?” He winked at the mechanic.

“Don’t I know you?”

“Please give me your card.”

The mechanic meekly handed it over.

“Thank you, sir, I’ll see to it that all complications are resolved.?

 

Bio

____

Stuart Carruthers is a sceptical deist, pseudo geek and frog herder. Having escaped British winters he now lives in Taiwan where he shares his house with his wife and two kids. Find his books here: http://www.amazon.com/Stuart-Carruthers/e/B008LR5FRM/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

What Did I Do Wrong? by Cynthia B. Ainsworthe

pic 1

All pleadings left unheard. Why? The air stinks of blood. Cheers and roars from the crowd pound my ears, and eat at my soul. One by one they leave only to be replaced by new faces—some I recognize—all doomed like me. Terror reigns in their eyes as the guards push them into cells filled with the sickening stench of human excrement mixed in the rotting hay piles. The poor fools try to drink the rust-laden water.

The guard approaches. Yellowing filthy teeth frame a sardonic smile accentuated by his foul breath from rotting teeth. No words needed. A long lust-laden gaze communicates his intent. “You don’t have to worry, Madame. Not as long as you are friendly. The friendly sorts remain a little longer.”

I swallow hard. My eyes fix on his. “Why am I here? I’ve done nothing wrong.”

His sinister chuckle chills me. “Nothing wrong? You’re friends with an aristocrat. That’s crime enough to sever your head. There will be no aristocrats left in France, nor those that are friends with them.”

“I was only an acquaintance of Madamoiselle Gaultier. I met her once at a party,” comes my plea. “My husband was a doctor. I’m a plain person as you.”

“Like me, you say? Not very well likely. You dressed in fine silks and satins.” He inches closer to the cell bars. “Did you not come by those clothes from being friendly with the male Royals your husband tended to? Like I said, do me some favors and you might keep your head a few days longer.”

His hand grazes the crotch of his breeches.

I give no reply.

The jailer turns with an air of triumph, clearly knowing he has the upper hand.

~~#~~

Night. A stream of silver colors my dank and dark surroundings. That small window is my only connection to the outside world. Wailings and moans fill the air.

A woman in the cell next to mine sidles to the bars separating us.

“Have you been here long?” she whispers. Her eyes are wild with fear. “Do you know when they will do it?”

“Some are chosen quickly.” No need to give her false hope. “Others have been here for over a week. I have no idea why. I pray this madness will end before I’m chosen.”

I look at her finely manicured nails and coiffed wig. “Why did they take you?”

“My lover was an aristocrat.” Tears fill her eyes. “They killed him last week.”

“Madame Guillotine took my husband seven days ago. I can still hear his pleadings for mercy in my ears. They might have met in the same wagon.” She looks so frightened. “You’re young and pretty. You might be spared. There’s always hope.”

“You mean, sleep with those filthy jailers?” Her gasp escapes. “I was a mistress because I loved him—not a common whore.”

“Adjust your morals.” She needs to understand the price of survival. “Letting a guard have his way is better than if you don’t.”

~~#~~

Heavy footsteps approach. Keys jangle. Is he coming for me? No, it’s night. Beheadings are during the day after the crowd gathers. Has he come for payment for sparing me one more day? My breath catches in my throat. I dare not move and pretend to sleep.

I peek through my eyelashes. The guard stands there, sizing up his victim–a man picking over the display on a fruit stand.

Please choose someone else.

His hand plunges into his pants encouraging his lust. The guard steps closer. Only the bars separate us until he makes his decision. He turns to the cell next to mine. Please, God, let it be her and not me! Metal on metal sounds from the key turning the lock. The creaking door screeches in my ears. His demonic laugh pierces my soul. I don’t move, still giving the illusion of sleep.

A screech comes from the next cell.

“Please, sir. Don’t!” the young girl cries out.

“What? I’m not good enough for you?” he bellows. “My manhood not adorned in Royal finery?”

“I might be with child,” she begs.

“What is that to me?” He unbuttons his breeches. “If you do well by me, and often. “You might keep your head. Small price for fifteen minutes work. Now, spread your legs.”

The jailer lunges after her, pushing her against the wall, and lifts her skirt. I turn my head in disgust. Her cries and sobs mingle with the others in this rat-infested hellhole. His grunts and moans grow faster. Soon, the young girl’s reprieve from this barbaric torture is at hand. Maybe, just maybe, he will favor her and her life will be spared. This reign of terror must come to an end.

Will I survive? Will she? How many more sunrises are in my future?

~~#~~

Morning.  Sunlight brightens the cell with hope. I begin every day with a vision of freedom.

The gathering crowd cheers for the killings to begin. Hawkers offer handfuls of hair cut from the once coiffed heads of well-known aristocrats.

Heavy, footsteps come closer. The bloodthirsty games have begun once more. I hold my breath. Is it today? Will I join my husband? Two guards swing open the door. A lump forms in my throat. Do they demand favors—or death?

A gruff jailer grabs at my upper arm, tearing my sleeve further. “Come along. You’re turn to go.”

“No!” I scream. “Not yet!!”

I struggle to pull away. His grip tightens. Another guard grabs under my armpit.

God, accept my soul into Your heavenly Kingdom.

A third jailer yanks the Rosary beads from my hands. They walk me out into the daylight, and up the steps to a wagon. I stand with others, who all share my fate—all sport the look of shock and disbelief.

Eager peasants yell with glee and run alongside as the wagon rattles on the uneven cobblestone street. The ride is swift. The abrupt stop echoes the abrupt end of our lives. Lives brought short by this insane mob.

I’m the first . A kind-eyed soldier extends his hand. He looks sympathetic, but is loyal to his orders.

“Please, Madame,” he offers. “Watch your step.”

Despite my tears, I smile knowing his kindness is the last I will ever experience. He leads me to the scaffold steps. Dripping blood, from the guillotine platform, puddles on the ground below. Hungry dogs lap up this treat. Two men stand there, waiting for me—one holds the rope that controls the blade. Another binds my hands with harsh rope. He cuts my long mane at my neck and offers it to the crowd with outstretched arm. “What will you give for this Royal hair?” Their jeers ring in my brain.

All too soon, he pushes me onto a plank. My head is roughly positioned on a jagged neck support. It is wet, cold, and sticky with blood. The crowd chants, “Off with her head! Kill the sow!” Another board secures my neck. I look at the faces eager for my death. All eyes look in the direction of the blade-keeper. The swift thug of mental to flesh sounds. Crushing, burning pain. Someone lifts my head by the hair. I see them laughing.  My eyes close. All is black. I am free.

©2014 Cynthia B Ainsworthe

Bastille Day, July 14, is celebrated by French nationals. The excesses of the ruling classes oppressed the common people to the point of abject starvation. This lead to mass hysteria during the Reign of Terror. Approximately 40,000 died. Of those, it is estimated that 80-85 percent were common citizens.

Author Bio

Born in Mahopac, NY, raised in Yorktown Heights, NY, Cynthia longed to become a writer. Life circumstances put her dream on hold for most of her life. Some eight years ago she ventured to write her first novel, Front Row Center, which won the IPPY (Independent Publisher) Award and is now being adapted to screen with a script is in development by she and Hollywood screenwriter, Scott C Brown. Since then Cynthia shares with other authors the Reader’s Favorite International Award for two short stories, When Midnight Comes, and Characters, she contributed to the horror anthology The Speed of Dark, by Clayton C Bye. It Ain’t Fittin’ earned her the Excellence in Writing Award by It Matters Radio. Cynthia enjoys her retirement from her profession as a registered cardiac nurse in Florida, caring for her husband and five poodle-children.

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