LJ Idol - Week 22: Hiraeth

       Dead Man’s Chest

         My father had this saying: if not for the trees, the wind would lose her voice. For a great deal of my youth, I didn’t understand what he meant. Then again, there was a lot to find incomprehensible regarding the man. The trips he would take and the seclusion he forced onto me. Looking back now, it all makes sense. In the annals of hindsight, it is obvious he cherished my safety above all else. None of this understanding would have come about if he hadn’t the time to contemplate life while resting in the bed of death. If he had, for example, died suddenly, the truth very well might have gone with him.
         When he finished talking to me on that sunny autumn afternoon, he told me to get the box from under his bed if I wasn’t a believer. That box, which presumably once housed a pair of Nike shoes, had been off limits for my entire life, making it a source of great mystery to me. Only adding to the frustration was the criss crossed and padlocked chain embracing it, a morbid bow wrapping an impossible present.
         Through the years imagination driven by stories of pirates or robbers or killers or spys altered the contents of that box in my mind's eye. One particular summer was spent searching for clues that didn’t exist of the serial killer he was not. Then there was the time, enraptured by the idea I had been stolen away at birth, demanded he return me to my rightful parents. Even after producing a birth certificate and photos of my mother holding me, I remained unconvinced.
         Why don’t I go to school like other children? Why don’t we go places like other families? Why are you afraid of surveillance? Where is my mom? She can’t be dead, if she is, where are her remains? What do you mean in Seattle? No, I will not understand when I'm older!
         On the sunny autumn afternoon, sitting in the backseat of a strangers car while they drove me from the county hospital to the house of my upbringing, that battery of questions echoed through my mind and brought fresh ones forth. Who was I to accuse him of such an atrocity when love was all he’d ever shown? What made me think of him as a liar? He had fed me, clothed me, taught me, consoled me, yet as a girl on the cusp of adulthood, I hated him? The only answer I had to anything was that box and the impossible story he told me. That stupid fucking box. It was my obsession and his secret to bear, wearing the key around his neck like a damn crucifix.
         The house looked no different than it had fifteen years ago and, like always, the door was unlocked. There was no time spent in the throes of nostalgia during the journey from front door to bedroom. I had to be quick, the car was waiting. As I dropped to my knees next to the bed my left arm became frozen in fear. The box is empty, I told myself. He is a liar, I told myself. This is just going to be one of his cryptic lessons like the wind in the trees, I told myself before sweeping my shaking arm under the bed and finding purchase on the chain around the box.
         It was heavier than I had ever imagined and I had to push against the bed frame with the fist holding the key to drag it out. For a moment I thought that maybe it really was full of gold, then my mind told me it was more likely stones. Once the treasure chest was in front of me I unfurled my fist, which had been so tightly squeezed the key had poked two little holes in my palm. The fathers cross had given the daughter stigmata.
         What happened next feels like a fever dream, even now, years later. The key went in and the lock popped open. The chain fell against the carpet silently. The top of the box came off. My vision went out of focus.
         There they were, just like he described, hundreds of photographs. My hand collected an arbitrary amount and brought them closer. The top one contained a wide smiling brown haired girl in a wedding dress holding a sign that read “Wish you were here, Ian.” On the back was my father's handwriting, “Aunt Rebecca on her wedding day.” He didn’t write the note for himself, he wrote it for me.
         There was photo after photo after photo of Aunt Rebecca and Grandma Nancy and Grandpa Harold, all people I heard stories about, but whom I had never met. As a child I believed them dead. As of three hours prior I learned they were alive. If these pictures were what my father said they were, then this was his family he never joined. This was his sister, his mom, his dad, all living in a parallel place.
         I lifted the box and dumped it out, underneath all the photos was an envelope with my name written on it. No, I thought, no. My hand was lifting it, absent command. My fingers were opening it, absent control. My eyes were witnesses absent consent.
         More pictures, but this time of a woman I recognized. She was holding a different sign in each one, but the sign always ended the same way: ”Happy Birthday, Codie, Love, Mom.” There were thirty one of them, one for each year I didn’t know her. Here came the shudders and gasps. Here came the tears. Then my phone rang. It was the hospital calling. Dad is dead, I told myself, Dad is dead and I’m pilfering his treasure.
         As I moved to answer it the idea crossed my mind that of course I would be losing my father in the same moment that I found my mother, but when I answered it, his voice came through.
         “Hey monster, did you make it home?”
         Words wouldn’t come.
         “Oh, sweetie, are you crying?”
         “Da...daddy wh...why di...didn’t y...y...you t..t.ttell m..me…”
         “Sooner?” He asked. “I was scared, I was scared you would leave me too. Turns out you did anyways, so, jokes on me.” He coughed instead of laughing, but somehow it made me smile. “Anyway, did you find the other key?”
         “The other…”
         “Key, yes, it was in the envelope with your mother.”
         I tilted the envelope and a small key fell out. “I found it now.”
         “Good, listen, we don’t have a lot of time. In my clo...clo...cloSET.”
         “Bless you.”
         “Thank you. Closet, top shelf behind the records, there is a lock box. Go ahead and get it down.”
         “Uh, okay, and what is in this lock box.”
         “The camera.”
         “You mean, The Camera, as in The one that teleports people.”
         “Well, it’s not really teleportation but yeah, that one.”
         “Jesus, these records are heavy.”
         “Yeah, no way a scrawny girl like you would have moved those.”
         “You were all bones, like a sapling.”
         “Fair enough. Dad?”
         “If this is what you say it is why didn’t you go?”
         “I had a tree to raise.”
         “What do you want me to do with the camera?”
         “Oh, that’s easy, I just want you to come take my picture. I would like to hold your mother one more time.”

Note: This is part three of two previous submissions.
Part One - Say Cheese
Part Two - Another Star

LJ Idol - Week 21: Open Topic


         As does an act of foreplay, it started slow, building upon its own momentum with each passing minute until rain was coming down in sheets, turning the cobblestones we jogged across into treacherous little platforms nestled in the earth. Inside these sheets was where we hid, our black clothing growing heavier by the second. Though curiosity was taking a toll on me, I obeyed my benefactor's previous instruction and kept quiet. Not that anyone could hear us in this downpour.
         Her head pivoted around like a squirrel’s who had just found a long sought after nut before she hunched over and began fiddling near the door handle. Creeping closer, and minding not to bump into the duffle bag against her back, I peered over her shoulder to get a better look at what she was doing. Delicate tools to match the delicate hands that operated them protruded from the keyway set in the door. She jiggled one of the two pieces, pushed on the other. Mindlessly my soaked sleeve ran against my face, clearing droplets that were clinging to my eyebrows. She pushed and jiggled. My tongue seized the question that was about to come out. Of course she was picking the lock, but why?
         All I knew was what she had told me and that had sounded pretty good at the time.
         Sitting in a booth at the campus diner, she had laid out a proposition I couldn’t rightly refuse. For me, an easy grand was a windfall, topping that off was an all expense paid trip to Vienna. The only job I had was to act as a translator for her and her associate, neither of them spoke good German. The conditions were that I couldn’t ask questions and I couldn’t speak to anyone about what we were doing. Had I known the exact details of what was going to happen, I still would have said yes.
         “Headlights!” Her associate, Janine, yelled from behind us. The rain washed the word down to a whisper.
         Irene didn’t respond.
         “Renie, headlights!” She yelled again, moving to grab Irene’s shoulder just as the door swung inward.
         Whatever words Irene’s lips were forming got dragged down to the stones before they even came close to my ears, but she moved into the dark mouth of the open door all the same. Janine followed and I followed her. It was only after easing the door shut that my awareness shifted to that of my ecstatically beating heart, which seemed to thump in perfect tempo with the torrent. Never before had I partaken in a good old fashioned B&E, my enjoyment of it was frightening. For a brief moment I envisioned myself leaving school to take up a life of crime, then came the remembrance of a place called prison and all enjoyment dripped away to leave only the fear in place.
         As a cautionary rule Irene held the only flashlight. This way our likelihood of casting a stray beam towards a window, thereby alerting any onlooker to our presence, would be greatly diminished. I never asked what exactly we would be caught doing, honestly I figured we were going to be traipsing through a cemetery or something, not going into a house.
         Irene had never so much as looked at me before the evening at the diner; Janine on the other hand had crossed my path on multiple occasions, always in the same place. She was one of those girls with an earthy color palette that alway seemed to be lingering in the esoteric aisle of the local used book store, clutching some volume or another devoted to spiritual planes or manifesting energies or astral travel. I would only go into that store to save money on books I needed, it blew me away that she was dropping cash on books that could only teach her how to be weird. But there she was, sitting next to Irene at the diner, quietly sipping on a rootbeer and staring at the menu even though she had said she wasn’t hungry for food. And then there she was, inside this strange house in Vienna, dragging her wet clothes from her flashlight paled skin.
         “Before you ask,” Irene whispered, holding the light steady. “No one is home.”
         The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind and that made me feel like an idiot.
         “And no, you don’t need to strip.” She added. “This is not some sex thing.”
         That was the question that had entered my mind.
         “Mind your head, mind you head.” She said to Janine, almost in a coo, reaching over and cupping the base of her skull as the black t-shirt came up and over it.
         “I know, Renie, jeesh. I’m being as careful as I can.” Janine said, tossing her shirt to the wood floor with a slap. “What time is it?”
         “Almost show time.” Was all Renie responded with before handing the flashlight to me. “Keep it aimed at the floor.” She pointed. “Right there. Got it?”
         “Yeah.” I took the light and pointed it where she instructed as she dropped and unzipped the black duffle bag. From it she removed three large ziplock baggies, one containing a towel, another appeared to be clothing, and the third had what looked like an old “shoe box” style tape recorder. I only recognized the recorder because my father had owned one when I was a child.
         In the cast off light from the beam I could see a delicate ankle adorned with a wrap around tattoo of ivy, farther up the ankle became a smooth calf that firmly made me think of fine china. Up higher was the knee and then the thigh, a perfect flow from one structure to the next, like this leg belonged to a statue that had been smoothed by a century of acid rain.
         “Hey, pervert, shine the light where I told you.”
         I jumped and the light tumbled from my hand. Somehow Irene caught it before it slammed into the floor. “You couldn’t find a girl that could speak German?” She asked Janine, handing her the towel.
         “Sorry.” I said, holding my hands up in defense.
         “Not one I had a crush on, no.” Janine responded, taking the towel. I watched her dim silhouette run the towel over her body.
         “Wait, what?” I asked.
         “Oh, I didn’t pay for this to be some sort of play date, Jane.” Renie responded, keeping the light pointed at the floor. “And mind your…”
         “Head, yeah, I know. You don’t have to keep reminding me, Mom.”
         “Why are you so worried about her head?” I asked, remembering then about how she had kept pulling Janine’s hand away from the back of her head at the diner.
         The light came up and blinded me. “What did I say about questions, guy?”
         “I just thought…” My eyes squinted against the onslaught.
         “Exactly what I am not paying you for. You are here to translate. You are not on a date. You are not here to oogle her.” She turned the light quickly towards Janine and in the moment I could see the two dimples in the small of her back, just above her ass. My lips twitched, imagining what it would feel like to kiss those little divots before the light came back to blind me. “Got it?”
         “Yeah, yeah, I got it.” I never did get the light back, and instead watched it change position from each of Irene’s hands to under her chin, as she stuffed the wet towel and Janine’s wet clothes back into the ziplock and handed each article of dry clothing to the girl that said she had a crush on me. All the while I tried to figure out how I could go about asking her on a date. Where did she like to go? What did she like to do? It didn’t take long for me to imagine us together, in bed and out.
         Once Janine was dressed, Irene handed her the tape recorder and slung the duffle over her shoulder. “We are going upstairs. Follow me.” That is what we did, Janine in the middle and me in the back. Though the house was supposedly empty, our ascension was cautious. Each step creaked as we climbed and my foot struggled to find proper placement in the dark that was even darker after having that beam blasted in my face. “I didn’t know you liked to be called Jane.” I whispered up to Janine.
         “I’d be surprised if you did.”
         “So, you have a crush on me?” I had wondered if she could tell I was smiling.
         “Nope, just said that to get under Renie’s skin.”
         “Shush it.” Irene said from the front. I could tell she had reached the top of the staircase.
         My heart, ignorantly lifted to soaring heights by an affectionate jest, dropped. I wanted to tell Renie to shush it. I wanted to tell her to shove it. I said neither of those things and just swallowed the lump in my throat. Just hired help, that’s all I was. It was best to keep that in mind.
         Up ahead I heard the click of the bolt in a strike plate. Then Irene said “wrong room,” and her flashlight pointed towards another closed door in the hallway.
         “What are we looking for?” I whispered to Jane, as another bolt clicked.
         “In here.” Irene said, vanishing into the doorway. She closed the door behind us and offered me the flashlight again. “Think you can aim this where I tell you this time?”
         I nodded before saying “yes.”
         In the center of the room, where she directed me to point a light, sat an unremarkable brown stained piano. One of the girls gasped as a lightning flash doused the entire room in blue light, bringing momentary life to a scowling face against the far wall.
         “It’s just a bust.” Irene said before a clap of thunder shivered the timber below our feet causing me to nearly drop the flashlight again. “Bring the light over here.” She walked between me and the piano, her black hoodie absorbing the light as I followed.
         Covering the keyboard of the piano was a plexiglass cover, held in place by a brass capped screw on either side. I cast the beam on one of the caps and watched Irene grip it with a pair of pliers from her bag. She twisted until it came loose and placed the cap in her pocket before going to work on the other one, then her and Jane pulled the clear cover free, placing it on the floor next to the piano. “Let us hope they keep up on the tuning.” Jane said.
         “It would be a shame if they didn’t.” Irene responded.
         Another flash of lightning brought the wild haired bust to life and in that moment I realized whose visage I was staring at.
         “Beethoven? Is this Beethoven’s piano?”
         “Sure is.” Irene answered.
         “So we broke into a house containing Beethoven’s piano, for what?” I was tracing the light over the walls, where blown up images of his hand written compositions hung. “This a museum or something?” Another wave of thunder rattled our foundation.
         “You’re sharp.” Irene said. “Happen to see a bench anywhere?”
         “Over there,” Jane said, pulling the flashlight from my hand and walking towards a corner of the room. “Damn, the cover is bolted to the floor.”
         “Not a problem, I brought tools for that.”
         Wind driven rain battered the windows and lightning flashed. “Feeling anything?” Irene asked Jane.
         “Oh yeah.” Thunder cracked.
         “You know, he died on a night like this.”
         “All the better.”
         I walked over to their corner, where Jane held the light on a kneeling Irene that was ratching the last of the four bolts from the floor. “What exactly is it we are doing here?” Lightning.
         “What did I say about questions?”
         “It won’t hurt to tell him. Not now.” Thunder.
         “He won’t believe it till he sees it.” Flash. She stands up and opens her arms wide, gripping either side of the plastic and lifted. “Ugg, this is heavy as shit.” Boom. “Gimme a hand, Harvey.”
         “Yeah, sure.” Flashboom. I stepped around Jane and pressed my palms against the sides of the case while Irene did the same and together we disentered the bench from it’s translucent tomb. We sidestepped until we had the freespace to gently set it down.
         “Wow,” Jane whispered, running her hand over the polished wooden surface. “He used to sit right here.”
         “Wonder how he will feel about doing it again.” Irene remarked, walking over and lifting the bench, carrying it to the piano. “Are you ready?”
         “As I’ll ever be.” Boomflash.
         “Harv, come hold the light again. Jane, take a seat.”
         I took the light from Jane’s hand and with a deep breath she settled onto the bench.
         “Shine it over here.” Irene pulled what looked to be a cigar case from her bag and opened it, inside was a glass tube and inside that tube was what appeared to be a short thin copper wire with a rounded copper cap on it. She handed me the tube. “Do not. I repeat, Do. Not. Drop this.” Flaboom. “Go ahead and part your hair.” She said to Jane. “Shine the light on the back of her head.”
         While Jane and I did what we were told, Irene was stretching a pair of latex gloves over her hands. Where the black hair parted I could see a shiny little ring of steel resting against the flesh just below her hairline, like a tiny nose ring in the strangest place. “That must be a bitch to brush around.” I said mostly to myself, wondering why in the hell someone would pierce their scalp like that.
         “Nah. It’s been alright since it healed. Itched like a bitch at first though.”
         “Open that tube up.”
         I pulled the plastic stopper from the top of the tube and looked down at the little copper button atop the wire. The size of it reminded me of one of those old paper stays with the two folding legs on it. “Tip it into my hand.” Irene said, “carefully.” Flasoom. “Shine the light down here, so you can see my hand.”
         I dumped the contents of the tube into her left hand and she grasped the cap between the thumb and index finger of her right. The wire was about two inches long and seemed stiffer than I thought it would be.
         “Follow my hand with that light, I don’t want to bump this into anything by accident.”
         The light followed her hand as it raised slowly towards the back of Jane’s head.
Boom. Flash.
         The light glinted off of the wire as it touched the metal ring at the base of Jane’s skull.
         “What…” the light showed everything “the…” as the wire began to get “fuck…” shorter and “are you…” shorter vanishing inside “doing?” the metal ring until only the shiny cap could be seen.
         “Done.” Irene said with a smile.
         “Wow, that didn’t hurt at all.” Jane said, letting her hair fall back into place.
         “To answer your question, I just attached a conductive wire to her pineal gland. Think of it like an antenna and now, Janine here, is a radio.”
         “Yeah, except a radio for spirits.”
         The lightning flashed. The thunder rolled. I didn’t move a muscle.
         “Okay Jane, just like we practiced.” Irene said, pulling the flashlight from my frozen hand and shutting it off. “Just relax and let him in.”
         “I know, I know.”
         “Let him in?”
         Outside it sounded as though the rain was beginning to let up, the lightning however was still intermittently illuminating the room.
         “What do you mean, let him in?”
         Suddenly the shape of Jane’s body jerked on the bench, forcefully enough to scoot it against the floor with a squeal. Her head moved hesitantly as her hands floated up to tap against her ears. “Ich cann hören? Ich cann hören.” Came from her mouth. German words, her voice.
         “What did she say?” Irene whispered to me.
         “Uh, I can hear. I can hear.” I responded, watching the shadowed figure move on the bench.
         “Herr Beethoven?” Irene asked.
         “Ja.” The figure said, now looking down at her hands.
         “Yes.” I relayed.
         “Herr Beethoven, willkommen zurück, du bist schon eine weile weg.” Irene said, making me wonder why she needed me in the first place.
         The figure jumped from the bench and spun around, pointing at us in the dark, yelling “wer bist du! Wer bist du!”
         “He...he wants to know who we are.”
         “Tell him we are friends.”
         “Freunde, Herr Beethoven, freunde.”
         “Wo bin ich?”
         “He wants to know where he is.”
         “Tell him he is home, you idiot.”
         “Wo bin ich!” Jane yelled, stomping her foot.
         “Zuhause!” I shouted, putting my hands up. “Du bist zuhause.”
         Those words seemed to appease him and Jane’s body stood up straight, in an almost stately manner. We watched as she walked through the dark room, silently running her hand over the cases containing artifacts within. It felt like an hour of silence before the body made its way back to the piano, running it’s fingers over the glossy wood. When a finger came down on a key the room filled with that one sullen note.
         “Mein Hurr?” Irene said, causing him to turn and look at her. “Can you ask him if he would play for us?”
         “I...uh…” Something about asking a recently resurrected composer to entertain us didn’t feel right to me. “Doesn’t that feel like we are using him?”
         “He hasn’t heard himself play in God knows how long. Don’t you think he would like to?”
         “Yeah, maybe...alright.” I looked to Jane’s body, now housing the spirit of this dead man, and said, “Möchten Sie für uns spielen?”
         Another key is tapped. Then another. Her head turns and her voice says, “Ich würde mich freuen.”
         “He would be delighted.”
         “Wunderbar.” Irene says. “Very wunderbar.” And then she pressed record.

LJ Idol - Week 21: The Way Back

       The Chamber

         Cindy thinks that it looks like what a drug dealer would find lavish when, in fact, it appears gaudy. Something about the way the blue carpet and wooden panels clash against the marble and gold makes her stomach churn. There are too many textures, that’s what it is. This room appears to be at constant war with itself, struggling for an identity it will never find. The man at the top of dais, with his perfect hair and wild eyes, well, he just makes everything go from gaudy to grotesque when he opens his mouth.
         “I see your tired eyes looking up to me. I hear your voices calling for a change. Too long have we been treated as puppets! Thrown into the spotlight when it feels useful and dragged back into the shadows when someone new comes along!” The man shouts before lowering his head and drumming his fingers on the lectern. He looks up and a smile creeps over his face, then a balled fist slams down to punctuate every word. “Today! That! Ends!” The silent crowd erupts as a hive. Cindy does not join in.
         There are six hooded figures sitting in front of the crowd, some of their hands kneading the wooden arms of the chairs, like the friction will grant them freedom from their ensnaring bonds. The Speaker looks down at the back of them, waiting for a hush to overtake the assembly. Sound seems amplified in this chamber. The volume of life has been turned up to eleven.
         The Speaker looks to a man in a black suit standing by the door, gesticulates, and watches him walk over to a big man in a chair, removing the hood from his head and the gag from his mouth. This act moves the gathered to silence. “State your name and occupation.” The Speaker says.
         “Please! Please I’ve done nothing. I shouldn’t be here!” The newly unquieted man pleads to the crowd assembled before him.
         A female somewhere in the audience lets loose a stifled laugh.
         The speaker smiles. “Oh, no? Well, according to you and these others, that makes you more than qualified.” He is referring to the five other individuals that are bound and hooded and gagged in chairs surrounding the Dais. “State your name and occupation.”
         “H..H..Hugo Kil..Kilinger.”
         “And what is it you do, Mister Kilinger?”
         “I...I’m a Waste dis...disposal te..tech…”
         “You’re a trash collector! That’s what you are. You pick up people’s trash.”
         “Hugo here, he is one of many that help keep our cities clean. Not a peace officer, but no less important. No less important.” This comment brings a brief smile onto Hugo’s face.
“Yet,” The Speaker continues, “Hugo does not believe he should have his job. He believes he is better than it. Every night Hugo takes to the internet to air his grievances, to complain about his hours and his pay and his fellow man. Hugo, the trash collector, thinks he knows how to solve the problems plaguing our nation. Hugo, the high school dropout, says that we are…” He looks at a sheet of paper on the podium, adjusts his glasses, squints “we are nothing but sacks of shit and our mouths are a hole in the bag!” The speaker laughs. “That’s rich, Hugo, really.” The speaker opens a box beside the podium and the item he removes glints silver in the overhead lights. He bounces it in his hand several times, acclimating himself to the weight, before clutching it tightly.
         “Now,” He steps down towards the main floor “Mister Kilinger,” another step “I ask you,” another “what would you do” he walks around the front of the large wooden desk, stopping in front of Hugo “to eradicate crime from our streets? The floor is yours, Hugo.”
         Hugo’s eyes fix on ivory gavel gripped in the man’s hand. “I...I don’t know.”
         “You...you don’t know?” The Speaker tilts his head mockingly.
         “No, Mister Sycamore, Sir.” He motions with his chin to point at the gavel. “Wh...what do you plan on doing with that?”
         “Oh,” Sycamore smiles, his back to the assembly as he leans down and whispers into Hugo’s ear. “I plan on using this for its intended purpose. To restore order.” He taps the cool silver cap of the gavel against Hugo’s hot forehead and it almost feels wonderful, like getting pulled over by the police. “To restore order, my dear man. My lord, did you piss yourself?”
         From Cindy’s spot in the press box, she watches the hulk of a man named Hugo try to stave off shivers of fear. It doesn’t work. And the man breaks down into tears.
         “You see,” Sycamore says to the audience, “this keyboard patriot can sit behind a screen and spit hate out of his fingertips. This big man can blame every person of political status and of social difference for having a stronger voice than his own. Yet.” There is a slap as the cap of the gavel meets his palm. “Yet! I have given him a chance to air his ideas in an open forum, and now Mister Kilinger has nothing to say.”
         Sycamore steps behind Hugo and places a hand on his shoulder. “Tell us, Hugo, what would you do with all the Wet Backs? How about the Kikes and the Coons? As you call them. Hmm.” The man’s shivers course up Sycamore’s arm as the gavel is raised above his head. “Tell us, Hugo!”
         Maybe Hugo was about to lay out a plan of action, the perfect course to correct the failings of the government. Maybe he was going to apologize for the things he had said in anger. Perhaps, even, he was going to beg for his freedom once more. No one will ever be sure. As the first utterance of sound slips through his lips the gavel comes down into the back of his skull, striking with near silence. It only takes one hit for the silver cap to come back up coated with blood and a chunk of scalp. But the man holding it brings it down three more times, each contacting with more gore than the last.
         The crowd goes wild.
         Cindy watches the husk of the man named Hugo be cut from the chair and dragged from the chamber. Sycamore allows the crowd their cheers as he walks back to where he started at the top of the dais. He shakes his head and extends his arm, holding the bloody gavel high before pressing it against the left most stripe of white on the hanging flag behind him. When he drags it down the blood smears, bringing a collective gasp from the crowd, Cindy included.
         He speaks, but not a person can hear him over the murmurs. He slams the gavel against the flag, banging on the wall behind it, to get their attention. Three red crescents stand out on the symbolic cloth. “You are shocked?” He bellows.
         “You’re goddamn right!” An elderly man roars from the audience. “You desecrated it!”
         “I suppose you are right.” Sycamore says, looking at his work, placing his chin in his hand. “I suppose you are right.” He turns and points to the man. “However, let me ask you this. Does this flag, by its very nature, not stir ideas of separation in one’s mind? Tell me, when you look at it, do you not see division? Blue from red; red from white?” He grabs the folder from his lectern and steps back down. “That flag is a symbol of war, not of peace. We should be pledging allegiance to our brothers and sisters, not to this. No…” he walks past the other five frightened captives, bound and gagged in their chairs, “not to this.”
         He lifts the folder in the air and it appears thick enough to hold the manuscript for the old testament. “This here is a folder of hate. It contains only a portion of the words spewed out by the five people before you and the late Mister Kilinger. These people that call themselves patriots. These bigots that cloak themselves in that flag and use it as an excuse.” He sets it down on the desk behind the bound. “And this is us, as a country, saying we will not stand for hatred anymore. There is no way back to greatness, because our so-called greatness has always been built upon suffering. The only way is forward.”
         The crowd is silent.
         The captives are still.
         Cindy raises her hand.
         “Yes,” Sycamore points to her, “the young lady with her hand raised.”
         “President Sycamore, sir, how do you think that these actions are going to affect your approval rating going into the fourth year of your presidency?”
         “Well, mam, I guess we are just going to have to wait and see.”
         “Yes, sir. And what is it that you hope to accomplish here tonight?”
         Sycamore rubs his thumb over the now dented silver cap on the ivory gavel. “Before this evening is over, I intend to make the rest of those stripes red.” He pivots on his heel and flips the folder open. “Now, let us ask our next guest speaker what they would do to improve this land of ours.”

LJ Idol - Week 20: Boondoggle

       Lou’s Place

         It was such a quiet night that I was able to hear the crack of a new arrival somewhere in the distance. It wasn’t a mystery who it would be, so I poured his usual drink and sat it on the bar, then waited. This place used to be bustling, I miss those days. The times when the television and jukebox competed for attention, all over the anguished screams of the patrons. Feels like it was just yesterday that I watched man and woman alike tear themselves to shreds, the memory is enough to bring a smile to my face.
         The wind carries in a blast of snow filled air when the door opens. Caught in the maelstrom of downy flakes is a man in a trench coat, Josh, I call him. I can’t be sure how many times he has been here, but it’s safe for me to call him a regular.
         “Hot damn, Louie, this snow is crazy.” He says, shaking himself off and stomping his feet on the floorboards.
         “You can thank the Democrats for that.”
         “Might wanna make it a double tonight.” He leaves his coat hanging on the hook by the door and makes his way over to the stool.
         “Way ahead of you pardner.”
         “Thank you, thank you.” He downs half of the rye before sitting down.
         “Rough day?” I ask, before replacing what he drank.
         “Yeah, you can say that.”
         When Josh first met me he was just a confused kid. He was twelve, going on thirteen, and first love had really taken a toll. His parent’s found him still swinging from the rafters in the basement. While they were pulling him down and administering CPR and calling the paramedics, I was helping him up off of the ground. In his mind, happiness was never going to happen. Every smile he had would always be forced. What was the point? Is the question he asked me. I told him that was for him to decide, everyone has a different take on the matter. It was obvious that he didn’t want to stay, so I sent him back. He wasn’t the first that I took pity on.
         “You want to talk about it?”
         “Nah, not really.” He closes his eyes and rests his head in his hands. I could touch him and see exactly what seems to be the bother, but that would be a breech of our mutual trust. Our silent agreement is that I don’t employ my typical tricks on him and he doesn’t tell people that I’m secretly a nice guy.
         “Sounded like you came in a ways away, did Karen bring you?”
         “You know it. Two pieces, fucking bargin if you ask me. I would’ve froze to death if she hadn’t pulled up.”
         “Yeah, she has a knack for knowing where the lost roam.”
         “Say, it’s pretty quiet in here tonight, what gives?”
         “That is the million dollar question.”
         The door bursts open and a pale skinned man stumbles his way in.
         “You mind closing that Mac, you’re letting all the warm air out.” Josh says from his stool.
         “Oh, oh, yeah.” The man replies, turning and pushing the door shut like it weighs a thousand pounds. “Sorry, sorry.” He limps his way to the stool near the door and drags himself onto it. “How about something to warm the bones?” He asks.
         “You want that neat?”
         “That’ll work.”
         “Coming right up.” I grab the bottle of FireWater and pour it into a glass. Sparks whiz past the rim as the black fluid settles.
         “How is that stuff?” Josh, asks in a whisper.
         “Oh, it tastes like hell.” I say smiling.
         “You fella’s are going to think I sound crazy.” The newcomer says, “but, I don’t know where I am.”
         “You’re at a bar, Lou’s Place, to be exact.”
         “You Lou?” He asks, pointing at me.
         “Yup, I’m Lou.” I say before sending the drink sliding down towards the end of the bar. As soon as the man grabs it he begins to scream. The process of the glass fusing to his hand is not without pain.
         “Jesus! Sweet Jesus! What is happening.” He screams, unable to lift the glass from the bar or himself from the stool. I don’t usually like to do these types of things whenever Josh is around, but being a slow night and all means I have been starved for some entertainment.
         “Jesus?” I laugh, stepping towards him with an outstretched hand. “That’s who you are calling upon now?” It’s the fear in his eyes, the recognition, that always gets me excited. “Jesus has no plan for you now.” The nail of my thumb digs into the flesh of his forehead, piercing the veil that covers his third eye. No blood trickles from the wound, only a dingy yellow light. The screaming stops as his eyes roll back. “Let us see what brought you here tonight.” My other hand moves up and pokes the power button on the television hanging above the bar and on screen the final moments of this man’s life come into view.
         “What a sick fuck.” Josh says, watching the screen. “They were just children. Come on Lou, haven’t you seen enough?”
         “Just wait. Here comes the good part.” We watch everything unfold through his eyes as he throws a shovel full of dirt into the shallow grave. He pauses, looking down at the girl’s bloody face and the dirty teddy bear next to her. Then comes the light, sweeping through the trees. He drops the shovel. There is a voice, yelling “Police! Freeze!”. He runs, panting as he jumps a creek bed and vaults over a downed tree. A gun comes into view, in his hand. Shots are fired. A grunt comes from his mouth and he looks down, placing a hand on his chest. It is a fatal shot to the heart. The last thing he sees before he dies is a starless sky. I pull my thumbnail from his head and he slumps over onto the bar. “Fifteen victims.” I say, walking away from him and back to Josh.
         “Shouldn’t have been hard to decide to send him here.” Josh says as I fill his glass.
         “Funny thing is, he is the one that made that decision.”
         “Well yeah, I mean, he did those horrible things.” He picks up his glass.
         “No, he made the choice. He believed that he was coming here, so he did.” I lean back against the wall and cross my arms. “Same reason you came here when you were a kid. You had learned that taking your own life meant eternal damnation, so it did. If you had believed that killing yourself meant you went straight to heaven, or even if it would send you to a land of gumballs and bullshit, that’s where you would have ended up.”
         “I guess that makes sense.” He says, but the way his brow is furrowed makes me think he doesn’t fully understand. “So, like, could I create my own version of hell?”
         “No, no, it doesn’t quite work like that. Do you think that guy thought he was going to get picked up in a snow storm by some broody broad and dropped off at a bar operated by the Devil himself?” I chuckle. “Course not. All he knew is he was going to hell for the things he did. He probably imagined a lot of demons and fire and sulphurous seas. Sure, that would’ve been the case some years ago, but I got sick of that. All the whipping and yelling and banishing. It’s exhausting.”
         “So you started this place, where you could low key torture people.”
         “Hey bud, I provide a service here. It’s not all jerk-offs like that one who come in here. Sure, we get the few here and there, but some people…” I sigh and look at the clock on the wall, two minutes to four. “Let me put it this way, some people believe in me way more than they believe in themselves. People that are down on their luck or haven’t had the easiest of lives. Look at you, you thought I was the one making you miserable as a kid. I don’t mess with people’s lives, they do a good enough job of that on their own. A good majority of the people that come here don’t deserve it.”
         “Yeah, I guess it’s just human nature to expect punishment?”
         “It’s human nature to expect the worst of things to happen. You people, you just try to find excuses for failure instead of finding examples of success.”
         “Having to die doesn’t help.” Josh says, leaning back in the stool.
         “No, but again, you only have yourselves to blame for that. Death is just a transfer of energy, y’all went and made it sound so damn bleak and permanent. It’s downright depressing to think that all those hours lived amount to nothing. Just a big span of wasted time. No wonder I’m always sending people back from suicide attempts.”
         “I should probably get going, Louie, gotta work tomorrow.” He leaves his half finished drink on the bar when he gets up. “I know that if I don’t go now, Gaap and Stolas are going to keep me here all night shooting the shit.”
         “Those two love to talk, that’s for sure.”
         “Thanks for the drinks, what’s the damage.” He makes a motion like he is chopping his hand off.
         “Nah, get out of here, kid. You know your limbs have no value in this establishment.”
         “One day.”
         “I hope not, Mr. East, I hope not.” He smiles and walks to the door, pulling his trench coat off the hook. Just as he vanishes into the blizzard outside the child rapist starts to stir. When his head lifts up, he sees my smiling face, each tooth in my mouth slowly transforming to a point. Two horns sprout from my forehead as I run a hand through my black hair. “We are going to have so much fun tonight.” I’m sure that Josh can hear his screams outside.

LJ Idol - Week 19: I can't get calm


         Welcome back, Watchers, to another saga of television terror. Tonight we have for you a tale of time and how history comes back to fright you. I present, Tick-Tock.

         Sitting in the television lit living room is where we find Darby Hanson, doing what he does every night. The remote in one hand and a nearly empty beer can in the other, he yawns, his thumb jabbing the button to surf the channels like a seasoned professional. “Bullshit. Bullshit. Stupid. Rerun. Scam.” He tips back the beer and finishes it, just as the channel lands on the nightly news. “Shit. Time for another. Lucy! Lucy! Bring me another brew!” He calls out, before turning his attention to the blonde newscaster on the screen, mumbling “damn, I would give my left nut to take a ride on that” to himself. In the box next to her head is the promise of breaking news. “Breaking news? My wife is deaf, that’s the breaking fucking news here. Lucy! Beer!” He starts to push the leg rest of his recliner down and right before it locks into place he hears the slap of her slippers on the linoleum. “Bout time,” he groans out, letting his foot rest spring back up.
         Diane Culler, on the news, starts talking about how authorities have apprehended the man they believe to have been terrorizing the western states of the U.S. for the past fifteen years, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake. The words next to Diane’s head change into a mug shot, it is a man that Darby thinks he recognizes but cannot recall, that is until Diane says his name. She calls him John Carplin, and Darby screams loud enough that Lucy fears he is going to wake Luke, though she would never tell him that.
         Darby shoves up from his chair shouting “John Carplin, John fucking Carplin. I knew it, Jesus, I knew it.”
         “Who are you yelling about, hun?” Lucy asks, as she walks into the living room holding out the unopened can.
         He snatches it out of her hand and puts a finger up. “Shhh, shhh, I’m trying to listen.”
         Diane talks about how Mr. Carplin is believed to be the Rest Station Ripper, the perpetrator of close to two dozen brutal murders of females ranging in age from thirteen to thirty-five. As she continues, Darby, begins plunging his free hand into the crevices of the recliner. Lucy watches him grow increasingly more irritated before “wha...What are you looking for?” comes from her mouth.
         “My cell, my damn cellphone.”
         “It...it’s in.”
         “Where is it?” He stomps towards her, his left hand raised.
         “The bedroom, in the bedroom.” She winces, preparing for a blow that doesn’t land.
         “Why didn’t you say so sooner?”
         “I, I’m sorry.”
         “Well...go and get it!”
         Lucy scurries down the hallway, the belt to her bathrobe dragging behind her. Darby paces the small area of carpet between the recliner and the talking newscaster, finding it hard to hear her words over his wife’s slapping slippers. “Speak up, bitch!” He yells at the screen before grabbing the remote and holding down the volume up button. Diane screams to him that police apprehended Mr. Carplin two days ago, during a routine traffic stop. Darby finishes his beer and crushes the can, dropping it to the floor.
         “Turn that down!” Lucy, yells over Diane.
         “You’re going to wake your son.” She wants to reach for the remote, though not wanting another broken finger keeps her from doing so.
         Before she can offer the phone to him, he yanks it out of her hand and shoves her back into the wall. “Now fuck off, I’ve some calls to make.” He flips the phone open and pecks out a number before pressing it to his ear.
         “Darby, please, the tee-vee, Luke isn’t feeling well.” Lucy, pleads.
         Darby stomps towards her, his hand cocked back. She cowers, cornered. He stops, “Hey, Jackass.” He says into the phone. “What? Course I know what time it is. Listen...Turn on the news. Just turn on the news idiot. You seeing this shit?” Lucy tries to slide past him, he grabs her shoulder and pins her to the wall. “You’re goddamn right that is the same one. Yeah, that we went to school with. Yeah, the one that was fucking that Ashley broad.” Lucy squirms under his grip. “You remember, I always said he was a psycho. No, no, fuck you man, fuck you, you always thought he was a nice guy. Everyone of you dipshits thought he was just the greatest, no one wanted to listen to me.”
         “Mama?” Luke’s voice calls out from the hallway. “Mama, what’s happening?”
         “Hold on.” Darby says into the phone, pulling it back and pressing it to his chest. His hot beer breath cascades over Lucy’s face as he leans into her and says “take care of him” then shoves her away by her head. She slips away and down the hall, wrapping a protective arm around Luke and guiding him to his room.
         “No, I didn’t hear that. Stupid kid came out here. What did she say? Get the fuck out. So he wouldn’t let them search his car? He had blood on his pants? There was a body in the trunk? Ha, hell yeah man, hell yeah!” Darby walks into the kitchen and opens the fridge. “Hold up. I said hold up goddamnit. Lucy! Lucy! I best not be out of beer. Lucy!” When she doesn’t respond he slams the fridge shut and opens the freezer. Hidden behind a stack of microwave dinners is a half-empty frosty bottle of whiskey, he smiles and pulls it out. “Did Diane just say they are getting a warrant to search his house?” He unscrews the cap and tosses it in the trash, knowing full well this bottle isn’t going back in it’s hidey-hole.
         “Let’s get down to brass tacks here, I need your brother’s phone number. Why? Because me and that big time hollywood agent had a bet, that’s why. Don’t worry about the details, that’s between me and him.” He tags a swig from the bottle and winces, “Whoo, I’m gonna be loaded. You got his number? Yeah, let me get a pen. I said let me get a fucking pen.” Darby sets the bottle down on the kitchen table and finds a pen in the third drawer he opens. With his arm raised and the tip of the pen poised between barbed wire and the reaper's scythe, he says “go.”
         “Two one three five eight one eight one four oh, got it. No, I aint telling you how much.” He tosses the pen to the table and picks the bottle back up, placing his hand in the clear print around the neck where he had held it before. “I’m going to try calling him. Yeah. No, they are talking about some dog that might be the next big singing star. Probably say more tomorrow I’d imagine. Can’t wait to hear what freaky shit they find in his house. Who is that, Melissa? Giver a swat on the ass from me. Haha, yeah, yeah, okay.” He hangs up the phone and tips back the bottle again.
         “Okay, okay,” he says to himself, trying to read the writing on his arm as he punches the numbers into his phone. The first time he dials, he mistakes the second eight for another nine and gets the voicemail of some old guy named Earnesto. The second time he tries he hits two fours at the end and gets an out of service message. “Goddamnit! Son of a bitch!” Whiskey always had a way of making his vision go blurry.
         Swaying down the hall, bottle in one hand and phone in the other, he yells “Lucy! Get the fuck out here and call this number.”
         Right before he bursts into Luke’s room, the door opens and Lucy slides out. “Darby, calm down, please, you’re scaring your son.”
         “Calm down! Calm down! I can’t calm down, we are going to be rich!” He coughs and rubs his side.
         “What do you mean?”
         “I made a bet, Lucy, a long time ago. I bet this guy at school that John Carplin was a serial killer. Fuck, everyone thought I was crazy. Thought I hated the guy because he was so popular. I hated him because he had everyone fooled. Cept me that is. No, I seen right through his bullshit. I seen the way he looked at girls, how he talked about ‘em. They were just toys to him, scumbag.” Darby is leaning against the wall, nursing the last quarter of whiskey in the bottle. “I can’t read what I wrote on my arm,” he holds it up, trying to get her to read it in the dark.
         “I can’t make it out, hun. Why don’t we go in the living room? We can turn down the tee-vee and turn on some lights?” One thing she was thankful for in her life was that Darby had the tendency to be less hostile when he drank liquor. The problem was, he barely ever drank liquor.
         “Yeah,” he puts his back to the wall. “Sure,” he starts to slide, but she catches him. “Okay, alright, I’m good, laughing so much my chest hurts.”
         “How much did you drink, babe?” Lucy asks, as she slips under his arm and helps him towards the living room.
         “All the beer, I guess, thanks for telling me we ran out.” He answers, plopping down in the recliner. “Listen, Luce, I’m sorry I’ve been such a dick lately. No, No, I mean it. It’s just, they’ve been laying guys off left and right down at the shop and I’m just waiting for my head, my head to be on the block.”
         Lucy looks at the floor to avoid looking at him. If he sees her crying she doesn’t know what he will do. If he starts crying she doesn’t know what she will do. A crying Darby is almost the worst kind. “Hey, you still want me to call your friend?” she asks, picking up the remote and turning the television down to a whisper.
         “Yeah, his name is Zack, he’s Arnie’s older brother.”
         “Oh, I can’t talk to him. Don’t you think it would be better if you did?”
         “You’re probably right. Just, just dial the number for me.” Darby says, rubbing his chest.
         Lucy turns on the reading light next to the recliner and takes Darby’s hand away from his chest, extending his arm so she can read the number, she dials it and presses the phone into his hand. The arm slowly bends and presses the phone to his ear. Darby laughs and gives a gasping cough. “Hello to you, too, you son of a bitch.” He says, smiling. “I would hope you were expecting this call. So, you got the money? Bank account number? Yeah…” He coughs, and rubs the cold whiskey bottle on his chest. “Yeah, I’ve heard of a wire transfer. I ain’t a retard.” He groans and coughs again. “Sure, I’m fine. Just got myself all excited. Can’t barely breathe.” He closes his eyes, “Luce, get the checkbook.”
         “Uh, sure, yeah.” Lucy says, looking at how her husband’s face seems to be draining of color in front of her eyes. “It’s in the bedroom, I think.”
         “The bedroom.” Cough. “Everything is in the fucking bedroom.” wheeze “I didn’t ask.” Cough, cough. “I didn’t ask where it.” Cough. “Just get the damn thing.”
         He listens to Lucy slap her way down the hall and hears the nightstand drawer open and close. Her returning footsteps echo like fireworks, he coughs and the phone slips from his hand to the floor.
         When Lucy enters the living room the first thing she notices is the way Darby’s mouth is hanging open, his blue lips slightly twitching. The bottle of whiskey is resting between his legs and the hand that held it is clutching his chest. She bends down and plucks the phone from the floor, putting it to her ear. “Hi, Zack, this is Lucy, Darby’s wife. I’m great, how are you? I agree, that is a lot of money, a deal is a deal though.” She laughs. “How about I give you our account information?” She asks.

         With a final look into Darby’s bulging eyes, Lucy picks up the remote, and hits the power button watching the screen flick off like the light in his gaze. With that, the Rest Station Ripper claims his final victim.

LJ Idol - Second Chance Week 6: Milkshake Duck

        The Scream

         The voice calls out from the darkness. At least, it sounds like a voice. The makings of a voice. That is to say, the sound calling for him seems to have organic origins. It isn’t speaking in words. Just tones. An aria of sustained notes that hold no meaning beyond what they might register on a musical scale. They make his bones feel soft and cause tears to stream from his eyes. He wants to find the source, has to find the source. Something brushes his shoulder, grasps his elbow, and yanks him backwards into the world of light and life.
         “I told you to stay behind the red line, you didn’t stay behind the red line.” Agent North says from behind him.
         He does not respond, instead he wipes his eyes and focuses on the monitor that shows a live feed of the conch shell inside a glass display case thirty yards from where they stand. He looks to the floor and sees red line after red line, easily a dozen, painted between him and the shell.
         “Its reach keeps expanding. We used to be able to get close to it; now, nothing we know of can keep a person from falling into the shadows when they cross the line.”
         “What it is?”
         “You heard it. You know what it is .” North corrects him.
         “A seashell.”
         “It’s the Siren Shell. Let’s go, that’s not what we are here for.”
         He takes a deep breath and follows after her, their footsteps muffled by the carpeted halls in The Observatory. “I am required by protocol to ask you if you are experiencing any phantom tastes or smells right now, could be a sign you brought a piece of the Shell out with you.”
         “No, no, I’m good. But listen,” he calls from behind her “I don’t think I’m cut out for this job.”
         “That makes two of us, but the higher ups want you out in the field, so you are going out in the field.” She swipes her keycard at the elevator and the doors open with a ding. He watches as she walks in, but he can’t bring himself to cross the threshold. Her hand wraps around the door as it starts to close and pushes it back open. “You can either get in here with me, or you can hang out on the fifth floor of the observatory until another agent with clearance comes and rescues you.”
         Without further question he steps into the brass walled box. “There aren’t any buttons.”
         “Very astute observation. I see why they selected you.” North says before pressing her hand to a spot on the wall that lacks the luster of the surrounding metal. The doors close. He waits to feel movement, to hear machinery, nothing happens. “You got the briefing report, correct?”
         “Uh, yeah, but you see…”
         “You didn’t read it.”
         “I meant to, but until yesterday they had me doing my old job while preparing for this one.”
         “This is the part where I might normally ask you what your job was, but seeing as I did read the brief they gave me regarding you, my new partner, I don’t have to ask you any stupid questions.” She leans back against the railing on the wall and looks at the ceiling as if she is expecting something.
         “What happened to your last partner?” He stares up at the ceiling with her.
         “The same thing that is going to happen to you if you don’t listen.”
         His gaze shoots from the ceiling to her. “He died, you mean?” There is no hiding the panic in his voice.
         “Worse,” she doesn’t look at him, “he lost his mind. Before you say ‘what happened’ let me tell you. We were searching for the Fountain of Truth, yes, truth, not youth. It is an Inkwell rumored to make people believe whatever is written with its ink. There is claim that it was used to draft the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, among other highly publicized and life altering pieces of literature dating back to who even knows when.” She kicks off one of her flats and reaches down to scratch her foot. “So we are looking for this thing, but the problem is that it is impossible not to believe every false lead we get. You see a slip of paper that says ‘The inkwell is up your ass’ and you're going to the proctologist to get it removed. Catch my drift?”
         “Did you find it?” He watches her slip her shoe back on.
         “Oh yeah, we found it. Problem was, when we found it we had to verify contact with the object. My partner wrote himself a little note on a slip of paper and when he read it, he went insane.”
         “What did it say?”
         “I don’t fucking know what it said, if I knew what it said I would be crazy too.”
         “Right. Forgot about that.” He looks to his feet. “Why didn’t you just write a note saying that he was sane or something?”
         “That’s a great idea, I wish I would’ve thought of it before he destroyed the inkwell.”
         “I didn’t think you could destroy these things.”
         “You are a pencil pusher, a desk jockey, you write up reports on the shit that makes it back into the facility. It’s true, most of the artifacts we collect are impervious to damage, but some, some of them only exist because they are too alluring for people to destroy. No one will melt the keys to the world. We are here.” She says as the doors open.
         He turns and looks out the doors to see a meadow with woods off in the distance. There is a dirt path leading towards a cabin with smoke coming from its chimney. .
         “TDE, before you ask.”
         “A Trans Dimensional Elevator! Wow, I never thought I would get the chance. I mean…” He watches as she walks past him and takes notice of the way the sunlight makes her red hair shine.
         “Keep it in your pants Desk Jockey, we have a reason for being here.”
         Again he follows after her, walking down the dirt path. “What is that reason?”
         “Shoulda read the report.”
         “This place looks so familiar to me, it looks like…”
         “Like a Bob Ross painting.”
         “Yes! Exactly like that.”
         “Because it is.”
         “Wait. What?”
         North stops and turns to him with a sigh. “I don’t have time to go into the peculiarities of TDT, suffice it to say that no one has ever imagined anything that does not already exist. You following, DJ?”
         “Desk Jockey, That's what I’m calling you until you prove you’re something else.”
         “Oh, okay. You mean that Bob Ross didn’t just paint stuff that he made up?”
         North pinches the bridge of her nose and closes her eyes. “No one makes up anything, that is the thing. Everything is something and nothing is made of nothing.” Her hand falls to her side as she opens her eyes. “The human brain, it sees into parallel realities. We are taught to believe this as imagination because what is the use in knowing something truly exists but not being able to exist with it?”
         “I...I don’t know.”
         “Exactly.” She turns her back to him and continues walking down the dirt path.
         The sun is warm on his face as he follows her. The air smells different than anything he has ever before smelled, clean but subtly sweet. The word virginal comes to his mind. This is a virginal world, he thinks, untainted by the brutality of man. Even the trees, softly bending in the breeze, seem happy.
         “I’m going to ask you to wait outside the cabin. The Witch isn’t fond of strangers.” She says as she knocks three times on the door and slips inside. Like that, his chance to protest is gone.
         When he walks off of the dirt path, the grass screams under his feet. “Jesus!” He leaps back. “The hell was that?”
         “The grass.” North says from behind him. “Come on, we have what we came here for.”
         “Is that a plate of cookies, Agent?”
         “Sure is.” She strolls past him carrying an orange ceramic plate piled high with what appear to be chocolate chip cookies. “We have to hurry.”
         The elevator doors are still standing open when they arrive. A rectangle hole of brass set against the horizon. She steps in, he follows. “You mind putting your hand there, on that spot I touched before?” North gestures with her chin. “I would, but I don’t want to risk dropping these.”
         “Here?” He points.
         “Yeah, just put your hand there and think about The Scream by Edvard Munch.”
         “Umm, okay…”
         His hand nearly makes contact with the spot before North steps to block him. “DJ, you have to think about the painting first. I mean, really visualize it. Otherwise, who knows where we will end up.”
         “You know, why don’t you just do it. I don’t think I’m up to the task.”
         “These cookies aren’t leaving my hands until I set them on the conference room desk. Now visualize and put your hand against the wall.” She cleared the way.
         He closed his eyes and wondered if the sky was orange or red? The water, was it blue or green? Was the person screaming for certain a man or could it have been a woman? Did he even know if it was a person? It could just be some genderless, speciesless entity derived from the artist’s nightmares. Wait, if that thing was painted that means it exists, he really didn’t want to go visit that painting and listen to the anguished wails coming from that thing’s black rimmed mouth.
         “We don’t have all day!” North barked.
         He jumped and slapped his hand to the brass, the doors closed, he opened his eyes and backed into the corner. “We aren’t visiting that painting next, are we?”
         “No,” North laughed softly. “That takes us to the director’s office, rumor is that the universe that painting exists in has been closed off for quite a while.”
         “Whew.” He lets out a sigh.
         “Listen, DJ...Agent East, I’m sorry I was so hostile before.”
         “No, no need to apologize.”
         “Yes, there is. I think we will be good partners, today was just a bad day to start.”
         “You going to tell me about the cookies?”
         “They are the Director’s favorite and I got tasked with getting them.”
         “Why did you seem so on edge before?”
         “The Witch is unpredictable, It’s not like I can just call her and order these for pick up. Sometimes she is more than happy to take the time to bake them, other times not so much. You walk into her house and you risk not walking out again.” North looks down at the plate and smiles to herself.
         “You weren’t in there very long.”
         “She said she sensed we were coming, had just pulled them out of the oven when the elevator arrived.”
         “Is that common?”
         “Never happened with her before, but I’ll take it.”
         To East, the silence between them felt comfortable for the first time since they had been introduced this morning. This woman had a confidence that made him feel safe. Like she could lead him into the fires of hell and as long as he listened he’d live to tell the tale.
         “I bet you seen some crazy artifacts doing your old job.” North says.
         “There were a few.” He nods and smiles.
         “What was the worst one?”
         “In regards to?”
         “What one broke your heart, East?” North looked him in the eyes.
         He was pretty sure he knew what her ‘worst one’ was and he feigned a moment of deep thought to conjure his own. It didn’t take him much work. Not since he had written the case file on it five years ago has this particular artifact left his mind. “Have you ever heard of the Corbious Camera?”
         “No...No, I don’t think I have.”
         “Well, it all started when this guy was driving drunk and T-boned the car his kids were in.”

LJ Idol - Second Chance Week 5: Moonshot

        Another Star

          The way he tells it, sitting across from me, is that the timing was inconsequential but perfect. After months of trying every piece had finally fallen in place. Well, almost every piece. He still needed to lock down the proper coordinates. He still needed to figure out how the seemingly random pattern of numbers designated a specific line of time. Sure, he could just keep going, starting with the lowest one, taking picture after picture after picture until one of them showed him what he needed to see. What he wanted to see. For now though, just looking at the picture on the screen was enough to give him hope. It was a long exposure shot of the night sky, packed tight with little streaks of moving starlight. That isn’t what gave him hope. What gave him hope was the second moon resting behind and to the left of the one he always knew existed. The second moon that didn’t orbit around his world played satellite to another one, he just didn’t know how far away.
            He picked up the phone on his desk and dialed the number for home. He didn’t yet know exactly how he would explain this to Nancy. He just hoped the words would come. Would she be relieved to finally know the reason why he had been staying at the shop far past closing time? When she answered, it was time for him to find out.
            “Do you have any idea how late it is?” She said, in a drowsy voice.
            “Nance, Nance, I’ve done it.”
            “Harold? Is that you?”
            “Yes, Nancy, you need to come down to the shop.”
            “Do you have any idea of the time, Harold? It is nearly four in the morning. Come home, Harry. Please, come home...Are you alright? You sound…”
            “Excited!” He yelled “I am excited! Don’t you understand, I’ve done it!”
            “What, Harold? What have you done?” He could tell she was annoyed.
            “I’ve found a way to get our children back.”
            “You there?”
            “I don’t...Harold...I don’t understand.” She sounded less tired; more tearful.
            “Just get your butt down to the shop and I will explain everything.”
            “Okay, okay, let me get dressed.”
            Harold moved to hang up the phone then quickly pulled it back to his face. “Oh, and Nancy, I love you.”
            “I love you too, Harry.”
            While he waited for her to arrive he poured himself a nice glass of scotch and lit a cigar, barely taking his eyes off of the shot of two moons for more than a second. The problem he had now was finding a version of his children that would want to make the trip, and beyond that problem lied another, how would he get this ability into their hands?
            The little bell on the main door rang out when Nancy came in, carrying with her a gust of autumn air. The breeze caused the antique signs on the walls to rattle softly, and carried a few loose invoices from the checkout counter down to the battered wooden floor. “Harold?” She called out from the dark.
            “Down here babe!” He hollered from the basement.
            He listened to her unsure footsteps as they went from wood to carpet to stairs. He could hear her sniffling as she got closer. When he saw the crumpled tissues clutched in her hand he wondered if she was crying out of joy to have her kids back, or out of a fear that she had lost her husband, too.
            As she walked towards where he sat behind the computer she spoke. “Harold, I don’t know what you’re getting on about, but our children are gone. They are dead.”
            “Nance, please, just take a look at this.” He pushed his chair back and pointed to the computer screen.
            She didn’t see what he wanted her to see at first. “What, what is it I am looking at?”
            “It’s the sky, Nancy. It’s a two hour exposure that I took last night.”
            “So…” She looked at him, “It’s blurry, is that what is so special?”
            “No, look to the left of the moon.”
            She looked back to the screen and squinted. “What is that, glare or something?”
            “It’s another moon, Nancy. A second moon.”
            “Looks like glare to me.”
            “Are you fucking!” He yelled before stopping and taking a breath. “Are you crazy? Look at it, look, look. Look! That is not glare.” He slapped the desk.
            “Listen, I don’t see what difference it makes.” She said, walking back towards the stairs. “It is glare, it isn’t glare. It’s a second moon. It could be a picture of goddamn Bigfoot for all I care. The thing, Harold, is this. What. Difference. Does. It. Make. Huh? I don’t see how this has anything to do with our children. What I do see is a man that has all but abandoned his wife for the past several months so he could do what? Take pictures of the sky? I’m going home, Harold. I’m going home and I suggest you do the same.” She had started crying again just as her foot hit the first step.
            He jumped up and ran towards her, yanking the camera from the desk as he did. “I can show you, I can prove it to you. I can prove it to you.” He shook the camera in the air.
            “Prove what!” She screamed, as she stepped back and moved towards him. Her hands clenched in raised fists that started battering his chest as the tears came harder. “They are gone! They are gone!” He didn’t mind that she was hitting him, he only cared about the camera, that is why he wrapped his arms around it like a mother defending a baby until his wife ran out of steam. “They are gone and you are too!” She fell to her knees and sobbed into her hands.
             He kneeled beside her, placing the camera on the ground, then placing his hands on her heaving shoulders and pulling her in for a hug. “I know, I know. Sssssh, sssssh. It’s alright, sweetie. I’m sorry I haven’t been around. I’m so sorry.” She hooked her arms under his and gripped him tightly. He had never felt so happy to feel her tear wet face against his neck. “Just, let me show you, please.”
            She didn’t stop crying immediately, in fact, they embraced on that cold concrete floor for nearly an hour. His hands rubbing her back and smoothing her hair as she soaked the shoulder of his shirt through.
            When she regained her composure, she said “Okay, I don’t know what you are trying to prove, but prove it.”
            He pulled away from her and kissed her forehead before wiping her cheeks with his thumbs. “Thank you.”
            It took him longer than he had liked to find something he knew would work. He told Nancy to sit down as he placed his battered issue of Action Comics #1 on the checkout counter. “Now, how this works, how I think this works, is...well, Nancy, it’s like a portal. If I take a picture of something that doesn’t exist in the same time and place that the camera is linked up to, it will put that thing there.”
             “I’m not following. Like, like a copy of the thing?” She was looking at him with a very concerned face.
             “No, no, just watch.” He lifted the camera and put the comic into frame, the flash went off, and the comic was gone.
            She laughed in a tone that hid her fear. It was the laugh of a person that had just seen some magic trick they couldn’t begin to understand. There was delight and terror in that laugh. “You shoved it off, didn’t you? When the flash went off, you pushed it.” She got up and walked around behind the counter. “Where is it? What did you do with it.” He turned the camera and showed it to her. The comic was there, but that is where any similarities ended, because instead of sitting on the glass countertop it was sitting on what appeared to be a lush forest floor. Not only that, but it was next to a remarkably large footprint that could only belong to a dinosaur. She gave the laugh again. “What now?” She asked.
             “Now we have to find the time and place that our kids still exist. I have an idea about that.”
            He took the camera to the apartment his daughter lived in and set it up on a tripod facing the corner her dining room table was in. Every ten seconds the universal code would change and the camera would take a picture. Just in case the building didn’t exist in any of the places it was really taking pictures of, he shut off its ability to transmit data and allowed it only to receive.
            The camera sat there for twenty-four days, taking over two million photos, photos that wirelessly beamed to the cloud so he could review them at home. Twenty-four long, terrible days where his hope and Nancy’s patience began to plummet. After the first day of looking through the pictures for any sign of life, he decided to purchase a program that could detect specific parameters in a photograph. This not only saved him time, it also saved his sanity. He had witnessed second hand just how much worse this world could have been, though, there were a couple times everything looked like paradise.
            The photo, dated on the twenty-fourth day, at one-oh-six a.m., finally showed him what he wanted to see. It was a picture of me, sitting at the dining room table. I had several beer cans in front of me and appeared to be crying while staring at a photograph. He could tell it was of him and mom.
            He didn’t tell her that he had found me. He didn’t want to get her hopes up. Instead he rushed to the apartment and stopped the camera. He typed in the universe code that had shown up on the picture of me and set the camera back to transmit. The twenty-four days had given him time to think about how he would get the camera to me, and he had spent a couple days crafting the box. It was a wooden box with mirrors on the inside. Four that surrounded the camera, one on the bottom, and one on the lid. He placed it on the counter next to the sink, set the camera to go off in thirty seconds, put it in the box and waited. When he opened the box back up, the camera was gone. The rest, as he says it, is history.
             “Why didn’t the box come through?” I ask, as his thumb rubs my fingers.
             “It doesn’t work with mirrors, I found out. It will only transfer what it sees in the mirror.” He smiles.
             “Why did you use that comic? Isn’t that a rare comic?”
             “It was ratty, it was also the first time I took a picture of anything other than the sky.” He says.
             “Because if it worked, and if it sent something there that didn’t belong, no one would notice another star in the sky.”
             “What if that moon didn’t belong?”
             “Our moon was never in my shot.”   

LJ Idol - Second Chance Week 4: Backwards and in Heels


            She didn’t have to be on her third glass of Chardonnay before the potato skins arrived for Maxwell to know this date wasn’t going well, but she is. Each sip taken in response to Maxwell’s attempts at small talk.
            “I hear their burgers are good.” He says.
            She takes a sip.
            “How is the wine?” He asks.
            She takes a sip.
            “What are you thinking about getting?”
            Again, she takes a sip.
            It wasn’t like they had never talked before. Maxwell had at least 200 texts they had exchanged. Through that newage instantaneous correspondence they had laughed, learned, and ultimately liked what they had seen in the other. He felt like he knew her before this date, and perhaps that was the problem, now they had nothing to talk about.
            “I think I’ll have a beer.”
            She takes a sip and sets the glass down. “Better get the short one.” She says from behind her menu.
            “What is that supposed to mean?”
            “I don’t like liars, Max.”
            “How, what? Why am I a liar? And you know I hate being called ‘Max’”.
            She picks her glass up, empties it into her mouth, and dumps the rest of the bottle into it. “When I read something on a person's profile, I expect it to be accurate.” The bottle stays inverted, as if she is hoping more liquid falls out.
            “What about it did you find inaccurate, Candace?” He sets his menu down in front of himself and folds his hands. “I believe I was quite upfront about my personal details.”
            “Oh, whatever.” She says something under her breath that he can’t quite hear. “You said that women find your size intimidating.”
            “With a winky face, yeah.” He smiles.
            The waiter, Sean, comes over with Potato Skins on a plate. “Here ya folks go! One order of Twice Baked Tater Bites. Have we decided on an Entree?” He slides the dish onto the table. “Would you like some recommendations?”
            “No thank you, Sean. I think we are all set.” Candace says with a smile as she places her hand on Sean’s still outstretched forearm. “I’ll have the chicken caesar salad, and can I get another bottle of that Chardonnay?”
            “Certainly!” With his arm still under her hand, Sean smiles and looks to Maxwell. “And for you, sir?”
            Maxwell is glad he hasn’t unrolled his napkin and exposed the eating utensils inside, if he had, he would’ve stabbed the fork right through the manicured hand of Sean. “I’ll just have a tall Blue Moon, and the Steak Skillet. Medium.”
            “So you don’t want the wine...or?” His arm hadn’t pulled away from Candace.
            “Oh, the wine is mine sweetie.” Candace says, squeezing Sean’s arm and smiling up at him.
            “Cool cool, totally cool, I’ll go put that order in for you two and bring those drinks on over.” The way his arm slides from her hand is casual in a primal way. And as Maxwell unwraps his silverware he thinks about how it looked as programmed as a reflex. That this six-foot Bradley Cooper looking son-of-a-bitch has been sliding away from girls like this his entire life. The thought made Maxwell start to feel like Madswell.
            Madswell, a name he hated until he didn’t. His older sister had started calling him that when he would have his little outbursts. “Oh look, Madswell punched another hole in the wall.” Or “Nice going, Madswell, Dad is going to whoop your ass for breaking that window.” Madswell, once his archnemesis; now his suit of armor. If Maxwell felt overwhelmed or overworked or underappreciated or unloved or disrespected or mocked or slighted in the slightest, Madswell had a tendency to show up.
            “He seems nice.” Candace says, her gaze following Sean.
            “You really think so? Why?”
            “Just, you know, like, real attentive and laid back.” She is watching Sean type in the order at his terminal.
            “You’re fucking kidding me, right? He didn’t even take our damn menus. We have been here for almost half an hour and he hasn’t brought over water. He is a grade A douchebag.”
            Her eyes snap to Maxwell. “I don’t appreciate that type of language, Max.”
            Maxwell closes his eyes and feels his throat tighten with a specific sense of anxiety that has been his lifelong passenger. When they open he is no longer the driver of his vehicle, he knows that Madswell has taken the wheel. “I don’t appreciate coming out on this date, after weeks of talking, and being treated like I barely exist.”
            “Well, I’m just curious,” she pokes at a potato skin with her fork “what else did you lie to me about? Are you even really an accountant?”
            “I never lied to you.”
            “Yes. yes you did.” She puts her fork down, glugs her wine. “You said women find your size intimidating. I only date guys six foot or taller. Who would find you intimidating?”
            “I said that with a winky face, a fucking winky face. Jesus, I was talking about my dick. I figured that was obvious.” Madswell shook his head, smiled to himself. “What is it with you broads and your height standards now.”
            “Oh your dick! HaHA. You didn’t say you were a comedian.” Her wine glass was empty. “Listen, dude, I have a kid, you know. You know I have a kid, and man, just, I’m trying to find a guy he can look up to. Not, not…” She started laughing, “Not a guy he can just push around.”
            “Really? That's where you’re going. A fucking cripple joke?” Silverware rattles and a potato skin jumps off of the plate when Madswell slams his fists down on the table. “You fucking cunt.” He growls under his breath.
            Candace gasps, “Did you, did you just call me the C word?”
            “Oh yeah, oh yeah baby, I did. You drew first blood, just remember that.” He pulls his hands back through his hair and drops his elbows to the table. “I just, I don’t fucking get it. I get on these sites and I talk. I open up, and I talk, and things, they go well. I mean, sometimes they don’t but that’s just life. Where is that guy with my damn beer?” He lets out a shaky breath and looks around.
            “You just called me the C word.”
            “You can’t just call a woman that, you you you asshole.”
            “Excuse me?” Madswell’s face contorts in befuddlement. “You said you didn’t want a guy your kid could just push around.”
            “Lighten up, man, it was a joke.” She rolls her eyes “I thought you would laugh.”
            “Laugh, really? That is what you thought? Why don’t you go ask that bartender over there if they work him like a slave? Think he would find that funny? Well, Do you?"
            “He might, I don’t know his sense of humor.” She picks up her wine glass and sips the air. “Where is Sean?” She calls out “Sean?!”
            “How about that girl at the hostess stand, you want to ask her if she stays out of the kitchen because of the ovens and gas?”
            “What, I don’t get that?” She is still looking for Sean. “Oh here he comes!”
            “Here you folks go, another bottle of Chardonnay and one tall Blue Moon. That food is going to be out in a few. How are the Tater Bites?” He sets the bottle down infront of Candace and her hand shoots out to grab it. “Is there a problem with them? I see you haven’t eaten any, and I’ll bring some napkin's out to clean up that little guy that got away.”
            “Oh, you’re the best.” Madswell says, smiling to Sean. “How about you just bring us some boxes for the food.”
            “Umm, for all of it?”
            “Yeah, I think that’s probably for the best. The check, too, please.”
            “Is everything alright, I hope I didn’t do anything to upset you folks.”
            “Oh no, no.” Madswell says, “you were fine, it’s just…”
            “He called me a cunt.” Candace says, pointing at Madswell and nodding while she drinks from her replenished wine glass.
            “You did?!” Sean recoils from Madswell.
            “I did, yeah, it’s a long story.” Madswell picks up the frosty beer mug and takes two big gulps.
            “I’m obligated to ask the lady if she is in need of any assistance.” Sean looks to Candace. “Mam, just nod if you feel like you’re in danger.”
            “Oh, sweetie, no. From this guy? All I need to do is climb those stairs over there and I’d be safe as can be.”
            “There it is,” Madswell says, downing his beer to the halfway mark.
            “Now mam, I think that is a tad bit insensitive.”
            “Really, Sean? That’s what you think? I think you don’t know what it’s like to be a woman so you can piss off. My husband leaves me for some twenty six year old skank he meets online. Now he is remarried. Has a new kid. Here I am, single for four years and this is what I get. This guy that calls me the C word on our first date.”
            Sean swipes the bottle of wine before she can use it to refill her glass. “I um, I’m sorry miss, but I’m going to have to cut you off.”
            “Cut me off? Fine, fuck it, whatever. I don’t care. Get out of my face, Sean.” Her sneer is the ugliest thing Madswell has ever witnessed.
            “Um, I’m going to have to charge you for the bottle sir.”
            “Yeah, I figured, it’s fine.”
            “Cool, cool.” Sean says as he backs away, his gaze locked on Candace’s sneer.
            “What gives him the right? Huh? I wasn’t even done. With that and he just takes it away.” Her eyes get wide and she smiles at Madswell. “You should sue him. You’re gonna pay for that wine and they are just dumping it out. Or some busboy is going to drink it. That’s theft. Yeah, you should sue this whole place. You’re an attorney.”
            Something about this woman, like this, all drunk and angry, was making Madswell slip and Maxwell climbed from the backseat to grab the wheel. “First off,” he laughs, “I’m an accountant, not an attorney. Second, I don’t think of someone dumping out a sixteen dollar bottle of chardonnay as theft. It actually feels like a merciful act.”
            For the first time, she smiles at him. “Yeah, maybe you’re right. You know, you are kinda cute.”
            “Gee, thanks.”
            “What I mean to say is…”
            Maxwell cuts her off, “I’m sorry.”
            “Yeah, I shouldn’t have said that about you.”
            “No, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have called you what I did.”
            “I deserved it.” She looks down into her empty wine glass.
            “No, that was actually pretty funny,” Maxwell gives a soft laugh. “What you said about a guy your kid could push around. But no one deserves to be called what I called you. I’m sorry, Candace.”
            “Can we just, can we act like tonight didn’t happen?” She asks, her thumbs atwiddle. “I just, I saw my ex today and that always gets me riled up and I should have canceled this date but I really liked you and you called me that word and that’s what he used to call me and it just, Max, Maxwell. I’m sorry.”
            “Don’t apologize, I get it, I should have asked you what was wrong. That’s my fault for not noticing you were distressed.” He reaches across the table, past the overturned Tater Bite and offers her his hand. “But no, we can’t act like this didn’t happen. If we did, what would we have to laugh about?” He smiles.
            She didn’t comment about the roughness of his touch as she placed her hand in his.             “Why didn’t you tell me you were in a wheelchair?”
            “Why does it matter? Why are you so concerned about dating a guy taller than you?” He squeezes her fingers gently and rubs her knuckles with his thumb.
            “It shouldn’t, I know it shouldn’t. I guess I was just unprepared and when I saw you I suddenly got all of these fears of having to take care of you, of having to be a nurse or something.” She looks down at the table.
            “I don’t need that. I’m not looking for that. I’ve practically been alone since I was eighteen.” He sighs, and says “Still, that doesn’t answer my other question. Why do you want a guy taller than you?”
            “Yeah, honestly.”
            “I like the way my ass looks when I wear heels. It’s stupid, I know, but its the only thing I like about myself sometimes. It was the only thing my ex ever complimented me on.”
            “But you can’t see your ass...”
            “I told you that I know it’s stupid.” She interrupts.
            “You didn’t let me finish.”
            “Okay, sorry sorry.”
            “Lucky for you, I am at the perfect height to see it without straining my neck at all. So, how’s that for convenient?”
            She gives a little laugh and pulls her hand away from him as Sean comes back.
            “Okay, I’ve got your check here and I went ahead and boxed your food up for you.” He sets the plastic tray down on the table and places the bag of food next to it. “I got an empty container here for the Twice Baked Tater Bites. Will you be paying with cash, or card?”
            “It’ll be cash,” Maxwell says, reaching into his front pants pocket and pulling out a money clip. He counts out three twenties and drops them onto the tray. “Keep the change, Sean.”
            “Thank you, sir.” He looks to Candace, “Do you have a ride home, Mam? Or should I get you an Uber.”
            Maxwell looks at her, wondering the same thing himself.
            “I will be fine, Sean. Thank you.” Her tone says that she is no longer smitten with Sean.
            “Alrighty then, you folks have a good evening and be safe out there.” He doesn’t wait for their response before he scoops up the tray of money and walks away.
            “Well, you ready to roll?” Maxwell asks with a smile. “Yeah, it was a joke, you can laugh.”
            “Sure, do you want these Tater Bites?” She points at them, the take out carton open in her hand.
            “Nah, I didn’t really want them in the first place. I just ordered them because I wanted to keep talking to Sean, since you weren’t talking to me.” He says as he grabs the bag of food and places it in his lap before gliding back away from the table and turning towards the door.
            “Fair enough. Fair enough.” She puts the container down and stands up, grabbing her purse from the seat of the booth.
            He is already at the door, his chair cocked so he can hold it open for her. “After you.”
            “Why thank you, Sir.” She gives a curtsy and steps past him, scooping the bag out of his lap.
            “You’re welcome, Mam.” He pushes himself forward following her down the ramp in the curb and through the parking lot. “You weren’t lying,” he says as he passes her, “that is a pretty nice ass.” He spins around fluidly and starts rolling backwards.
            “You think? Why don’t you take another look?” She turns and takes two steps backwards before the tip of her heel catches a crack in the asphalt, the bag of food whips and rips sending lettuce into the air like lead confetti. When the ground meets her sooner and more gently than she was expecting, she exclaims “Ooohh!”
            When the ground proves to actually be Maxwell’s lap and his voice says “I gotcha, I gotcha.” She smiles.
            “Well, there goes my steak.” He says, looking down at her as she sits across his lap, legs over one arm of the wheel chair and head over the other.
            “I’m sorry.” She frowns.
            “It’s cool, it’s cool. Tell me, do you want a lift?”
            She nods, “Yeah, that would be nice.”
            “Good, it just so happens my van has one built in.”
            She can’t help but smile. Can’t help but imagine that this guy might be the one. Something she can’t describe feels like it has awakened inside of her and it makes her place her head on his chest. “You know,” she says into his jacket “walking backwards in heels is a real bitch sometimes.”
            “I bet,” he says, “you should try controlling this thing downhill sometime.”

LJ Idol - Second Chance Week 3: Busman's Holiday

Stick It To The Man

            Gertrude has maybe had enough. Just a little more than enough. Were there a line outside in the white sand, she would be standing on the surf swept side. Her feet would be tangled in the washed up kelp, pungent with the oceans odour. It makes her wonder why she agreed to come, why she thought things would be different. Foolish, is what she calls herself. Foolish and ignorant. Then again.
            Then again, it wasn’t like she hadn’t been sold the idea. And she didn’t buy it, no, she didn’t buy it at first. It took much convincing from The Lady, very much indeed. She even told Gertrude, “I feel as though I am selling countryside real estate to a fish. You are being so difficult. You can’t hate the ocean that much.” Gertrude would respond, that in their absence, she would visit some people. Go see an aunt and uncle from her mother's side. “Further inland no doubt!” The Lady would exclaim. “In the heat!” These conversations went on for weeks, a snippet here, a sly comment there.
            The straws that broke the camel's back came in the form of three promises.
            She would have her own beachfront guest house, “Really, it is much more accommodating than the main house.” The Lady said. “It is closer to the beach, much cozier. I’d stay there if I could.” She laughed. Not the throaty chortle, she reserved that for company. But the nasally whinny sounding laugh that Gertrude had come to connect to condescension.
            The second promise made was “And dear, don’t you worry about cooking. There is a cook on hand all hours to deal with that.” The third promise was that of freedom. “Imagine, waking up when you want to. The clean air sweeping in through your windows. A nice cup of tea and a book.” That’s how The Lady put it.
            A month, Gertrude thought, one month of tending to nothing. No riding trolleys or answering questions from relatives. No getting Timothy and Ilsa ready for the day. No ironing and folding; cooking and dishes; dusting and vacuuming. Gertrude was foolish for believing The Lady when she said “it’s a family holiday, dear, and you are family after all.” Foolishness has a way of making smarter people buy a beautiful lie.
            Gertrude didn’t mind packing the children’s bags. It didn’t bother her when The Man asked her to stop packing her own so she could iron his pants. She didn’t protest when The Lady said “Gertrude, dear, relax. You’re running around like a headless hen. Now, come in here and tell me if this bathing suit makes my ass look big.” The correct answer was, no. The genuine answer was, no. Fact of the matter was, Gertrude doubted even a fatsuit would make She of Little Appetite's ass look big.
            Gertrude allowed a calm to fall over her only once they were in the cars, headed to the beach. She didn’t mind that she rode with the children while The Man and Lady rode in the front car. Timothy and Ilsa were well enough behaved and even slept for a good portion of the trip. What Gertrude did mind was finding out The Man had left one of her bags behind. “Gertie, I’m sorry,” He said, as he unloaded his golf clubs, “there just wasn’t enough room for all of it.” She didn’t interject when The Lady said, “Percy, need I remind you that her name is Gertrude?” The Lady didn’t like it when Percy called her Gertie. She said it was “flirtation or flippant at the very least.” Gertrude just lifted her bag and started towards the beach, confident that she could find the guest house on her own.
            Even when she heard The Man ask The Lady “where is she going?” She didn’t stop. She walked until the grass became sand. Then the sand became water. Her head turned left and right. She squinted against the sun and listened to the waves crash. Then she saw it, the guest house. Only, it wasn’t beachfront, it was beyond that, some ways past where the water dared to recede. It did look lovely, cozy even, half submerged. She tried to make out what, if anything was portrayed in the round stained glass window set into the spire. It seemed to float just above the waves, and if she had to guess there were flowers on it, maybe even a sky. Oh it must have looked beautiful when the sun shone through it and painted the floor in colors, she thought.
            “You didn’t think you were staying there, did you?” The Man said from behind her. “That place has been waterlogged for the better part of a decade. You’ll be in the main house with us.” This was the first time Gertrude felt her sensibilities slip.
            She slipped again when they took her to her room. Room, she said to herself, this is nothing but a pantry with a bed. I’ve been in bigger closets. And she had, The Lady’s closet was bigger than this room. There was a lightbulb, that proved just bright enough to read by. There was a curtain, that proved to be just decoration over a brick wall. So much for waking to the fresh ocean breeze, she thought. Maybe all the rooms are tiny, Gertrude loved to lie to herself.
            Before the first night was over, she had bathed the children, tucked them in, read them a story, and seethed at how their playroom was four times the size of her bedroom. She had grown disgusted at their adjoining bathroom. Her own was on the second floor, a location that made relieving herself outside seem a better option. As she retired for the night, she began to wonder how to cut this holiday short.
            She opened her eyes the following morning feeling rejuvenated. Maybe the pantry wasn’t a bad place to sleep after all. That was until a banging at her door caused her to let loose a shriek. The voice of The Lady called out from the other side, “Gertrude, are you decent? I’m opening the door.” Before she could respond, or even swallow her heart back down, the door opened. “Gertrude, dear, you look like you’ve seen a ghost. You need to relax, remember, this is holiday.” The Lady flipped on the light. “The children are hungry, dear. Timothy wants eggs with soldiers.”
            Gertrude asked where the cook was, she was told there would be a cook. “I could’ve sworn I told you that the cook fell ill.” The Lady said, crossing her arms and biting her lip. One of her many go to feints. “We are looking for a temporary one, you know good help is hard to find. Up and at em’.”
            Gertrude was a fool, but she wasn’t stupid. She had been conned, again, by this duplicitous woman. That is why she had maybe had enough. Enough of feeding this family. Enough of cleaning up after them. Enough of raising this woman’s children. Batting off sporadic advances by her husband. Smiling. Staying silent while they treated her like an appliance. Then again.
            Then again, maybe she was an appliance. Maybe that was her fault. For all the little gifts she gave that were actually forfeitures. Her obedience. Her silence. As she placed her feet on the floor, she thought about this holiday she had given up. Her chance to feel grounded. Her chance to recharge. Gone.
            An appliance without a ground can be dangerous. An uncharged appliance can leave you up a creek. This is what Gertrude thought about, as she stepped across the line in the floor that separated her room from the kitchen. She also thought about where she might find the rat poison in this house.
            It wasn’t under the sink in the kitchen, that much she knew. Still, places like this, these periodic homes, they always had something to eliminate pests. Kill weeds. There must be a groundskeeper, with their white blood cellesq cadre of chemicals, Gertrude thought. She could ask The Man if such a person worked here. It would have to seem innocent. It would have to seem like his idea to tell her. It would work best to employ the 3 C’s.
            She found The Man standing near the beach, bending over to place a golf ball on his tee. She watched as he stood up, gripped his club, and swung. He yelled “Fore!” and laughed to himself as the white ball smacked the roof of the drowning guest house. As he was teeing up another ball, she cleared her throat and complimented the appearance of the grounds. In a coy tone she rambled about the manicured lawn and pristine gardens. Gertrude gushed over the roses and tulips in the mulched garden beds. She adored the arborist who had trimmed the trees so elegantly. He stood up and checked his footing “Yeah, Kelvin really is a miracle worker.” He swung and she watched the ball cut through the air towards the guest house. They could hear the stained glass window shatter as the ball vanished inside the house. “Bullseye!” The Man yelled. “I have been trying to knock out that window for I can’t even tell you how long.”
            Gertrude wanted to know why, why has he brought his clubs all the way here just to hit golf balls at my house, but she didn’t ask. She tried not to cry, tried not to get upset over that window breaking. That window that painted such bright and beautiful pictures in her mind. That window that floated on the waves and did nothing to deserve being destroyed. That window that is now like Gertrude, broken.
            The Man didn’t see her moving towards him. He didn’t know her plans had changed. Maybe she wasn’t aware of her own movements. Maybe that explains why she didn’t say anything when she slipped a golf club from his bag and raised it over her head like an axe. Then again. Then again. Then again. Until the club was as broken as the window. As her. As The Man's skull. And now, Gertrude has maybe gone too far.

LJ Idol - Second Chance Week 2: Echo Chamber

Bad Hombre

            He wasn’t sure why he committed his first hate crime.Of course there were other questions. Of course the police asked why he had the bat in the first place. It wasn’t even gym period. He didn’t even play baseball. Even after they told him the boy might never come out of the coma, his smile never faltered.
            None of this ever made the news, not after it was discovered the kid he attacked was an illegal. Once that information came out, everything went quiet. The story was all but buried. He received a week of suspension.
            It wasn’t called a hate crime in the school, no, they just called it “assault”. It was chalked up as a playground quarrel gone wrong.
            That’s how he tells it now.
            “The real messed up thing, you know, when I think back on it,” he says, “the fucked up thing is that no one thought of it as being premeditated. I had no right having that bat in the first place. I took it fully intent on cleaning that kids clock.”
            “It would’ve been different…” he pauses to light a cigarette. “If it was a black kid, there would have been riots.”
            He doesn’t talk like a man running out of time. No, Horace Darling, speaks as if all the clocks in the world hitch on his every word. Sitting across from me in his state supplied powder blue jumpsuit, the glint in his eyes looks ponderous.
            He notices me staring at him, “I’m not what you were expecting, am I?”
            “Not quite.”
            “Let me guess,” he takes a slow pull on his cigarette before exhaling four smoke rings, “you expected me to sound more...like a hick.”
            In a mocking twang he tells me “Not all racists come from the south, Mam.”
            “Tell me about where you came from Mr. Darling.”
            “Horace, please, Mr. Darling was my father.”
            “I get the sense you didn’t care for him much?”
            “No, no, Dad was a good guy, I see that now. As a child though, I thought him to be soft, weak. He and my mom were good people. Stand up people really. Don’t let me be a blemish on their character.” I watch him roll the tip of his cigarette in the ashtray, much like a person does with a cigar. “Yeah, mom and dad were alright.” He says quietly, as if he would be saying it to himself in my absence. “But you wanted to know about where I came from.” His posture straightens, his eyes widen, a smile spreads across his lips. “All the things in my childhood that made me the man I am today. That is, a dead man waiting.”
            ​“The answer to that question is simple. Television made me who I am today. And no, I’m not talking about violence or looney toons or shit like that. It was the nightly news that fucked me up.”
​            “The news?”
​            “Oh yeah, but see, I didn’t know it was the news because I never watched it.” He raises his cuffed hands together, trailing smoke, and taps his ear. “I heard it. My parents, they kept the only t.v. in the basement, didn’t want me to watch it. What they didn’t know is that every sound that thing made traveled up the duct work to my bedroom. Like a string between cans.” He crushes his cigarette out in the bolted down ashtray and lights another. I make a mental note that only one remains in the pack. He has agreed to talk with me until the pack is empty. “Every Night I got lulled to sleep listening to the Bad Hombre guy talking. He was like a close uncle.”
            ​“The who?”
​            “Oh, you know who I mean.” He smiles.
​            He refuses to elaborate any further, leaving me to draw my own conclusions as to the person he was referring to. “Okay, so your parents watched the news.”
            ​“No, they breathed it. Once that guy got elected, I could have run away and never been missed.”
            ​“So, they were supporters?”
            ​“Hell no! Hell! Fucking! No!” A bang comes from the steel bars covering the doorway, followed by a guard warning Horace to keep it down. He apologizes and calls the man “Stevie.” then exhales more smoke rings. “No, they despised him. Vehemently. That was the problem. He was always in the news, always doing some dumbass thing. Always ruffling their feathers. All they did was bitch to one another about how sideways everything was going, then they turned on the news so they could bitch more.”
            ​“You ever listen to spoken word echoing up an air duct? It has this hypnotic quality to it, it sounds ethereal. Now, imagine that is what you go to sleep to. Just close your eyes and listen to all of this same talk over and over and over and over again, not positive messages, not someone telling you that you are always the best version of yourself. Instead you are listening to words that do everything but flat out tell you to act violently. They are words that condone viewing certain people in a specific way. Then you wake up.”
            ​“I’m not buying it.”
            ​“I don’t care if you buy it or not. I did what I did, I never wanted anyone to sympathize with me. I own all of my actions. The point I am trying to make is that type of shit plants a seed. It can die or it can grow. If it was a positive seed, it never would have grown. Not in that house. Not at that time. This was a negative seed though, a real bitter fruit tree. That kind of growth can go wild when surrounded by negativity.”
​            “And that's what yours did?”
​            His smile fades away, replaced by a scowl. “My parents gave more attention to a person they hated then the son they claimed to love. Yeah. Mine went fucking apeshit.” He crushes the cigarette out and goes for the last one. “I figured that if they hated me, I could be the center of their attention for once.” He puts the cigarette in his mouth, but doesn’t light it. “That answer your question?”
            ​“Was it their scorn that led you to turn yourself in?”
            ​“If it was I would have done that a long time ago. I haven’t talked to them in fifteen, sixteen years at least. I turned myself in to turn a lot of other bad guys in. You’re familiar with the names Debbie and Zachery Washington, right?” He lights the cigarette.
            ​“Yes. A black husband and wife in their late twenties, they were found beaten and lynched in a graveyard about an hour from here. Their car was torched. She was three months pregnant.”
​            “I never wanted it to go that far. I just wanted to scare them a little, you know. Run them off the road maybe. But the other guys, well.” He quickly brushes away a tear rolling down his cheek and cups his face in his hands. “They seemed like nice people. Good people. Like my folks. It was about a year after we killed them that I finally turned myself in.”
​            “Is it true you asked for the death penalty.”
            ​“As part of my plea deal, yeah. I’ve got no friends in here, not after all I’ve done. Death Row is the safest place to be.”
            ​“Safety, that's what you're concerned about?”
            ​“What I am concerned about is answering for my crimes. I don’t want some skinhead to shiv me from behind so I can bleed out in the shadows like a coward. And I don’t want some black guy, or hispanic guy to stab me either. That’ll only start a mini race war inside these walls. Everyone wants their pound of flesh from me, the public I tormented are the only ones who deserve it. What I want is to be the first guy to be dropped from the gallows out in that courtyard in the last hundred years.” He crushes his cigarette out. “Looks like we are out of time, Miss.” He smiles and stands. “Stevie, I’m ready to go back to my cell.”
            ​“One more question, please?”
            ​“Make it quick.” The bars open with a clang.
            ​“What are you planning on having for your last meal?” Stevie walks in.
            ​“Pizza from a shop in Utica. My dad's shop. A Slice of Heaven.” He walks out with Stevie and another guard steps in to escort me. I pick up my recorder and follow him.
            ​After being guided through four security checkpoints, He leaves me at the guest desk to retrieve everything they confiscated from me. They return my belt, purse, cellphone, wedding ring and necklace in a sealed bag. The guard behind the bulletproof glass asks me to sign on the line. As I am writing my name, Stevie comes to the bars of the last checkpoint with a folded sheet of paper. “He wanted you to have this.” Stevie says.
            ​After plucking it from his fingers and being buzzed out of the main entrance, I find myself standing in the cool autumn breeze beneath a blazing sun. Strolling to my car and digging for my cell phone in the bag, the piece of paper that Stevie gave me almost slips from my hand. It’s only after I’m inside the car that I dare to open and read it. Written on the paper are the words “You look just like your mother. Unlike my folks, yours would be proud of you. I’m sorry. -HD-” The words, written in a speedy scrawl, almost make me cry. They almost make me change my plans of driving the 13 hours to Utica, to A Slice of Heaven, and firebombing the place. Preferably with his parents inside.