Category Archives: short story

52 in 52 Story 11 “Frankie Doggie Meets Crabby Abby”

Writing the Little Nene story gave me lots of ideas for other children stories, especially ones starring Frankie doggy. This is the next one in the series and focuses on characters based on our dog, Frankie:

And my parents dog, Abby, who wasn’t actually crabby but was a bulldog so she had a crabby face:


Frankie Doggy Meets Crabby Abby
One day Frankie doggie was playing in the yard.
He was running he was jumping; he was playing very hard!
He barked and laughed and rolled around having lots of fun.
Eventually he took a rest from all the playing he had done.
Feeling very happy Frankie doggy closed his eyes, but then he heard someone else’s voice and it took him by surprise.
“You were making too much noise,” a gruff and crabby voice said, “now I have a pain that is pounding in my head!”
Frankie opened up his eyes and tried to take a look around.
He had been resting pretty peacefully until he heard this sound.
“I’m sorry,” Frankie doggy said, “I did not mean to harm.”
Then he wagged his tail and smiled, really turning on the charm.
“I don’t care if you are sorry,” the crabby dog said, “what are you doing playing? And then going to bed?!”
Frankie doggy was confused; the other dog was just so crabby!
He asked, “What is your name?” She answered, “Crabby Abby.”
Frankie doggy stood and cocked his head trying to pay attention.
The fact that “crabby” was part of her name filled him with apprehension.
“What makes you so crabby?” He asked, “Maybe I can help?”
“I’m not telling you!” She said, “You nosey little whelp!”
She turned away from Frankie doggy and sat her bottom down.
Frankie really wanted to help get rid of Crabby Abby’s frown.
“Would you like to play a game? Some fetch or tug of war?”
“No!” Crabby Abby said, “That will make my muscles sore!”
“Maybe we could have some food? Some kibble or a treat?”
“I don’t want it!” Crabby Abby said, “I do not want to eat.”
Frankie doggy scratched his head, his ideas were wearing thin.
Crabby Abby didn’t like too much, he didn’t think that he could win.
Without another thought of something he could do Frankie said, “I’m very sorry that my playing bothered you.”
Frankie walked away, head hanging low, to leave Abby alone.
Now Frankie felt crabby too and wanted to go home.
“I don’t have many friends,” Abby said and she cried.
“Your playing didn’t bother me. I’m sorry that I lied.”
“When I see other dogs have fun I want to have fun too, but no one ever plays with me! They never ever do.”
Frankie doggy felt badly for her, her story was so sad.
Frankie wanted to do something that might make her feel glad.
Without a word he turned around and walked back to her side.
Her leaned his head on top of hers trying to be kind.
Abby sniffed his face and licked it; her crabby act was all pretend.
It turns out all that Abby needed was Frankie as a friend.

The End

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Filed under 52 in 52, 52 stories in 52 weeks, animals, children's books, fiction, Frankie, pets, short story

52 in 52 Story 10 “Charlie the Hunter”

I know that my post schedule has been a bit off, I’ve had some pretty crazy deadlines in the world where I make money, but I have kept up on my writing – it’s just been done in long hand so I needed to transcribe it all into Word before I could post it. I’m going to catch up over the next two weeks by posting on additional days as the stories become internet ready. In the mean time enjoy a story inspired by our cat, Charlie, who is a violent hunter on occasion.

You can see it in his squinty stare, he’s a killer.


Charlie the Hunter

                The grass was bright green and swayed in the breeze. It was short grass, trimmed by the men who came, the men that Charlie avoided. They carried loud things, things that hurt Charlie’s ears. He didn’t like that. Charlie gazed out across the yard. This was his domain; from house front to sidewalk, this yard was his hunting ground. He gazed from his position under the bushes. The leaves and branches brushed the top of his head. It did not disturb him, it helped to hide him. It kept him camouflaged so that he could stalk his prey freely. His eyes were golden with slashes of black that we’re thin from the sunlight. A leaf thrashed to his right and his head swiveled to spot whatever made the noise. His eyes intensified on the bush. The leaves were long and thick. They were moving in the wind. It was just the wind, nothing more. Charlie continued to scan the yard, blinking occasionally, getting lazy as he waited. Maybe it was time for a nap?

                That’s when he heard it: pah, pah, pah. That was the noise he was waiting for. Pah, pah, pah – quick staccato beats of soft foot pads against the concrete. They were soft, they were quick; they were the tapping toes of lizard feet. This was what he was waiting for! The Lizard Legion had been making inroads into the yard for weeks now, venturing farther away from their strong hold next door. They came, daily now, crossing into the new landscaping that the female human had been working on. Fewer bushes, fewer places for Charlie to hide, and more rocks that were sun heated. The Legion liked the rocks but so did Charlie so there was no way that the rocks would be taken without a fight. Charlie stalked out of the bush, crouching low, tail down, ears back and crept up the lawn toward the invader. The lizard had a unique skin tone, an iridescent blue and green like little bejeweled scales on a dragon. It was unaware of Charlie’s approach. It looked around, ignorant of its impending doom, slowly approaching one of the rocks that had been baking in the afternoon sun. Its approach was slow, but its stride was quick, continuing the repetitive three steps at a time that Charlie had noticed in the first place.

                Suddenly the lizard turned toward Charlie’s position, it was checking its back! Charlie wasn’t close enough to strike so he crouched lower in what little grass there was. Damn the humans for trimming it so low! This could end his hunt. Although the lizard was moving slowly now Charlie knew that it could take off like a shot if it saw him. Charlie stayed low and still and waited to see what the lizard would do. The lizard stood, belly low to the grass, and twitched its head back and forth sharply looking everywhere but, apparently, not seeing anything. It turned back toward the rock; the promise of warmth was too good to pass up. The rock shone with a matte grayness that was so attractive to cold blooded creatures, especially those of the Lizard Legion. It continued on its trip toward the rock: pah, pah, pah… pah, pah, pah. Charlie resumed his stalking. He was within reach quickly, slowing only to make sure that his footsteps were as soft as they could be – the lizards of the Legion felt through their feet. Then, just as the lizard was about to reach the rock, Charlie leapt into the air, baring tooth and claw, and struck with the deadly confidence of a hunter commissioned by the local Council of Cats.

                Charlie was cleaning his claws and basking in the sun when he was approached by Vader, one of the members of the Council of Cats. Vader, a large black cat carrying a few extra pounds that swung like a church bell around his belly when he walked, approached from the front door of the house. He sat, distinguished, behind Charlie and waited to be seen. Charlie knew he was there but made him wait. Charlie and the Council had not seen eye to eye lately. The council had been in negotiations with the resident canine interests who had complaints that there were fewer and fewer lizards in the yard for them to find and chase. It was, apparently, a past time that they held dear and Charlie’s killing of the creatures had dramatically reduced the population eliminating much of the fun that one of the dogs wished to have. After a good wait, and a thorough claw cleaning, Charlie acknowledged Vader. “You’ve killed again.” Vader’s tone was matter of fact and flat. Vader, even though a member of the Council, was the most even keeled and reasonable of all of its members. He cared more about a functioning household and naps than a few dead lizards. Charlie didn’t respond and continued to stare at Vader, occasionally blinking so as to not upset the Council member. “The Council has already been informed and they are requesting that you be present at an audience with the canine representative. Charlie rolled his eyes. The canine representative would be the large dopey white dog, a female named Maggie. She was the one most affected by his hunting. She was loud, abrasive and has few social graces. She and Charlie had gotten off on the wrong foot during their first meeting which led to a great deal of blood shed (all by the dog) and a great deal of panic (all in the cat). Since then they kept away from each other for the most part, and when Maggie does have a gripe she brings it up with the Council. “You are to appear before the Council before the female human feeds us this evening.” Without waiting for a response Vader turned and left, twitching his tail slightly as he walked away. Charlie sighed to himself and enjoyed the heat of the sun while he could before the meeting of the Council.

A bug buzzing by his ear woke Charlie from his nap. His head darted around trying to find the source of the noise. It was a fly, small black and erratic in its flight pattern. Charlie batted at it with a lazy dissatisfaction. He could catch the fly, he thought, but why? There was no sport in fly hunting, no honor. Flies are disgusting creatures, eaters of poop and refuse. Their wings carried them like a kitten on catnip around the house and yard. Flies only wanted to be wherever they weren’t at the moment, they constantly looked for escape. Sure, they may have presented a challenge to Charlie when he was younger and more hot headed, but now they were simply an undesired distraction, an insufferable waste of time. Charlie yawned and stretched as the fly made its way out of the yard. He lay on his side taking in his surroundings. It was late in the afternoon. Soon the human female would feed them. Soon he would need to appear before the Council. He stood up, stretching out with just his front paws, and started heading toward the house, toward the Council of Cats.
Charlie entered through the dog door in the back. It led directly to the kitchen where he was met by his brother, Frankie. Frankie is a dog, brindle and white, but when Charlie was adopted Frankie became his brother. Frankie sniffed at Charlie, from his head to his tail, getting an idea about where Charlie had been all day. Charlie let him do it, he was his brother after all, and Frankie was Charlie’s only ally when it came to the canines of the house.
                “You’ve been hunting again, I can smell it.” Frankie’s voice had just a bit of nervous energy to it. He hates conflict and often tries to play peace maker whenever there is conflict in the house whether it be with the other animals or with the humans, Frankie doesn’t care for fighting. “Maggie is going to ask them to censure you. She really wants to chase those lizards.” Charlie grimaced at what Frankie told him. Maggie was a petty and jealous animal. She has toys and bones and Frankie to play with, but she still insists on chasing lizards. She doesn’t even eat them! Frankie led Charlie to the washer and dryer, where the Council of Cats meets. “Good luck,” Frankie whispered under his breathe and then took his place beside Maggie on the floor to the right of the dryer.
Above them, looking down on Charlie, was the Council of Cats. Boo, their leader, was sitting in the center at the top of the dryer. Boo is large, with similar white and orange coloring to Charlie, but older by at least twice as many years. His face wore a smug grin that caused Charlie’s tail to twitch. Boo was the newest animal to the household but had already taken the top place in the Council. When the humans first brought Boo to the house he was a sickly and injured animal. Through some calamity he had a large sore on his neck that was completely exposed – no fur, no skin. At his old residence Boo had been a fighter, he still stunk of it, but at his age he was starting to lose those fights, especially when other cats would gang up on him. It was no secret that Boo was a bully, it was through intimidation and bribery that he had reached the head of the Council of Cats. To Boo’s right was Vader, only half paying attention to proceedings. Vader had been the previous head of the Council but, in the interest of keeping peace in the house, had backed down when it became clear that Boo wanted the position. Vader had been in an accident and was too old and out of shape to put up a fight if it ever came to that. To Boo’s left was Shimshim, a neurotic brown Brindle who can’t keep her attention on anything for more than a few seconds. Even as everyone gathered, she made to leave several times before Boo finally had to keep her in place with his paw on her back.
“Charlie the Hunter you have been brought before the Council today to respond to accusations that you have defied the orders of this group and continued to attack and kill, with impunity, the lizards that come into the yard,” Boo’s voice was full of relish as he spoke the charges. “Have you anything to say for yourself?” Charlie looked up at the Council, tail twitching behind him, and said nothing. “Very well,” Boo announced, “The Council recognizes the canine delegate.”
Maggie, the large white female stood and began to address the Council her voice a howling bark, “Due to his blatant defiance of your ruling in regards to the hunting of yard lizards I request, no, demand that he be censured to keep him from hunting for a time to be determined by your wisdom!” Maggie turned to stare Charlie down at the end, making a low growl as she finished. Charlie’s tail twitched and he held her gaze, but otherwise did not respond.
“Very well, if you have no response…” Boo didn’t even get a chance to finish his sentence before Charlie stood and turned to leave. “Where are you going?” Boo shouted, “If you kill another lizard we will pull your license!” Charlie continued to walk, unfazed, Maggie barked loudly and Frankie looked around shocked. Frankie knew that Charlie’s complete lack of respect for the Council would be his downfall, but he never thought that the Council would attempt to pull his license. Without a sanctioned hunter the house may be overrun with vermin of all types. The Council didn’t realize what they were doing. Frankie trotted away from the gathering to catch up to his brother. Charlie’s tail was still twitching.
“Charlie, you need to be careful, they’re serious!” Frankie was truly concerned; he knew that hunting was very important to Charlie. Charlie looked up at Frankie and motioned him over to the window. Charlie led the way while Frankie scanned around to make sure that they weren’t being followed. Charlie led him to the dining room window where they could see the yard next door, the home of the Lizard Legion. “Charlie, what does this have to do with anyth…” Frankie stopped as he noticed the large gathering of lizards making a circle next door. They didn’t seem to be communicating, but then a few of them started rolling bird eggs into the circle. A large one, Frankie assumed it was their leader, tapped his foot three times and then the eggs were taken away into a nearby bush. Then the lizards dispersed. Frankie looked down at Charlie, “Something’s going on. Do you know what it is?” Charlie shrugged, but kept his eye on the bush where the eggs were placed as his tail continued to twitch. “Is this why you keep hunting them? You think they’re up to something?” Charlie looked up at Frankie and gave a single head nod. Frankie considered the implications. Then they heard the female human come into the kitchen to prepare the food. Both Charlie and Frankie dashed to eat.
The next day Charlie made the decision to investigate the Lizard Legion and the bush that he and Frankie had watched them hide eggs in the day before. Creeping under the bushes, but only when the wind rustled the leaves so as to cover the sound of his movements, he crossed from the front door to the edge of the lawn where it met the neighbor lawn. Hunkering down beneath the leaves and under a shadow, Charlie staked out the bush watching for Lizard Legion activity. For most of the day there was nothing, the lizards must have been sunning themselves, and Charlie passed the time chewing on blades of grass and napping.  It was the afternoon when he saw the first bit of suspicious activity. A group of lizards were assembling near the base of a tree. There were several dozen, it was a remarkable how easy it would be to kill them all. Charlie’s claws extended reflexively.  He watched as they approached the tree and, one by one, made a chain of bodies up its trunk. They reached a branch that contained a bird nest and the lizard on the branch crawled into the nest and nudged out one of the eggs with its snout. When it got the egg over the lip of the nest it used one of its feet to keep it steady while rolling the egg back toward the chain. Once at the chain it used its front feet to hand the egg to one lizard that then passed it down to the next lizard and so on and so forth until the egg safely reached the ground where it was rolled to the hiding place behind the bush. Once the egg was safely moved all of the lizards scattered away from the tree. The Legion was collecting eggs, but for what Charlie had no clue.
With the coast clear, Charlie crept toward the bush where the eggs were hidden. He moved slowly, as if he were stalking prey, and kept a careful eye out for any lizards or other animals. Lord knows what the Council of cats would think of all this, and if the canine Maggie found out? Just her barking alone would ruin any chance he had of finding the truth. Slinking between shadows and undergrowth, Charlie made it to the bush. Sniffing the air to confirm that there wasn’t a lizard waiting beneath it, he poked his head into the bush to get a better look. Charlie was taken aback by what he saw, there were dozens of bird eggs under this bush, stacked three eggs high. Just as he was realizing the scope of the egg theft Charlie heard the crinkle of grass behind him. He darted his head and saw a lizard that must have been on its way to check on the eggs. It saw Charlie and turned to run. The Legion couldn’t know that Charlie knew about the mysterious egg repository, even though he had no idea what they were collecting eggs for. Without thinking, instincts and muscle taking over, Charlie pounced and killed the lizard. If it hadn’t seen Charlie before the attack it never would have known what hit it.
“Meow.” It was a trill sound, soft and confused. Charlie looked up on the fence that enclosed the back yard with a freshly killed lizard in his mouth and there was Shimshim staring down at him. Charlie stared for a second, but before he could do anything Shimshim was off. She couldn’t tell the Council, Boo would pull his license for sure! Charlie raced after Shimshim, dropping the lizard as he ran. He needed to convince Shimshim not to turn him in! They rounded the corner and nearly slammed into the canine Maggie.
“What’s all this?” Maggie asked, looking truly confused.
“He has killed again,” Shimshim said as she hid underneath the large canines body. “I watched him do it. The body is in the yard.” Maggie growled and forced everyone inside.
An emergency session of the Council of Cats was called immediately. The canine Maggie pinned Charlie in a corner with growls and bared teeth so he couldn’t escape. Frankie, who was napping, came as quickly as he could, running through the living room and nearly knocking over a coffee table as he ran, barking at Maggie to back off. Her barking stopped but she didn’t move her body.
“What did you do?” Frankie asked as he took his place among near the dryer. Charlie just hung his head and waiting for the inevitable. Boo sat purring on top of the washer so pleased with himself that it couldn’t be hidden. Shimshim sat back and to the side of Boo, keeping her head low worried about Charlie doing something even though he was trapped on the floor. Vader was the last to arrive and yawned as he took his place on the washer.
“This won’t take long,” Boo grinned, “I’ve been looking forward to this. Due to your inability to abide by the decisions and rules of this council we hereby rescind your license to hunt effective immediately.” Charlie bowed his head and got up preparing to leave. “Uh uh, not so fast,” Boo stopped Charlie in his tracks, “There is no way that you just walk out of here. You and I both know that just pulling your license can’t stop you, we’d have to declaw you to do that, so in addition to pulling your license we are also confining you to the crate.” The air left the room as soon as Boo said it. The crate, that was bold. Normally the humans only used the crate to carry the animals to and from the vet, not a pleasant place. Charlie especially hated the crate. He was an outdoor cat who only tolerated the indoors. Being cooped up in the crate would be… It would be bad, very bad. “Maggie, if I may ask a favor, would you please escort…” Boo didn’t have a chance to finish his sentence. Charlie cried out and jumped over Maggie. She barked in reaction, loud and hard! Frankie barked at her in reaction, getting in Maggie’s way to keep her from chasing after Charlie. Shimshim panicked and dove to hide behind the washer. Boo hissed and clawed at the air. Vader, not amused, yawned and lay down on the washer to wait it all out. Charlie dashed through the kitchen and cut a hard left toward the dining room. Boo jumped down to try and catch him, but got caught up in Maggie’s barking and Frankie’s road block. Charlie raced through the living room and down the hall, bounding into the human’s bedroom and hiding.
The next few hours were tough. The Council searched through the house with Maggie, sniffing and listening to the very edges of their animal senses. But as heighten as those senses might be, Charlie is a specialist, a hunter, and even though his license is pulled his skills are not. Charlie hid, in the human’s closet, tucked behind some particularly smelly shoes. It would cover his scent for a while and the human female, trying to help with the human male’s allergies, would keep the other animals out if they did catch whiff of it. Charlie got down to thinking. He needed to know what the Legion was doing and being on the run from his own household was going to make that a lot tougher. The door opened with a thud. Charlie tensed and pulled back further into the closet. A shadow cast across the floor, bending into the darkness. Charlie poised his legs in preparation to pounce. If they did find him there was no way that he was going to be put in that crate without a fight! A head peeked into the closet, Charlie’s claws poked out. The head came further in and just before Charlie could strike he saw that it was Frankie!
“Hey Charlie, I thought you might be in the one place they aren’t allowed. I just wanted to check up on you.” Frankie kicked the bedroom door shut and gave his brother a friendly lick on the head.
With the human bedroom door shut Charlie and Frankie were free to rest on the bed. They curled up next to each other and Charlie’s tail twitched as they talked. Frankie rested his head on his front paws and gave a sideways glance at Charlie, who was staring at the spinning blade of the ceiling fan.
“They’re collecting eggs? Why would the Lizard Legion be collecting eggs?” Frankie’s question was the same one Charlie had been mulling over all day. Lizards don’t eat eggs, at least not bird eggs. There was so little to go on and now that he wasn’t able to hunt the lizards would have free reign in the yard… Charlie’s head perked up and his tail lay flat; of course, they had free reign of the yard! Either Maggie or Boo, or both, wanted the lizards to have that kind of access. But what for?! Charlie stood up and looked out the human’s bedroom window. He scanned the backyard; the window had a great view of everything, and didn’t see anything. Charlie turned and looked toward the door, then at Frankie.
Frankie stood and jumped off the bed heading for the door, “I’ll help get you out, but getting back in the house when you find whatever you’re looking for is all on you.” Frankie pawed the door open and reconnoitered the hall; no one was there. Frankie motioned to Charlie who made his way out into the hall. Frankie led the way out toward the main part of the house. In the living room the snoring of the female canine Maggie was loud, but that was good; it meant that she was asleep. She was their biggest obstacle. Frankie went ahead of Charlie and stood in front of the sleeping giant while Charlie snuck past. He hid in a corner by the kitchen as Frankie came up behind to clear the way ahead. All the cats were away. Boo was likely in the garage, Vader was probably asleep somewhere and Shimshim was more than likely wondering around the yard nervous and twitching. This was going to work. Charlie gave one last look at Frankie, who looked back and nodded, before diving out the dog door and making his way out of the backyard, over the fence that leads to the safety of the neighbor’s yard. He curled up under a bush, deep in a planter, and got some much needed rest.
The next morning Charlie got to work. There was plenty to do, plenty to watch. He didn’t have much time, maybe a day, before the humans would be calling for him and the more time he spent in the house the more likely it was that Boo and the canine female Maggie could get him locked into the crate. He started on the roof, overlooking the front yard, making sure that the wind was blowing his scent away. He gazed down feeling safe, none of the other cats dared walk the roof, and settled in for a stakeout. He didn’t have to wait very long. Apparently something had the whole Lizard Legion spooked. Charlie could see motion in the grass, dozens of lizards all streaming through the grass in a variety of directions. All of them seemed to be in quite a fit. They were all scurrying around the bush where they were hiding the eggs, popping in and out from it. A group of three lizards, probably leaders based on how the other lizards moved out of their way as they walked, went into the bush and all the other lizards evacuated and waited, what appeared to be anxiously, outside. After a few seconds the three leaders came back from out and the lead lizard tapped its foot which caused two other lizards to rush into the bush and roll one of the eggs out. Charlie was getting ready to leap down and take them all down when he heard the approach of another animal. Ducking back past the lip of the roof he waited to see who it was and what they’d do.
“Is that for me?” It was Boo! And he was approaching the Lizard Legion without any of them running away. Boo walked with a confident stride and batted away any lizards that got in his way. The lizard leader nodded its head and directed the lizards rolling the egg to push it toward Boo. Boo stopped it with his paw and licked his chops. “I’ve been looking forward to this. Are you sure it’s ready?” In response the lizard leader nodded and then approached the egg, tapping it with his foot two times. The egg shook from within. It started to wobble and tremble. A tapping could be heard on the shell, the chick was about to break out. Boo and the Lizard Legion watched and waited. The chick broke free and made a hole large enough to release him from the shell that had been his home. Just as he was getting his wings free and making his first peeps Boo lashed out with his claws and scooped up the chick into his mouth! Charlie was appalled. Is this what those eggs were for? Easy pickings for Boo!? It was one thing to hunt a bird, there was sport in it and a natural order to it, but stealing the young and serving them up without a way to escape or fight back? That wasn’t fair and it wasn’t becoming of the leader of the Council of Cats. It was abhorrent! Charlie’s claws flexed instinctively but just when he was about to strike Boo began to speak, “Excellent, keep up the good work and I’ll make sure you have free reign in the yard. The Council has already pulled the hunter’s license and I’ve tricked the large female canine into helping us. The hunter even ran away last night! He won’t come back if he knows what’s good for him. All is going according to plan!” And then Boo laughed a deep evil laugh and the lizards all opened their mouths and made a breathy hiss.
Charlie couldn’t let this stand. Not only was Boo disrupting the household by letting these vermin run rampant all over the yard but he was collecting and murdering baby birds. Driven into a hot rage Charlie screeched out a hissing roar and leapt from the roof with claws and teeth bared! Boo, caught by surprise, saw him too late to avoid the blow. Charlie’s weight slammed into Boo’s thigh and claws and teeth dug deep into the fur and flesh making Boo cry out! The Lizard Legion, seeing that the hunter was not under control as promised, dashed back to the other yard. Boo, a brawler in his youth, did not just roll over and give up. He unleashed his claws and swiped back at Charlie hitting him in the shoulder. Charlie, the more agile of the two, lunged back in toward Boo’s body and hugged him tight, sinking his claws into Boo to hold on while biting deep into Boo’s neck. Boo squealed and twisted his whole body, shaking Charlie loose. Charlie rolled away on the grass of the yard and Boo used that split second to attempt to escape. He just needed to get back into the house! If he could then he could call the canine and let her deal with Charlie, maybe permanently? Boo ran for the fence and leapt from the ground toward the top, but before he could reach it Charlie was on him and had leapt up and clawed into Boo’s back before flipping him in mid-air and throwing him back down on the lawn.
Both cats were screeching now at full “cat fight” volume. All the other animals inside could hear what was happening and began to react. Maggie was barking while running around the house looking for Boo. Frankie, worried for Charlie’s safety, ran from the dog door in the kitchen to the front gate hoping to be able to see what was going on. Shimshim hid underneath the dining room table and her head darted all around expecting danger. Vader, who had been napping, raised his head before sneering and rolling over to hide his ears. Boo and Charlie traded blows like boxers, with tooth and claw pulling tufts of fur and blood in each strike. Boo kicked Charlie off enough to be able to jump over the fence. Charlie followed close behind. Boo landed next to Frankie who ferociously barked at him, stunning the cat in place just long enough for Charlie to re-engage. Frankie bared his teeth and growled ready to move in, but Charlie turned to look at him and Frankie knew that this fight was between Charlie and Boo only.
The two cats circled each other in the back yard as Frankie watched. Shimshim stared from a window in the living room. Her eyes glued to the action. Boo and Charlie hissed and moaned, neither seeing an opportunity to strike. Then, like a bull in a China shop, the female canine Maggie came rumbling out of the dog door, still barking. She made a charge at Charlie but was tackled by Frankie before she could catch him. “Maggie no!” Frankie barked, “Boo is up to something! We can’t get involved!” Maggie was pinned by Frankie’s chest, but she whined and barked to be let up.
“Get up, you idiot! Destroy Charlie before he takes over your yard!” Boo’s commands were loud but weak. He could see his power dwindling as no one came to his aid. Charlie took advantage of Boo being distracted and lunged, biting teeth into Boo’s neck, grabbing his back with claws and then tearing at Boo’s stomach with his hind claws. Boo cried out in pain, a cry of surrender and defeat. He was battered and bloody. They both were, but Boo couldn’t take anymore punishment. Charlie got up, sat next to the lump that was Boo on the back lawn and began to lick his wounds. “What are you all looking at?” Boo asked, breathy and tired. “This is why we had to punish him! He can’t be trusted!”  Vader and Shimshim came out and Frankie slowly allowed Maggie to get up off the ground.
“He’s a liar.” Charlie’s voice was soft, but clear. “He made a deal with the Lizard Legion, said they could take over the yard as long as they kept him in as many baby birds as he could eat.”
“No!” Maggie barked, “He said that I could chase the lizards!”
Charlie sighed, “That was a lie too. You were nothing but muscle to him. Someone he wanted to use to control me.”
“You have no proof, “Boo sneered, “why should they believe you?”
“How about we go look in the front yard?” As Charlie spoke he jumped up on the yard gate and released the latch to open it. Frankie picked up Boo by the scruff of the neck and the other animals followed him out to the front lawn.
When they got there they caught a line of lizards all leading to the bush where the eggs were kept. They were trying to hide the evidence. When they saw all of the house animals they froze, some of the lizards closer to their own yard made a break for it. Vader, not willing to waste any more of his own time, grabbed one of them before it could run.
Vader looked the lizard deep in its cold marble eyes as he spoke, “Lizard, are these eggs for Boo?” The lizard nodded. “Are they in exchange for territory?” The lizard nodded again. Vader growled and tossed the lizard aside; it ran to freedom when it landed. “Boo, we get the truth now or I let the dog eat you.” Vader motioned for Frankie to put Boo down. He did, but growled as they waited for Boo to speak.
“Fine, “he said, “it’s true. I’m getting too old to hunt anymore and the lizards offered me fresh meat in exchange for the new rocks in the yard. But Charlie kept killing them! He needed to be stopped or they would stop delivering my treats.”
“You mean you lied to me?” Maggie sounded truly hurt and she cried softly at Boo’s betrayal. “I just wanted to chase things…”
Vader approached Charlie, “I think we owe you an apology, son. How about you get back to hunting and show these lizards why they don’t come to this yard?” Charlie smiled and looked at the remaining legion members in the yard. When they realized what was about to happen all of the lizards attempted to scatter, but even though Charlie was hurt, he was still quicker.
That night, when the human female called them all to be fed, things were back to normal in the house. Vader sat at the head of the Council of Cats, the canines kept to their business of treats and squeaky toys, Charlie kept the yard safe from invaders and the human female kept finding Boo somehow locked in the travel crate.

The End

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Filed under 52 in 52, 52 stories in 52 weeks, charlie the cat, fiction, short story

52 in 52 Story 8 “Ready On Time”

After last taking extra time with “Time Travel Sucks…” I knew I didn’t have a full week to produce the next story. I wanted to keep to my schedule, though, and decided to try something so I wouldn’t fall behind. This story was written a bit like a stream of consciousness. I gave myself a topic and then just wrote it out as it came to me. There wasn’t a re-write pass, only a typo pass. This is effectively how the story came out of my head.

The topic was: What if a wife was ready on time?

Ready On time
It was 6:48pm Friday night and he was nervous. Rubbing his hand against his freshly shaved face he paced the living room downstairs. He was ready: black slacks, a maroon dress shirt and a stylish charcoal sport coat. No tie, tonight was a no tie night, besides the shoes made up for any lack of tie, they tied the whole outfit together. But he made a mistake, he had been too honest. He had reservations for 7:30pm and the restaurant is just about thirty minutes away, it was 6:49pm and he was waiting for his wife. They had ten minutes before they needed to leave to be on time – only ten minutes – and he had told her the real time they needed to leave. His face contorted as he mentally chastised himself about the error. He should have told her that they needed to leave by 6:30, or better yet 6, but he didn’t he said they had a 7:30 reservation. There was no way that they were going to make it. It was 6:50pm.
He sat in the chair next to him and pulled out his phone to call the restaurant and warn them that they might be late, but then he hesitated. It was only 6:51, she had nine minutes. He decided that he wouldn’t call until it hit the “zero hour.” He stood back up and paced. He didn’t want to turn on the TV, then it would sound like he was getting comfortable and she may take more time. He grabbed an US Weekly magazine off of the coffee table and rifled through it, but nothing caught his interest. He looked at the time on his phone again, 6:52pm. He could hear the action happening in the bathroom at the top of the stairs in the master bedroom; the clinking of make-up brushes and hair implements. The sounds of sprays and the clink of plastic make-up cases indicated that she wasn’t close to being ready. It was 6:53.
                “Almost ready, sweet heart!” Her angelic voice lilted down the stairs dancing a choreographed dance of lies that he was all too familiar with.
                “OK.” He hid his frustration. This happened every time they went out. He’d want to leave by a certain time, but, invariably, they were always at least fifteen minutes behind that time. He had forgotten what it was like to be on time. It was 6:54. He sat back down and rested his face in his hands, rubbing lightly to ease the tension. This was going to be a fantastic dinner! He had been looking forward to it all month. The chef, Patrice L’Orange, was known for his work with both beef and vegetables and finding a way to turn them into a medley of delight that would explode in your mouth. It was described by Foodie Magazine as, “…simply the most exquisite food experience that we, in this office, have ever had. No course was wasted and every opportunity to make you feel like this was the most important eating event that you would ever experience in your life was met. Even the water on the table brought with it its own flavorful joy. It’s not so much that you “eat” when you dine from Chef L’Orange’s menu, but actually die and briefly go to food heaven before the angles of fine taste and texture wrap you up in their feathered arms and return you to Earth allowing you to keep the memories of a feast that you can never forget and will probably always yearn for.” He really didn’t want to be late. This was a near impossible reservation to get and there was no way that they would hold the table. It was 6:55. 
                “OK, I’m ready.” His wife appeared next to him downstairs, he didn’t even hear her come down. His head perked up when he heard her voice, shocked to see her; looking hard like she was a phantom trying to deceive him. It was 6:56. She was stunning! Her brunette locks cascaded over her shoulders and down her back with a soft curl. Her eyes were brown and bright with just a hint of mischief. She wore a black cocktail dress that hugged her shape in a flattering way, but not so much that she looked uncomfortable. She was beautiful and it was worth the wait. Then she slapped him on the arm with her black sequined clutch, “Let’s go! I don’t want to be late!” She started toward the door and threw on a long sleeved black shrug that had a fuax feather boa collar. He bolted up and opened the door for her. He was amazed, happily so, that she was ready, not just on time but early! This never happened! Now they had enough time to get to the restaurant without any stress whatsoever. All of his anxiety melted away as he walked her to their Lincoln Towncar and opened the passenger door for her. He sat in the driver’s seat, gave one more satisfied look at the clock, 6:57, and smiled as he pulled out of the driveway.
                The drive out of the suburbs and into the city was easy and predictable, as are so many things in the suburbs. They were able to get on and off the freeway with no trouble at all. Even though the freeway part of the trip was three times as far, the drive on the surface streets took just about as much time, but he was happy because they were still on track. It was 7:15pm. They pulled up at a red light, next to another black Towncar. He always noticed Towncars now that he owned one. They seemed to be everywhere. Most were owned by limousine services, so it was neat for him when he noticed one that wasn’t, like the one next to them. They were both stopped at the crosswalk, with the other Towncar in the left lane. Suddenly, on the red, the other Towncar made a left turn, squealing its wheels as it went. The husband and wife looked at each other; that was strange. It was 7:16. As they waited for the light to turn green they heard the buzz of a motorcycle, a street bike with its high pitched revving like a rattle snake that wants to strike but is caged.  The sound crept through the traffic and then suddenly opened up as it approached behind them. The motorcycle, black and shiny like a beetle’s carapace, shot out into the middle of the intersection and spun in place as it did a wheelie landing so that it was facing the husband and wife’s car – right in the middle of the intersection! Did no one in this city worry about cross traffic?! The husband and wife were befuddled by the display of recklessness until they realized that the rider, dressed in all black, tight and armored motorcycle gear and in a fully enclosed helmet, was pointing at their car. The husband exchanged a look with his wife and then, awkwardly, made a frowny-face and pointed to himself as he shook his head no. The rider nodded slowly, “yes.” It was 7:17.
                The light turned green and he looked at his wife with shock on his face. “Drive!” she yelled and he did. He pressed down on the gas and drove right at the rider, who wasn’t moving. The rider reached into his belt, and flicked his arm at the car. The husband swerved to avoid hitting the rider and his motorcycle and heard a thud on the front of the car. For a split second he was worried that he had hit the rider, but then he saw that there was a ninja star stuck to his windshield wiper. A. Ninja. Star. He pushed harder on the gas and raced down the city street, the lights were synchronized on this stretch so they had some room to maneuver. Behind them they heard the buzz of motorcycles, like a hive of angry bees chasing them. The wife turned to look behind them and immediately regretted her decision.
                “Are there more of them,” the husband asked?
                “Drive, just drive and don’t look back.”
                They caught up to traffic and had to slow down a bit. The husband tried to maneuver around the cars just to get some space, but it didn’t help. It was 7:18. Traffic was moving, but not quickly and the buzz of the motorcycles surrounded them as the riders, all in similar black outfits, flew past them and surrounded the Towncar. Other cars on the road slowed down and got out of the way leaving the panicked couple to fend for themselves. The wife gripped onto her husband’s arm and her face was a mask of fear. His face was that of panic and concentration. The car weaved between the obstacles on the road,  mostly other cars, and he was moving fast enough that he didn’t even try to stop for the red light that he was headed toward! The Towncar blasted through the intersection, surrounded by the swarm of motorcycles. Horns honked and cars coming from the cross traffic slammed on their brakes attempting to avoid accidents. Fortunately for the couple, a truck that couldn’t stop in time slammed into a few of the riders in black, t-boning two of them and then becoming an unmovable wall for several more. It left a gap on the left side that the husband took advantage of. He peeled hard to the left and turned down the side street. A score of the riders in black buzzed past, while others, seeing the car change direction, made the turn.
                “What should I do?” The husband asked.
                “I don’t know, ram them?!” The wife gripped the dash board and was frantically looking to the sides. “Where’s a cop when you need them?” As if to answer her question a squad car passed the opposite direction and flipped a u-turn activating its lights and sirens in the process. The couple breathed a small sigh of relief and the riders began to back off and sweep down side streets. It was 7:19.
                “Please pull over.” The officer requested from the loud speaker. The husband did and both he and his wife started giggling nervous laughter as their panic started to lift. The officer got out of the car and approached the driver’s side with his flashlight out and his hand on his weapon. The husband lowered his window. 
                “Thank God you showed up,” the husband said as he pulled up his license and registration, “we weren’t sure how we were going to get out of that!”
                “What was going on? Who were those bikers?” The officer looked concerned and kept his eyes peeled on the street around them. It was a smaller side street with very little traffic.
                “We don’t know,” the wife replied, “they just started chasing us.”
                “Well, let’s get you out of here. Where are you headed?” The officer gave back the license and registration without even calling it in.
                “We have reservations,” the husband sounded exacerbated, “we’re just supposed to be getting dinner.”
                “OK, well let’s get you…” before the officer could finish his sentence his eyes went wide and he fell against the car. “Dr… driv… drive!” he forced out as his wind left him. The officer fell to the ground and the husband saw a ninja star in his back. He screamed and pulled away as quickly as he could. As they drove they saw the officer pulling his gun while on the ground and firing in all directions before a wave of black motorcycles came pouring out of the alleyways. The wife screamed and the husband turned with no real idea of where he was going. It was 7:22.
                The riders seemed to be holding back, why the couple wasn’t sure. Every time he turned they would follow and then cut him off, forcing him to go a different way. He would find his way back to a main street only to be turned back by a hail of throwing stars and motorcycle blockades. It was 7:23. The windshield was cracked and his wife was close to tears. The husband turned down an alley, the only path not blocked off and suddenly found himself face to face with another Lincoln Towncar, also all black but with dark tinted windows. The husband slammed on the brakes, stopping just inches from the bumper of the other car. All of the riders stopped and collected at the entry to the alley. Anxiety filled the alley. The couple nervously watched both ends of the alley, darting back and forth between the riders and the mysterious car. Then the driver’s side door opened on the other Towncar. A man stepped out, tall with black short styled hair. He wore a black suit, crisp white shirt and a scarlet tie. This eyes were dark and brooding and he had the chiseled features of an international super-spy. There was an exotic sub-machine gun slung over his shoulder. He didn’t look into the car at all, his eyes focused squarely on the riders at the end of the alley. He walked up to the husband’s side of the car and tapped on the glass. It was 7:24.
                The husband lowered the window carefully about half way. The man spoke softly, but firmly in a voice that had no accent, but at the same time could have been any accent. It was a voice of authority and it issued commands, “You’ve gotten yourself in a bit of trouble by getting me out of some. For that I thank you. Now it is time for me to finish this and you need to leave. Do as I say and you’ll make it out.” The man tossed a stack of cash onto the husband’s lap. “This should cover the damage done to your car, plus a little extra for your trouble. When I’m done talking you need to drive in reverse as quickly as you can and then drive away. You will not be followed; the riders are looking for me. Nod if you understand.” The couple both nodded, jaws dropped. “Then go.” The man stepped away from the car and brought his weapon into a firing position. The couple looked at each other and then the husband put the car in reverse and backed out as quickly as possible out of the alley! The riders moved if they could, but the husband clipped a couple on his way out. But they were not followed. Instead they heard the roar of motorcycle engines and the barking of submachine gun fire. They pulled out of the side street and ended up on a main road, only a few blocks away from the restaurant. It was 7:25.
                They pulled up to the valet, the car a little worse for wear with a few ninja stars hanging off of the door, the windshield wiper and the trunk. The fenders were battered, but at least still attached to the car and there was road dust on everything. The valet approached cautiously and opened the driver’s side door. The husband got out, still a bit shell shocked, and placed the stack of cash in this jacket pocket. He moved over to the passenger side and helped his wife out of the car. She was still stunned as well. They entered the restaurant and approached the hostess podium. It was 7:29.
                “Stevens, party of two.” The words came out of his mouth, but later he would not remember saying them.
                The hostess smiled, “You’re right on time; let me show you to your seat.” The hostess led them to a nice cozy booth by the window. They were seated and handed menus. The couple looked at each other suddenly realizing that they made it. They smiled at each other and then started laughing uncontrollably, like crazy people.  The hushed mutterings and glares from nearby tables helped to silence them, but they could not believe what had happened that evening. They ordered ridiculously expensive wine and decadent appetizers; they had lived so they were going to live it up! As they sipped their wine they saw a black Lincoln Towncar pull up outside the restaurant window. The passenger side window rolled down and the man with the dark hair and suit nodded to them before driving away. It was 7:47.  

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52 in 52 Story 7 “Time Travel Sucks and Other Stories from the Society for the Betterment of Humanity”

This week has been particularly trying as I’ve tried to get this story ready and up. As I’ve been going through the 52 in 52 process a lot of my old story ideas have started racing to the front of my mind hoping that they might get a second chance at being written. This is one of those stories. Back in late 2006/2007 I was going through some significant life changes and I tried my hand at a few novels, like you do. None of them were finished and some were absolutely rubbish that never should have been typed, much less stored electronically for the ages, but there were a few gems that managed to fight their way out. This one is one of my favorites. This week is unique because I’m going to post the proto-story, that is to say that I’m going to post the original – warts and all – that I put down on paper almost a decade ago. I’ll warn you ahead of time that this is completely unedited and essentially a ‘vomit-pass” at the story and it’s pretty rough. Below that I have the new one that I have been writing, you can just skip down to that one if you want to save some time. I thought it might be interesting to see how my writing has changed in the last seven/eight years and also what hasn’t changed. I confess, I’m doing this mostly for me but some of you might be interested too.


EDIT:  I took out the Proto-Story. It seems to have gotten in the way of people reading the version that I wanted them to read. 

Time Travel Sucks and Other Stories from the Society for the Betterment of Humanity

There is a bright flash of light.  It is the kind of flash that you can see through your eyelids no matter how tight they are shut. And through your hands and sunglasses and lead plates that are 3 inches thick. I know because I’ve tried just about everything except the lead plates (and that’s mostly because I don’t want to carry them around with me).  It always does, each and every time.  Then you get a flash of heat in every atom of your body, a tickle on your tongue, and a flash of cold that could freeze your nipples right off.  Your gut drops right into ground, then flips up into your throat (rookies usually throw up the first few times) before everything goes black.  It only takes a few seconds but they are the longest few seconds you’ll ever experience and it never gets any easier – never.  Getting recruited for this job is the biggest scam in the world and once you’re in there’s no going back, mostly because you never know when you’re back and I mean that in a literal sense.  My name is Jonathan Vargas but people call me Jack. I’m a time traveler.  I remember when I first found out about this gig, the video they showed; I should’ve known right then and there that this was a huge mistake.  “See the building of the pyramids, walk in the footsteps of your favorite religious figure, see ancient Rome…” bullshit.  Have I seen some of those things?  Oh sure and every day is a “new wonder and sight that is beyond imagining” it’s just that you have to watch it hiding behind crates or rocks or whatever else so that the natives don’t see you and you don’t cause a paradox that rips the time/space continuum into a million pieces.  You know what I’m rambling; let me give you a little context.

I work for the Society for the Betterment of Humanity.  As I mentioned I’m a time traveler.  That’s my job.  I’m not a scientist or in the military.  I’m not good with math or languages.  I’m just a guy, a guy who wanted an easy and exciting job and I answered the wrong ad on Craig’s List.  Seemed like a great idea at the time.  I’m thirty-five years old, I didn’t finish college, and I have spent most of my life not sure of what I want to do.  When the Society sent me the information packet it all seemed pretty farfetched, but the pitch was simple – actually the ad read just like this: “Wanted: male 25 – 40 for new job opportunity.  Long term travel required.  Seeking applicants with a taste for adventure and the unknown.”  Sure that’s me, or at least it used to be.  So I called the number and they send me a DVD (A DVD?!?!?!) which starts off like a bad sci-fi movie with a starfield moving toward the screen, kind of like warp travel on Star Trek and this voice comes on and says, “have you ever wanted to travel through time?” What you’re thinking, that’s totally what I was thinking too.  Then it starts talking about time travel and I thought they meant in the figurative sense, like going out and doing archeology or something and it’s like they know that’s what you’re thinking because the voice over comes on just when you’re thinking that and says, “no, really, we mean traveling through time and space just like the movies.”  Actually, the more I think about it, it’s possible they did know that was what I was thinking.  Who knows who could have been watching me, then they go back to the future and report about it and then the Society makes changes to the video and send it back in time so that I’ll be more convinced to join up… See this is what happens, you start to second guess everything and your mind gets all tangled up with all the different time-lines you’ve visited and it’s hard to keep straight what you changed and what originally happened and then which quantum universe you’re in determines what you can remember and… Oh forget it!  The point is time travel is not easy, it’s not fun and it’s not funny.

Then I smell it, the rancid combination of fart and puke.  I shake the trip and the smell off and my vision returns.  We are…  somewhen, but figuring that out isn’t my job.  To my right I see Dr. Aaron, she’s blonde and tall and looks like she belongs in a magazine and not the frontier lady dress that she is currently wearing. Her hair is in a ponytail and bobs all around as she swings off her pack and starts gathering her devices and notes. She is the “Brain” they sent with us this trip.  Next to her is Wills, he’s the new kid who puked.  To my left is Capt. Richard Bell, he’s leading us this time and he’s a prick.  Then there’s Stinky, the engineer who’s supposed to get us back.  He’s responsible for the fart. He does it every trip without fail, but he’s also the most requested engineer in the Society.  We appeared in a big dark building; that’s not a good start. Usually if you show up in a big dark building things get hairy. It’s like it’s a rule.  We were shooting for the American west, cowboy days.  I don’t know the exact year, they don’t tell me that stuff, nor do I know what we’re doing here but I’m always assured that I’m told what I need to know.  As I get accustomed to the dark I can see that we are in a store room, maybe a warehouse.  OK, I can work with that. There’s a lot of cover in a warehouse; a good number of hiding spots. There are crates in here, crates with writing and it’s in English.  So far so good!  Then the prick goes into it.

“Alright, people, you know the drill.  Start looking around in here and tell me if we hit our target.  Provided we are in the right time and time-line we can get started.  The sooner we start the sooner we go home.  And Vargus clean up the newbies puke.”

See, he’s a prick.
Technically we are each supposed to have a job.  Capt. Bell is the prick that tells us what to do and decides whether or not we’ve accomplished what we were supposed to while we’re here.  Dr. Aaron is the historian and medic.  She’s the one who tells us how to act while we are whenever we are, is given the “original” history that needs to be changed, and patches us up if we need it.  Her and people like her are called “Brains” by me and people like me.  Stinky, as I mentioned before, is the engineer.  They get us back from whenever we are.  I like those guys and Stinky is the best.  The only problem is that the man farts every time we travel, as you may have noticed.  It’s sick.  As if traveling isn’t hard enough then you have to deal with the dueling scents of rookie puke and Stinky’s farts. But there’s a reason why he’s the most requested engineer at the Society and it’s because he’s got the longest perfect record for getting teams home. That’s a big deal. You can put up with some pretty bad smells when they come out of a man that can bend time and space as well as he can. He’s also one of my only friends. Having this job does a number on your personal life. I had to take off my backpack to clean up the rookie’s puke.  Thankfully he paid attention to protocol and didn’t eat anything before we traveled.  It’s mostly just a wet spot on the floor.  A smelly wet spot, but all that takes is a little of my special saw dust made just for us time travelers: time dust.  I have no idea what makes it special, but we aren’t allowed to take it from the building or use it in our own time line.  See, I’m a grunt.  I get all the bullshit jobs that none of the important three want to do.  I’m here to clean spills, get food, and do whatever to make the job easier for Capt. Bell, Dr. Aaron and Stinky.  That’s what the kid is here to do too; he’s training.  He looks really young to me, maybe twenty-three.  I guess they had to start recruiting younger.  At least it looks like the green is fading from around his gills.
“You OK kid?”  It’s his first trip so I feel like I should be nice.  Besides he and I are in the same boat and it won’t hurt to have an extra hand in my corner when this trip goes to pot, and it will go to pot.

“Yeah, thanks.”  Then he spits some left over puke out of his mouth managing to miss the time dust that I’ve already spread on the floor.  I reached into my pocket and pulled out a stick of special “time gum” for him.
“Here, this will get the taste out of your mouth.”  I said it with all the sincerity I could muster seeing as how I now needed to use more time dust to cover his spit.
I guess it’s important to know that the entire team gets outfitted with special stuff for each trip.  First, and most noticeably, we get period dress.  I’m especially fond of this when we go to ancient Rome or ancient Egypt.  Dr. Aaron looks great in that stuff.  All of us have general supplies that are kept in our pockets or pouches (depending on the style of dress).  Its stuff like “time gum” which biodegrades really fast after ten minutes of chewing, a small beacon so the engineer can find us if we get lost, and even some currency appropriate to our trip.  Then there’s the special kit that we each get.  Leaders get the only weapon, usually a gun, and PDA that has mission info in it.   Brains have a similar PDA but with a full “original” history and reference material.  I say “original” because, when you’ve been doing this as long as I have, you start to realize that you end up going back quite a bit to fix mistakes from other trips.  There is no “original” history anymore; we’ve screwed so much stuff up.  Engineers have just one job, get the team home, so they get a backpack, made as time specific as possible, which has the return equipment; it looks like an old traveling salesman’s suitcase that opens up to show something that vaguely looks like an old typewriter, but where you’d expect to see the keys there are dials and switches. Where you’d put paper is a large glass cylinder that spins and fills with electrical discharge. Wires come out of everything on it and it always smells like it’s going to catch fire. It’s totally archaic, but it’s my favorite piece of equipment because it gets us home.  Grunts like me get a time-suitable backpack filled with all the miscellaneous stuff like the time dust, water, rations, matches – camping supplies basically – and some crazy batteries to jump the return equipment, just in case. Also, before you ask, yes we bring our own water. You know how you’re not supposed to drink the water in Mexico when you visit? Same thing when you time travel. The last thing you want is Montezuma’s Revenge when you’re three and a half centuries away from home.
The kid finally gets it together and takes off his pack.  Not only is he young but he’s kid of small too.  About five foot five and a bit lanky.  He’s got a mop of dark hair and very sharp features.  His cowboy stuff doesn’t fit him right either. He just looks awkward. He was probably a goth kid back in high school.  We start to look around the room.  I start glancing at the crates; Wills searches intently for any info that might be on them.  What he doesn’t know, and I do, is that Stinky will have it all figured out in a couple minutes.  I take a chance to sneak a look at Dr. Aaron; most of the time she’s the best part of the trip.  Back home she always looks so serious with her hair up and wearing the tan jumpsuits we all have to wear at the Society, but in costume that’s a whole different deal.  She’s about five foot four – great height – with blonde hair down to her shoulders.  Soft features and a button nose that twitches when she thinks too hard.  Her eyes are green and sparkle.  She looks like she belongs in a magazine. I would love to see her naked.  The frontier lady get-up isn’t the most flattering thing she’s worn, but I’ll take what I can get.  If only we were in ancient Rome or Egypt, or maybe she could just wear a French maid outfit.  Yeah, that’d be good.

Before I get caught staring Stinky gets our attention, “Got it! Looks like we hit the right spot, with an extra six hours to spare.”  That was good news; we have time to eat!
“Very good,” Bell sounded cocky. What a prick. “Team, let’s mobilize and see if we can put ourselves up in the local hotel.”
Dr. Aaron looked up from her tablet as if she was in a video for a swimsuit calendar, at least that’s what I saw. “If we arrived where we should have then we should be inside the warehouse at the edge of town.”
“We’re wherever the co-ordinates that were given to me point to,” Stinky started putting away the return equipment and getting it packed away. As he was closing up the case we heard the opening of and saw a beam of daylight shine in from a door that was behind a stack of crates. Everyone froze, as is protocol, and the Captain put his hand on the six-shooter he was equipped with for the mission.
“Whoever you are, I heard ya’! You better come out or I’ll fill every square inch of this building with bird shot!” It was an angry native! Those are the worst kind. “Come on out, now. I’m serious!” And he sounds old and nervous, a bad combination in an already bad scenario. Somebody needed to fix this.
Dr. Aaron made the first move, “Hello? I’m afraid that we were just looking for some shelter.” A woman’s voice did have a way of diffusing these situations. “I’m coming out from behind the boxes now with my husband. Please don’t shoot us.” As she spoke she gave us the hand signal to hide. Wills, Stinky and I did just that as quietly as possible making sure that we were in place by the time she and Bell were visible. She introduced the two of them to the native and gave the approved cover story about being new in town from back east and received the anticipated hospitality. Soon the three of them were all chuckles and apologies and they left with him, hopefully to accomplish the assignment.
This is always the boring part of the work. Eventually the Brain and the Captain will go off and get the job done. Sometimes they take a grunt with them, but I prefer it when they don’t. When things go wrong, as they sometimes do, the grunt is the one who won’t make it back. They don’t pay me enough for that. While they were off doing what it is they do, the three of us stayed back to sweep the area for temporal bogeys and then prepped for the eventual departure. As grunts and engineer, we are tasked with staying in place unless forced to evacuate by extraordinary or life threatening circumstances. It sounds like the Society is concerned for our safety, but the truth is they want to mitigate the risk of time-stream errors and paradoxes. They don’t want our corpses stinking up the timeline and they go to extreme measures to make sure it doesn’t happen. Since our fearless leader and the Brain were now out of our presence the countdown started, for this mission it is four hours past action point. That may sound a little confusing. If the team is ever separated, and we almost always are, then there is a predetermined time when everyone is due to rendezvous at the original arrival point. That time is determined in relation to the “action point” which is the thing in history that we are attempting to alter. So in this case we arrived about six hours prior to the action point and then we will wait a maximum of four hours after that point before Stinky, Wills and I crank up the machine and go back to our native time and space. Typically we are out pretty quickly after the action point, but as I’ve mentioned Capt. Bell is a prick and he likes to show off, especially if the assigned Brain is as attractive as Dr. Aaron. If I could I’d bring a book to read to pass the time, but I can’t because it might get left behind causing a paradox. Playing cards, you may ask, can you bring playing cards to pass the time? Nope, same problem. Playing cards from the present (future?) are significantly different from the past so they could cause a paradox. Music? Nope, paradox. Smart phone? Nope, paradox. Hell the PDA’s that the mission Captains and Brains use were just recently certified and had to be outfitted with a self-destruct device just in case they are lost or left behind. We don’t even get to pack our stuff, everything is packed for you at the Society and then you get thoroughly searched before departure. So what do we do to pass the time? Every grunt has their ways, most break protocol and purchase something from the current time period to occupy thier time, but I personally like to play a little game I came up with called Ration Bar Poker. One of the few things that we all bring with us are the ration bars. They are each printed with a serial number on the packaging so that the Society can keep track of where each bar is assigned. These serial numbers are a combination of numbers and letters ten characters long, so you play it a bit like ten-card stud. You break up the bar itself into five pieces and that becomes your betting money for the game. Depending on the expected duration we could each be carrying up to ten of fifteen of these bars and that can pass a good amount of time. The packaging is also one of the few things that we carry with us that doesn’t instantly biodegrade. The kid and I have to make sure that all of the trash is picked up before we go. We tucked ourselves into a back corner of the warehouse where we were out of direct sight of the door and got ready to wait.
“So this is what we do? We just wait here?” The kid, Wills, had been so quiet until now that I was surprised at the sound of his voice. He stood awkwardly by his pack, his right hand gripping his left arm and kneading it.
“Pretty much,” I told him. “Pull up a crate, I’ll show you how we play poker out here.” I pulled a bar from my pack and waved it with a big smile. I was feeling a little extra peckish and was looking forward to eating my winnings.
Sticky snorted, “No way, Jack.” Then he looked at the kid, “Don’t fall for it. Before you know it he’ll have all your food and he’s terrible at sharing.” Stinky laughed, the kid gave a small smile. I punched Stinky on the arm.
“Great! Now what do we do? We have a whole day to kill.” I leaned back on my pack on the ground and tore open the bar in my hand and started gnawing on it. Stinky just shrugged and lay out on the ground to take a nap.
The kid walked up to me, “I guess you could show me how to do stuff? This is my first mission.” He had a point. I was supposed to train him and I guess now was as good a time as any. It was certainly better than just sitting around for the next nine hours. I told him to grab his pack and I took him through his job as a grunt.
After fifteen minutes there was nothing else that I could tell the kid about being a grunt.
“So, we’re, like, the team bitches?” Wills asked with a completely reasonable level of offence.
“Well, yeah, I prefer the term “gofer” or “support,” but, yes, essentially we are the team bitches. The most I’ve had to do in my last 4 missions is put down some of this time dust on puddles of puke.” You could see the disappointment come across his face. I suddenly felt really bad for him. What did they tell him to get him to sign up? Wills turned around and walked away. I gave him his space and went and had some water and ate again. We were still over eight hours away from departure, but I didn’t want to eat too much later otherwise I might puke on the return trip and so far I have a pretty good record of not puking. I plopped myself on the ground and ate while Wills sat and faced the wall of the warehouse.
The hours passed slowly. The sun started to set and we heard the piano in the saloon off in the distance. I always wondered what real cowboy whiskey tasted like. It’s a shame I couldn’t run over really quick and have a drink – but, you know, paradox. Besides we were close to the action point and it may be in that very saloon where something happens that may mean the future for humanity or the destruction of it, it’s so hard to tell. Then the door opened and closed, we followed protocol and froze.
“Let’s go!” It was the prick. Capt. Bell rounded the boxes looking for us with Dr. Aaron behind him.
Stinky woke up with a start, “All set, Captain?”
“Yes, this mission was a success. Let’s get back.” He had a shit eating grin on his face and looked back at Dr. Aaron who shook her head.
“Yes, I need to get the smell of cow pies out of my hair.” She moved next to the rest of us as Stinky opened up the case for the return equipment and started working the dials.
I started cleaning up my area and doing an idiot check for any last minute time bogeys that I’d need to cover up or collect. I called to the kid who was still over by the wall, “C’mon Wills, let’s go home.” He picked up his pack and moved slowly over by Capt. Bell. Stinky was hunched over the equipment. Sweat was building on his balding head and he kept wiping his mustache. Working with the equipment is always a delicate operation.
Then we heard a mumble out of Wills. I looked up at him and he was standing there with his head low and holding his left arm again with his right hand kind of twisting on his center of gravity.
“What was that Wills?” Capt. Bell asked.
“I don’t want to go.” Wills looked like a sad child. I was embarrassed for him.
Captain Bell smirked and put his arm around Wills, “This is your first trip, right? I know, it’s a really amazing thing that we’re doing here, we are traveling through time, but it also means that we have to be very cautious and so we can’t stay.” Bell was being as friendly as a prick can be, but it wasn’t enough. Wills made a face that was a twist of anger and the start of tears and then grabbed the six-shooter off of Bell’s belt! He shot Bell and then turned the gun on Stinky! I called out and that distracted him enough, but the gun went off and hit the return equipment. Dr. Aaron screamed out and Stinky started swearing. The kid turned the gun on Stinky again, but I was able to reach him before he could get another shot off. I had the gun in my hands and we were wrestling as I heard the equipment squeal in ways I had never heard it sound before and Stinky swearing up a storm. I started feeling the warmth that comes with the trip and my vision started to white out – at least we were still going home. The brightness came and then we were elsewhen.
I came too and I was on a dusty plain. No smells this time, except for the dust in the air. I looked to my left and I saw the device, sputtering and whirling down. I saw half of the body of Capt. Bell, the lower half. Stinky and Dr. Aaron were nowhere in sight, but Wills was here, he came too quicker than I did. He was standing away from me and still had the gun. He was looking out over the plain and I could hear him crying. Then the panic set in.
“What the hell did you do?!” I screamed at him as I ran. I wanted to tackle him and shake him! I wanted to know what the hell he was thinking! I wanted to know what they told him to get him to sign up. Before I could reach him he turned around a put the gun to his head.
“I’m sorry.” Then he pulled the trigger. The sound didn’t echo, there was nothing around for the sound to bounce off of, but it stopped me in my tracks. There’s a protocol for dead bodies in the time line. A bit of kit I don’t like to even talk about. Like I said, the Society doesn’t want our bodies stinking up the timeline and they have some very extreme measures to make sure it doesn’t happen. It’s a device, every member of the team has one but they so rarely get used. Normally if someone dies in the field we just bring the bodies back with us so they can be properly buried or whatever. In rare cases, like this one, we each have a very small device, the size of a make-up compact, which we use to dispose of bodies. We each carry one, just in case. We use them whether the body is dead or not, like a hyper functional cyanide capsule that also eliminates any evidence of the body. It’s the panic device, a last resort. I always keep mine in a separate pocket away from anything else I may use; I really don’t like to think about it. But now here I was, with one and a half bodies in a place I did not recognize alone with a piece of equipment I do not know how to use.
I went to Wills and took off his pack. I kicked the gun away and found his device in his front pocket. I set it on his chest and watched his whole body burn and vaporize away. It felt like I got punched in the gut. I felt a tear in my eye. I went and did the same for Bell’s legs. Then I gathered Wills and my packs together next to the return device. I sat down next to it and broke down. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I pulled out my own device and looked at it; so much power in the size of a compact. The wind blew at me as I sat and I tried to prepare myself for what I had to do.
Then I smelled something, something familiar – it smelled like an electrical fire! The return equipment! It wasn’t dead! I pulled it closer to me and looked at it. It was definitely run down, and you could see the damage that the bullet made, but the central cylinder was still in one piece and there was still charge flowing in it, I figured that had to be a good thing! I put my device back in its pocket and started messing with the dials and switches. I’d never been this close before, now I saw that there was a small readout displaying red numbers that I didn’t understand. As I turned wheels some of the numbers changed, when I flipped a switch and then turned the wheel some of the other numbers would change. I was just changing numbers wherever I could. I could still get home – as long as I knew where home was. I started thinking really hard about anything that Stinky had ever said, anything that could have been a clue, but he never talked about coordinates, only that he had gotten us to them. And I knew that this could be tricky, because not everyone was as good as he was. In my panic and desperation I made a decision. I took all the supplies that I could out of Wills pack and added them to mine. I grabbed the gun with its three bullets and threw it in there too. Then I sat at the machine, whirled some dials and hit the switch. The machine started revving up, the cylinder spun, and I got that warm feeling. What’s the worst that could happen, I figured, maybe I end up at home or somewhere with more people, but I had to try something. The light got bright, I felt the heat and I was gone…

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Filed under 52 in 52, 52 stories in 52 weeks, fiction, sci-fi, short story, time travel, working for a living

52 in 52 Story 6 Bloody Mary

Bloody Mary

                “She was a little girl who lived back in the olden days in a big house. Her dad was rich and never around and her step mom was mean and always called her Ugly Mary. It started to make her go crazy! Then one night when she was washing her face she looked at herself in the mirror and saw a freckle. She tried to scrub it off, but it was a freckle, it was part of her face. So then she started to scratch at it and she scratched and scratched and her face started to bleed. Well, she kept scratching, not just at the freckle but at the rest of her face! And she was scratching and scratching and pretty soon she was screaming because her whole face was getting scratched off! Downstairs they heard the bathroom mirror break and Mary’s screams and when they went upstairs to see what happened the mirror was shattered, there was blood everywhere and Mary was gone! Now if you say her name three times in the bathroom mirror Bloody Mary will appear and scratch your face off too!” Billy cackled like a witch as his sister, Sally, screamed.
                “Shut up, Billy!” Sally was really scared. Her big brother always did this to her, especially at night right before bed. “That story isn’t true!”
                “It totally is!” Billy’s eye’s got really wide and his voice got quiet, like he was about to tell a secret. “Freddy’s older sister did it once.”
                “Freddy doesn’t have a sister!”
                “Not anymore!” Billy laughed and laughed and then they heard their Dad coming up to tuck them in.
                “Quiet down you two! Billy quit scaring your sister.” Dad was tall, at least as far as six year old Sally could tell. He had neatly cut brown hair and a sly smile. His glasses made him look smart and Sally liked that she had a smart Dad; she just wished that she also had a smart brother. Billy rolled his eyes and left Sally’s bed and went back into his own room next door, the room closer to the bathroom. Dad whapped Billy lightly on the back of the head as they passed each other in the doorway, “You get into bed, mister, I’ll be there soon,” then he sat next to Sally as she pulled her My Little Pony covers up to her neck. “You know he’s teasing you, right? None of his stories are real.”
                “Billy’s a jerk!” She said it loud enough for him to hear. She was still pretty scared, even with Dad here in her room.
                “I know, I know. It’s ok.” Dad brushed her hair with his hand and tried to calm her down. “Sally eight year old boys have been telling that story to their kid sisters since I was your age, even longer than that. It’s just an old scary story and it isn’t true. Freddy never had a sister of any age.” Sally still didn’t look convinced. “And, the nice thing is, your brother’s bedroom is closer to the bathroom so Bloody Mary would get him first.” Dad tickled her when he said the last bit and that made her laugh. She felt safer and Dad was right, Bloody Mary would have to get Billy first and at least then she’d have time to run away. “Are you going to be OK?” Sally nodded and hugged her doll. Dad kissed her on the forehead and went to the door. “Good night sweetheart.”
                “Good night Daddy.” Dad turned off the light and shut the door about halfway. “Can you leave the hall light on?”
                Dad poked his head back in, “Sure thing honey. I love you.”
                “I love you too.” Dad went in to say good night to Billy and Sally listened to him get in trouble as she closed her eyes and hugged her doll tight. Billy earned getting in trouble; she didn’t want to think about some scary girl who lived in the bathroom mirror! Sally fell asleep hearing the sounds of her Dad’s voice and her brother apologizing.
                Sally twitched in her sleep at the sound.
Scratch. Scratch. Scratch.
                She woke up, a little groggy, looking around for the source of the noise. She didn’t see it in her room, but it was dark. The hall light was out.
Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. There was a muffled voice too, it sounded like whimpering. Sally got scared, but wasn’t sure what to do. She listened and it seemed to stop. She sat up in bed and held her doll very close.
“Billy?” She whispered hoping it was loud enough for him to hear but not loud enough to get the attention of anything scary. There was no response. She tried again, “Billy?” Then she heard the soft whimpering again. Maybe Billy was having a nightmare? Maybe he scared himself? Sally got brave and started to get out of bed. She felt the carpet underneath her feet and pushed the covers off of her body. She stood up and started toward the door. Even though the lights were out she could see due to the light of the moon and street lamps outside of her window. It gave a very pale glow to all of the surfaces in her room and the hall where the door was open. As she got closer to the door she heard the soft whimpering again, it sounded like Billy was crying into his pillow. Then the noise again: Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. Sally opened her door enough to get into the hallway. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. She rounded the corner to the door of Billy’s room. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. She saw Billy’s bed and someone leaning over it. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch.
“Mommy?” But it wasn’t her Mom. The figured turned sharp and where there should have been a face there were just bloody strips of flesh, the creature’s hands were crooked into claws that dripped with blood and in the bed Sally saw what was left of her brother’s face and she screamed!
Her Mom and Dad came rushing into her room telling her it was OK, that it was all just a bad dream and she saw her brother yawning and wiping his eyes in the doorway trying to figure out what was wrong.  It was all a terrible nightmare! A terrible, terrible nightmare and it took Sally forever to get calmed down. Her Mom slept with her that night and Dad had a stern talk with her brother about how mean it is to scare his sister. It was just a nightmare, just a nightmare.
The next morning was Saturday and the sun shone brightly into Sally’s window to greet her as she woke up. Mom was gone, but that was OK since it was day time. Sally could hear her downstairs in the kitchen cooking breakfast. The TV was on, it sounded like Billy was watching Power Rangers, and all was right with the world again. Sally got up and put her doll under the covers and tucked her in, she still needed some rest, and then went to the bathroom. Sally walked down the hall, past Billy’s room, turned on the bathroom light and closed the bathroom door behind her. There were no windows in the bathroom, just the light from the bulbs over the sink. She sat to potty and nervously looked over to the bathroom mirror. It looked fine, there were no cracks or strange reflections or scary girls in it. But Sally was scared to look away. As she finished she looked as quickly as she could to keep her eyes on the mirror as much as possible. Then she had to wash her hands. Sally went to the sink and stared herself in the eyes as she reached for the faucet. She stopped, and then she turned around and opened the door. She felt safer with the door open; there was a place to run if the door was open. She turned back to the sink, locking eyes with her reflection and washed her hands. She let out a big breath, dried her hands and turned out the light. She did it! And no scary girl showed up!
Sally walked down stairs and everything was as it should be: the TV was on, it was Power Rangers, Dad was at the table reading the paper and Mom was cooking breakfast. Wait, where was Billy? She walked a little further toward the TV and then Billy jumped out from behind the couch, his hands like claws and wearing a hockey mask! Sally screamed and ran toward Dad.
Both Mom and Dad yelled at him, “Billy!” Sally cried a little as Dad held her and Billy pulled off his mask.
“Billy, what have we told you?” Dad asked with a very disappointed look on his face.
“You go to your room, mister,” Mom was pointing at him with her spatula from the kitchen, “there will be extra chores for you today, young man.”
“Aw, c’mon! I’m sorry, Sally.” That was the worst thing that Mom could have said to him. There were very few things that bothered Billy and “chores” was definitely at the top of the list!
“No, right now, upstairs!” Mom was starting to walk out of the kitchen; Billy took the hint and booked it to his room.
Sally yelled up at him as he ran, “Maybe Bloody Mary will get you!” Her parents shook their heads and went back to a normal Saturday morning. There were pancakes and orange juice and My Little Ponies. Sally and Dad went to the park and played on the playground equipment. She saw her friend Jenny and they played in the sand. When they got home that afternoon it was still nice out so Mom brought her some lemonade while Billy raked leaves in the front yard with a sour expression on his face. Sally laughed because he had leaves in his shaggy brown hair. Mom helped her dress up one of her dolls and got the little plastic shoes on (they were always so hard for Sally to get on by herself). All in all it was a pretty wonderful Saturday.
For dinner they had one of Sally’s favorites, fried chicken. It wasn’t just her favorite; it was Dad and Billy’s too. Mom made really good fried chicken that tasted even better than the kind at the fast food places Dad would take them too when Mom didn’t have time to make hers. It was crispy and juicy and you could dip it in the mashed potatoes and gravy and make a “chicken-pop;” Sally made that up. Billy would always peel the skin off of his chicken and play with it before he ate it.
“Look, Dad, it’s like monster flesh, rawr!” He had a flap of skin stuck to his cheek and was making faces and sticking his tongue out like he was a zombie. Sally started a bit, it reminded her of her nightmare.
“Billy,” Dad took the chicken skin off of his face and started wiping the grease off, “stop playing with your food and eat it.”
“But Dad, I want to be a monster!”
“You are a monster; an eight year old monster who’d better eat.” Dad wiped his fingers and went back to his own food.
“Billy what has gotten into you lately?” Mom asked between bites. Billy didn’t answer he just picked up the chicken skin and shoved it in his mouth with a big smile. Mom and Dad laughed and Sally giggled a little. It was just a nightmare, it wasn’t real.
That night they watched a movie, “Finding Nemo” (it was the only one that she and Billy agreed on watching, ever). Then it was time for bed. Both Billy and Sally ran up to their rooms and put on their pajamas. Sally’s were pink and had a big grey silhouette of a cat on the front. Billy’s looked like a red and blue race car jump suit. When she had her p.j’s on and had put her clothes in the hamper she went to the bathroom to brush her teeth. The bathroom light was out. The hall light was on, but the bathroom light wasn’t and it was really dark past the door. Sally looked as hard as she could at the inside of the bathroom trying to see if she could make out anything wrong, especially in the mirror. She crept closer, not wanting to move too much just in case there was someone or something in there. Billy raced past her and bumped her! She screamed a little and he looked back.
“Sorry!” Then Billy flipped on the light and water and started brushing his teeth. Well, at least that probably meant it was safe in there. Sally went in and got her toothbrush and started brushing her teeth too. Billy finished, spit, and rushed out. As he was leaving he closed the door behind him and turned out the lights, laughing as he did it.
Sally screamed! She dropped her toothbrush on the floor and started pulling on the door knob and banging on the door, “Let me out! Mom! Dad! Help!” She kept screaming and pounding and started crying. Billy was still laughing. Sally could hear Dad coming up stairs and yelled at Billy to get away from the door.  It opened and Dad turned on the light and picked her up holding her close as she cried.
“What the hell were you thinking, Billy?!” Dad was really mad. He didn’t like to use those words normally. “This is your sister and you are scaring the crap out of her!” Billy started crying too, softly at first, but it got stronger with each breath.
“I’m sorry,” he said through the tears, “I was just joking around.” He started sobbing.
“Well this is where your joking around got us. Get in your room.” Dad walked Sally back to her bedroom and put her on the bed.
“I dropped my tooth brush.” She said through sniffles.
“It’s ok, we’ll get you a new tooth brush and take it out of your brother’s allowance.” Dad sighed, “I don’t know why he’s doing this, but he’ll stop.”
“Promise?” Sally wiped her eyes with her sleeve.
“Promise.” Then Dad hugged her tight and Mom came in wearing her robe and sat on Sally’s bed. “I’m going to go have a talk with your brother.” Dad walked out with a stern look on his face.
Mom scooted closer to Sally and hugged her tight singing softly to her and rocking her. That made her feel better. In the room next door she could hear Billy crying and Dad being very angry. It wasn’t clear what Dad said he’d take away, but when he came out of Billy’s room and closed the door he was holding Billy’s Game Boy and a lunchbox full of Hot Wheels cars. She could hear Billy crying in his bed. Mom rocked her and she fell asleep.
The room was dark, pitch black, the kind of dark where you can’t even see your hand in front of your face. There was no noise, it was silent. It was too silent. Sally stood in her pajamas not sure which way to go. “Mom?” she called out. There was a hollow echo, but no answer. “Dad?” again and echo with no answer. “Billy?”
“Billy’s not here.” The voice was wet, wheezing. And came from ahead of her, at least she was pretty sure.
“Who’s there?” Sally called out, her eyes tearing in fear.
“Say my name…” the voice slithered.
Sally squealed in fear, “Who is it?”
“Say. My. Name!” The voice was direct and getting closer.
“I don’t want to! You leave me alone!” Sally started to panic and tried to run but didn’t know which direction to turn.”
“SAY MY NAME!” The voice was screaming now and coming closer, faster! Sally screamed and turned away from the voice and just started running. She ran into someone and fell back on her bottom. She tried to get up but she could hear the footsteps of whomever she ran into approaching. She tried to back up but the face, the horrible face she had seen in her nightmare before all bleeding ribbons of flesh hanging off of a ripped and gouged face with strings of bloody brown hair, came at hers from the dark, “BLOODY MARY!”
Sally screamed and sat straight up in bed! She kept screaming even as the hall light came on and Mom and Dad came rushing in, Mom hugging and rocking her and Dad frustrated and pacing the room. Billy managed to sleep through this one. Sally explained to Mom and Dad what happened in her nightmares. She described the dark and how it was super quiet and the scary voice that she heard. How it said that Billy wasn’t there. Mom and Dad exchanged a look and went back to consoling Sally. Dad slept with her that night.
Sunday morning Sally woke up and heard Billy crying in his room. She got up and grabbed her doll and peaked around the corner, his door was shut. She couldn’t see anything. She went down stairs and went to say hi to her Mom and Dad. Dad was sipping coffee and reading the paper and Mom was cooking eggs.
“Hi sweetie,” Mom said with a smile.
Dad got up from the kitchen table and walked over to her, “Did you sleep better?” He mussed her hair as he asked.
“Yes. Why is Billy crying?”
Dad made a bit of a sad face and kneeled next to her, “your brother is in trouble for giving you nightmares. He knows better and so he has to stay in his room without TV or his video games or the computer. You’ve had nightmares two nights in a row and he’s not supposed to scare you like that.”
Mom chimed in, “He needs to learn that it isn’t funny to scare you like that.”
“OK. I don’t want him to be sad, though.” Mom and Dad looked at each other with faces that showed how they thought her thoughtfulness was adorable and heartfelt.
“He’ll be OK,” Dad put his hand on her shoulder. “Right now I think he’s just upset that he can’t play Pokemon.”
Billy came down for breakfast and Dad kept reminding him that it wasn’t OK to scare his sister. He had chores to do again, which he hated, but by the end of the day he had his Game Boy back and was back to playing Pokemon.
That night when it was time for bed Sally put on her cat pajamas and went right into the bathroom to brush her teeth. As promised Dad got her a new toothbrush (with some of Billy’s allowance) and she started brushing. She looked down to spit and when she looked back up she saw Billy standing behind her! She screamed a little which surprised him and he jumped back a little knocking his head on the door jamb hard enough that he started to cry a little.
He fell to the floor and rubbed his head, “What’d you do that for?”
Sally got mad, “You scared me!”
“Nuh uh, I was just standing there waiting to brush my teeth!” Mom and Dad came up to see what all the ruckus was about.
“What happened?” Mom sounded exasperated.
Sally and Billy both started talking, “He scared me!” “She scared me!” “He was just standing there…” “I wanted to brush my teeth but she screamed and I hit my head…”
“Enough!” Dad was loud and it quieted them both immediately. “This needs to stop. No more scaring, whether on purpose or on accident. Finish getting ready, it’s time for bed.” Sally wiped her mouth and walked back to her room with Mom while Dad waited for Billy to finish brushing his teeth. Mom read her a book and kissed her forehead and turned out the light, leaving the hall light on. Dad put Billy to bed and said good night as he passed her room. She could hear them watching the TV downstairs and she fell asleep knowing they were still awake.
She was in the hallway and the light was dim. It was on, but it was as if the bulb could only make half the amount of light that it was supposed to. Her bedroom door was shut and so was Billy’s. she turned to face the bathroom and saw Billy standing there, stone still, in his pajamas just staring into the dark bathroom.
Skree. Skree. Skree. Skree. The sound was coming from the bathroom. Skree. Skree. Skree. Skree. Skree. Skree. Skree. Skree. Skree. Skree. Skree. Skree. Sally was scared to get any closer but she didn’t know what to do about her brother. Skree. Skree. Skree. Skree. She crept up behind him, shaking as she moved.
“Billy?” she whispered.
“No Billy.” It was the voice. Sally froze in place and felt all the blood leave her body. “No Billy no more!” Then Billy’s body fell backward, landing face up on the ground. His face was scratched off and when Sally looked up she saw Bloody Mary in the mirror scraping at the glass to get out! Skree! Skree! Skree! Skree! Skree! Skree! Skree! Skree! Skree! Skree! Skree! Skree! Skree! Skree! Skree! Skree! Skree! Sally screamed and screamed and the voice cackled and screamed back! The glass of the mirror tore like skin and Bloody Mary crawled out of the mirror her face sticking to the jagged edges of the torn mirror glass, pouring blood over everything, her clawed hands articulating on the faucet handles and her legs operating spider-like as she pulled them though.
Sally tried to pull away but Billy’s lifeless hand grabbed her ankle causing her to fall. Mary jumped from a crouched position on the sink to the door jamb and then to the ceiling in the hall, crawling across it and leaving trailed of blood drooling over everything. She was directly above the screaming Sally and turned her head all the way around to stare at her, “NO MORE BILLY!”
Sally screamed herself awake and she found herself standing next to Billy’s bed where Billy was screaming now too having been woken up by her screams. He had scratches on his face, nothing deep, but they were bleeding a little and there was blood and a little skin in Sally nails. Sally started crying and Billy did too as he pulled his knees up to his chest and got as far away from Sally as he could. Mom and Dad came rushing in turning on the light as they did. They found Sally sobbing with bloody finger tips and Billy crying with wide terrified eyes. Mom gasped and ran to Sally. Dad went to Billy and inspected his face.
“My God, Sally did you do this?” Dad looked scared too. Sally couldn’t stop crying and didn’t answer. Mom just shook her head. Dad ran into the bathroom to grab some cotton balls and hydrogen peroxide. He turned on the light and stopped dead in his tracks. Dad grabbed his mouth and backed out.
Mom asked, “Honey what’s wrong?” Dad didn’t answer. Mom left Sally and walked over to Dad, “What is it?” she looked in the bathroom and gasped. Sally didn’t want to be alone so she ran to her parents. Mom tried to cover Sally’s eyes, but Sally saw it, words scrawled in thin blood on the mirror: “Bloody Mary doesn’t like Billy”.
“Mom!” Billy yelled from his room. They all ran back to him.
Billy never scared his little sister again.
The end.

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52 in 52 Story 5 “A Tale of Sergio Malik”

This week’s story is an old idea that has been sitting in my head for years. I think it requires just a little bit of set-up for context. It takes place in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Warhammer 40,000 (or 40k for short) a table top war game that I used to actively play. It has a very rich background and has been the setting for dozens and dozens of best selling paperbacks. When I was in my late twenties I played one of the spin-off games, Inquisitor. Unfortunately this game is no longer supported by Games Workshop so I don’t have a link to it specifically. In that game you get to create a variety of characters and the subject of this week’s story was one of those characters, Sergio Malik. He, along with his boss, Inquisitor Guildenstern, and Judge Regina Burgun would race around the galaxy hunting mutants, aliens and demons. It was a really cool, really geeky game. In fact, here’s a picture of them that I took for a campaign we were running:

Regina’s a bit out of focus, but that’s OK, she’s not in this story.

Anyway, this story is written assuming that you are familiar with the universe. For those who aren’t I’ve included THIS LINK to the 40k wiki so you can look up anything you have questions about. For those of you who just want to get to the story know this: it is the far future, the 41st millennium, humanity is on the downslide and fighting wars on every front. Humanity worships it’s greatest leader, the God Emperor who’s body is kept barely alive by a machine called The Golden Throne. Technology is no longer understood and treated like magic. In the grim darkness of the far future there is only war.

A Tale of Sergio Malik

The ferrocrete of the partition began to crumble under the punishment of stubber slugs and laser blasts.  The echo of the impacts rattled Sergio’s head and made him dizzy with a staccato repetition of beats as each shot aspired to find a chink in the wall. Each blast wanted to kill Sergio Malik as much as his attackers wanted him dead.  It was not the first time he had faced death, and it was most certainly not the last time he would either.  It was also not the first time he had fought alone, although he never liked to; its so much better to have someone watching your back, or at least someone – anyone – who could take a bullet in your place.  He had managed to hide himself in this little cubby, a small box of ferrocrete that once must have contained some artifact of the Adeptus Mechanicus that could have maintained this section of the hive or heated water or whatever those things do.  Now it was just a four-foot square of wires and empty tubes three feet above the floor and one foot below it, with a dash of Sergio’s blood for color, and while it was providing his only protection it could just as easily become his final resting place.  They knew where he was; that much was plain, and it was only a matter of time before they figured out that he wasn’t shooting back.  Sergio’s stubber was empty, the three clicks he heard, actually felt more than heard, were evidence of that.  His revolver, Tania the Angle of Salvation, had only three full chambers; each one was loaded with a simple slug, none of them were explosive or ‘smart’ or filled with an acid that might cover the whole of the area.  Nope, just a three simple dum dums.  Dum dum, that’s how he felt now.
            The shooting had stopped.  Footfalls and scuffles along the floor; they were moving!  Maybe they thought he was dead?  More likely they were closing in for the kill.  Kill?  More like slaughter.  Instincts honed by decades of running in low circles kicked back in.  Without the distraction of the swarm of bullets he felt much more like himself.
The footsteps stopped and there was some hesitant shuffling. “He might be dead.”
            Another voice called out, “I didn’t see him go down.”
            The first voice, closer than the others, called back, “I got ‘im I know it!”
            Another voice called, it was coming from Sergio’s left, “You never get ‘em!” Laughter erupted from the men he was fighting. It sounded like four altogether.
            “Quiet!” a voice commanded.  That made five of them left, but only one of them sounded like he knew what he was doing. Still, five was two too many for three bullets.  “Gersh, go look; make sure Tygon really did get ‘im!”  Another burst of laughter. Good they were distracted!  The walls of the cubby suddenly felt cavernous as Sergio prepped to leap up.  This was a gamble, a horrible gamble.  There was no way to guarantee he would get out of here alive, but maybe dying was a lot better than definitely dying.  The quilted flack armor that Sergio wore was now tattered and had a few more holes than he was comfortable with; the plate of ablative armor that he had attached that very morning was now dented and useless.  The blue of his vest was now crimson and purple in some places where he was dripping life, although thankfully that was abating.  Everything was sore, even through his rising adrenalin, and Sergio knew that, if he lived, tomorrow he might be sorry that he had. The metal of the hive’s decking betrayed Gersh’s location as he closed in on Sergio’s cube.  Sloppy, just plain sloppy; it was a wonder that any of these weird cults ever got anything done, ‘course usually all they want to do is raise a menace and try to sew the roots of dissent among the populace, things like that were simple with a gun in your hand.  A gun in his hand, that was actually essential to Sergio’s plan.  Surely they wouldn’t send someone with an empty weapon to investigate?  Actually they might, but he needed to believe that they wouldn’t.  He would use one precious shot as Gersh leaned over the rim.  One shot that would kill him and then he would pull the body, and his weapon, into the cubby so that Sergio could use it.  As Gersh got closer, Sergio got ready and the pain that he had been feeling lifted. 
Gersh got closer and confidence seemed to fill each of his steps.  A shadow, both deadly and hopeful, hesitantly peered over the edge into the cubby. First a beefy arm that ended in a gun barrel, which was then followed by a hooded head that eclipsed the light directly above Sergio’s head.  As Sergio’s eye’s adjusted to the new dimness he could see the moment of realization come over Gersh’s face that Sergio wasn’t dead and then the moment of horror as Gersh saw Tania, the Angel of Salvation, pointed at him.  Time rubber banded as the hammer fell in Tania and a chemical explosion pushed a slug of soft, dense metal forward at super sonic speed.  It spun down the barrel of Tania and escaped in a cloud of heat and residue.  Gersh’s face didn’t even have time to change expression before it was cratered and torn apart.  Sergio reached up with his right hand and grabbed the cultist by the robe under his chin. He gave one sharp tug and the body, complete with rifle, fell into the cubby next to him.  Then the rubber band snapped and things felt almost too fast to handle.
Sergio’s hand wrapped around Gersh’s rifle as the sound of yelling and feet came running at his cubby.  A las gun, Guard issue and with a healthy charge; these dissidents were well equipped for a bunch of cultist scum – maybe the boss was right to check them out.  Sergio grabbed it and clicked it to burst fire with his right hand while his left put Tania back in her holster. This wasn’t how he was supposed to spend his day. This wasn’t even how this investigation was supposed to go. The plan was to integrate into the hive, see what the locals could tell him about the dissidents in the Under Hive, and then report back to the boss whether it was worth further investigation. The las gun in his hands was proof enough that there would need to be a full Inquisitorial investigation. Now he just needed to escape.  
Before this all began, before he was seconds away from dying in a hive city thousands of thousands of light years away from where he started, Sergio Malik was enjoying the benefits that went along with being in the personal entourage of an Inquisitor of the Ordo Hereticus. Of all of the people in the God-Emperor’s galaxy no one was granted more respect or freedom than a member of His Inquisition. They lived in lavish homes with full support staffs of servitors and serfs. Sergio had access to some of the most impressive weaponry in the universe, although he preferred his own guns since they had never let him down. He was given medical care that some worlds in the Imperium hadn’t even imagined, much less had ever seen. And the food, oh the food! He had access to things he didn’t even know could be cooked, and they were all delicious! But these kinds of perks don’t come without earning them and as a gunfighter employed by one of the most dangerous men in the galaxy investigating some of the most hostile forces in the galaxy you never knew if the last meal you ate would be your last meal period. The last thing he had eaten in the hive before getting pinning in the cubby was a bowl of noodles with a protein paste broth. Definitely not as nice as the seared Rotan game bird with a lactic bean salad and a bottle of wine that was near impossible to pronounce.  When he got out of here the first thing he was going to do was learn how to pronounce that wine!
His boss is Inquisitor Balthazar Guildenstern of the Ordo Hereticus. He is a tall man with sharp features, a lean body and no hair whose mission is to root out and destroy the cancer of political and religious heresy in the God Emperor’s Imperium. It’s a grand job and not for the faint hearted. Sergio had met the Inquisitor when he was employed by one of the navigator houses as a body guard. He had been assigned to one of the children of a prominent house, an adult child with a terrible gambling problem. During a particularly expensive game where the boy had gambled away nearly all he had except for his warp eye, the gambling den was raided by Inquisitorial storm troopers. The den was in a particularly seedy part of a city that was known itself as being particularly seedy on a planet that was thought of as seedy in the first place, so when the troopers burst in the response from the gamblers inside was immediate. Weapons of all types were drawn and used. Tables were over turned to create cover. The den itself wasn’t very large, about the size of an average hab unit with two sleep spaces, so the amount of cross fire was thick and deadly. The boy panicked so Sergio, doing his job, shot and fought his way past three of the troopers, aiming for the few vulnerable spots in their armor, and dodged past and under the shooting. He grabbed the boy and dragged him into a back room where, during his earlier scouting, he had spotted a “rat hole” exit that the proprietors probably expected to use on just this sort of occasion. The proprietors didn’t make it. Sergio tossed the boy through the hole and then followed after. They made it out, he tossed a grenade back down the hole and they were just about home free when they were stopped by a squad of storm troopers lead by Inquisitor Guildenstern. The grenade went off shortly after, only the boy reacted.
Sergio holstered his weapons and the boy pissed himself. “I am Sergio Malik, body guard of the Navigator House Shantoom and this is my charge. I understand, as a citizen of the Imperium, that it is my responsibility to surrender to the will of an Inquisitor, but I am also bound by the laws governing the safety of the Navigator Houses to return this boy to his family before allowing him or myself to be taken by any acknowledged authority.” The speech was practiced and relaxed, almost blasé. Sergio knew they had been caught and wasn’t going to be able to fight his way past a squad of anyone out in the open, much less highly trained storm troopers and an Inquisitor.
Inquisitor Guildenstern smiled a small smile that looked like it almost cracked his face, “You managed to escape a gambling den full of miscreants and criminals as they were being raided by some of the best trained soldiers in the Emperor’s galaxy?”
“I did. It was surprisingly easy.” Sergio made firm eye contact with the Inquisitor, but inside he was nervous. “I should also apologize; I had to shoot a few of your troopers to do it.” The storm troopers grimaced and aimed at Sergio for that.
Inquisitor Guildenstern raised his hand to stop them, “That’s all right; you do have a duty to your house and the boy. Even he, with his degenerate habits, is more valuable than the whole of this storm trooper platoon. My question for you is could you do it again?”
Sergio was surprised, “Yes, provided there was time to scout and prepare.”
The Inquisitor nodded to himself, “Let these men go. See that they make it safely back to their transport. You, boy, curb your habits. I will speak to your elders about how I found you here. And you, Malik, inform the House of Shantoom that Inquisitor Balthazar Guildenstern wishes to retain your services for an indeterminate amount of time. I will send for you once this ruckus is cleaned up.” And then he walked away. Sergio didn’t know at the time, nor would he learn until well after, that the Inquisitor had actually had him under surveillance for over a decade.  During that time he had watched how Sergio had fought his way out of a hive city, much like the one he was trapped in now, as part of the planetary defense force when it was attacked by Eldar pirates. He saw that after his discharge the only jobs he was good at were related to violence. Sergio had been an enforcer, money collector, and gun fighter for whomever could afford his price. What the Inquisitor liked about him was that, even as a mercenary, he had integrity and actually did care about the future of humanity. That was rare, especially in a universe wrought with so much temptation. The House of Shantoom released Sergio and it was immediately apparent that he had traded up.  
That is, until you get stuck in a box with four well-armed cultists of the Dark Gods bearing down on you. Grabbing the body of Gersh as a shield, he stood and shot at the four cultists as they approached. Las shots snapped off sounding like repetitive whip cracks. Sergio had sent short bursts of fire in the general directions of the attackers as he popped up, mostly as cover and for the shock. He didn’t hit anyone, though. Now that he had clear sight, at least as clear as his sight could be around the lolling head of Gersh, he was able to place his shots better. Impacts hit Gersh’s body making sounds like popping over-ripe fruit. The stink of flash burned robes and flesh filled Sergio’s nostrils. His shots, better aimed now, downed three of the cultists quickly, their red robes flapping as they fell looking like flames that were burning out. Sergio felt a burn on his left shoulder, it was the leader. He was a better shot and in a better position. After trading shots back and forth he could feel the wet of Gersh’s viscera starting to spill on his legs. This shield wasn’t going to be good for much longer. He dropped with the body as he heard shots slap into the cubby again. The power pack on the las gun was low, only a few shots left. He was still stuck!
“You’re not getting out of this!” The cultist shouted, “I’m sending you to your corpse god and then feasting on your heart!” Then he laughed a deep guttural laugh. Sergio frowned hard and looked around at what he had: a nearly empty las gun, two slugs left in Tania, a dead shot up body, and a series of hoses and tubes in the cubby hole, none of them big enough for him to slip through…
The leader stopped laughing and noticed that, besides the hum of the machines this deep in the hive, there was no noise. He took a quick peek around the corner, no motion by the cubby hole. He swung around with his rifle and popped off a couple shots. No response. “Hey, gun fighter, lost your nerve?” No response. The leader got brave and dashed to a bit of cover closer to the cubby. No shots were fired. “I’m coming to get you, gun fighter! I won’t go down like Gersh!” No response. He dashed to a bit of cover much closer to the cubby, no shots; no movement at in, in fact. Steeling up his nerve the cult leader popped up and ran yelling at the cubby, shooting blindly over the lip into the center of the box! Nothing, only Gersh’s body and a lot of blood all over the floor, a lot of blood; a body’s worth of blood. The leader rushed to the other side of the cubby, maybe the gun fighter had crawled out while he was hiding behind cover? But there was no blood trail, no body and no real escape route that wouldn’t have been visible. He spun in place, checking all the angles, even above. The gun fighter had vanished! Not sure what had happened, but satisfied that he was no longer in danger, the leader went and checked on the bodies of his fallen team. The three on the deck were dead. He collected the guns and power packs to take back with him. The rats and milipods will take care of the bodies. Then he headed to the cubby, Gersh was still there. He wondered how much of the blood in the cubby was from Gersh and how much was from the gun fighter. The leader jumped into the cubby and grabbed the discarded las gun, leaning it against the side of the cubby. Then he flipped over the body…

It wasn’t Gersh, what was left of Gersh after all the shots the body had taken was stuffed down between the pipes and tubes. Sergio had thrown on the robe and laid over the mess to wait for a chance to escape or kill. He said, “The Emperor Protects” and pulled the trigger. Tania spit one of her last two shots right between the cult leader’s eyes and he fell, limp, to the floor of the cubby. Sergio was quick to stand and throw off the robe. The stink of cultist blood was all over him. He grabbed the las guns, used the straps to hold them over his shoulder and made his way to the nearest Adeptus Arbites precinct to report. There were cultists on Muldavia, and the boss was going to have to do something about it.

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52 in 52 Story 3 “The Headache”

The Headache
                You had another headache, but this one was worse than normal. Ever since you were offered to be a partner in your law firm you had been getting headaches of varying degrees. This was the worst so far. It was the kind that starts behind your eyes and then crawls under your temples before it ends up nesting itself in the sides of your head. Painful, what you imagined a migraine might feel like, but you had never had one before to compare. All of the other muscles in your head were tense, tight with the pain. It was like there were invisible fingers in your head pulling all the muscles and tendons taut. You tried pills, over the counter stuff, but they didn’t work. You tried drinking it away, but it was the middle of the day and, being a new partner and all, you didn’t want to be drunk chasing away a headache should someone need you or want to conference. You sat in your office chair and tucked your face into your palms trying to massage away the pain. You loosened your tie and unbuttoned your shirt before you leaned back in the chair trying to stretch out all the muscles in the rest of your body hoping that, by virtue of being part of the same whole, your skull might loosen up too. The chair leaned back and you reached out your arms, grunting quietly, with your eyes squeezed shut. You released the stretch, but stayed leaned back. Your eyes opened and you saw that it was dark out. The day had completely gotten away from you. It was after hours, about 7:30, only the associates and researchers would still be here. You should have been at home. You sat back up, blinked your eyes and stretched your mouth. The pain was getting worse. Now your vision was getting blurry. You probably needed to see a doctor, but all you could think to do at the moment was get some sleep. Yeah, that would help, sleep. You’d just take a little nap and then get home and call in sick. You needed a day or two to recover. Maybe work from home? You got up from the chair and made a move toward the couch. You bumped into the corner of the desk. The sudden new pain relieved your head for a split second, you really enjoyed that second. You got to the couch and flopped down with a thud. It wasn’t the most comfortable couch in the world, purposely so no one felt too comfortable in your office (it was a tactic the firm used with all of its lawyers) but at this moment it felt like a cloud and you passed out before you even hit the cushion.
You woke up the next morning with the sounds of the office whispering through the door.  It must have been early because the phones weren’t ringing off the hook yet and you could only hear the secretaries talking to each other, probably gossiping about their bosses before they came in. You started to get up and winced in pain, the headache wasn’t gone yet. It wasn’t any worse, but it wasn’t much better either. At least your vision had returned for the most part. You looked at the clock: 6:15. You didn’t have much time before the other lawyers would start arriving for work. You wanted to get out before they saw you. It’s better to call in sick instead of being seen as sick. You didn’t want to be viewed as weak, especially since you hadn’t yet established yourself yet. You forced yourself off the couch, stumbling a bit as you did it. You made your way to the desk and collected your things and grabbed your coat. When you opened the door you were assaulted by the light and sound, it was enough to make you wince. Everything was surrounded by a halo and your ears throbbed with each ring of the phone. Your assistant caught sight of you and hurried over with a concerned look on her face.
                “What are you doing here?” She grabbed your coat out of your hands and helped you put it on.
                “I got sick, I slept here. I still don’t feel good.” Your voice was strained and dry. It was hard to talk.
                She helped to get you to the elevators, “I’ll clear your schedule. This will all be fine; you just need to get some rest.” She smiled in a soothing way and helped guide you into the elevator car. You smiled back as well as you could as the elevator door closed. The trip down was gratefully quick as you rubbed your forehead trying to relieve any pain that you could. When you reached the lobby the doorman was ready for you and led you to a car that got you home. The ride home was forgettable, since you spent it with your face firmly planted in your hands rubbing your temples. The door surprised you when it opened and you almost fell out, caught by the driver before you could hit the street. He helped you to your door and once the door closed behind you everything went black.
                When you slept the nightmares came. You were taken back to your first day on the job, the tour that you were given of the offices as you were introduced to the other lawyers and support staff. But instead of the power suits and dresses you saw that day, everyone was draped in black robes with hoods that concealed their identities. Where once there were desks and cubicles there were now chains hanging from the ceiling over grates that were slick with blood and small tables that had tools of torture set upon them, some still gore covered. On the first day that you remember, you were introduced to a lawyer named Peterson who had a hearty laugh, a belly, and very little hair. In this nightmare-scape he was a rotund torturer in a leather smock who was peeling the skin off of a screaming naked woman with red hair – although it wasn’t clear if her hair was naturally red or if it was blood soaked. His laughter as he did it chilled you to the bone. There was a background noise of moans and cries of pain. You could hear muttering whispers that always seemed to be right behind you, until you turned and saw that there was nothing to make such noise. You began to look for a way out, some avenue of escape. Running to doors that somehow led you back to the torture floor, running down the stairs to the lobby only to find the doors guarded by demon dogs that barked flames and drooled bile. Grabbing chairs you attempted to break the window glass only to see the glass turn to flame and re-form, unscathed, keeping you trapped in this hell-vision. With nowhere else to go you retreated to, what you hoped was, the safety of your office; closing the door and barricading it with your furniture – the only furniture that was that same as it was in the real world. You backed away from the door and turned to go to your desk. Your chair, tall and black leather, was faced away from you and began to slowly turn. As the chair turned you heard a piercing ringing in your ear, like a high pitched test pattern sound. As the chair turned it became louder and more unbearable. The noise brought you to your knees and you felt blood begin to pour out of your nose. Your eyes vibrated and the chair still turned. When you finally saw what was sitting in your chair you screamed at the sight of it! Its face, so terrifying you can no longer even remember it; your memory so traumatized that it attempted to remove it, smiled at you as it hissed your name.
                Then you woke up. You were covered in a thick, greasy terror sweat that had a raw odor and tainted the sheets. The pain of your headache was retreating like a shadow to the back of your head; not completely gone but so much better that you actually smiled with relief. It was morning. You had slept the whole of yesterday and last night. As you got your bearings, you checked your phone: only 3 emails, all from the senior partners sending well wishes and telling you to take all the time you needed. That was unexpected. Being a partner certainly had its perks. You got up from your bed and changed into fresh track pants and a t-shirt, something dry and comfortable. In the bathroom, when you washed your face, you could see that you looked better. Whatever you had was a real doosy! You walked out of your room and smelled food; someone was cooking in your home! You made your way quietly and quickly to the kitchen where you found your assistant, Lucy, cooking you breakfast.
                “Good morning,” she was making pancakes and frying some bacon. “I’m glad to see that you survived. How are you feeling?” She flipped a pancake and took the strips of bacon off of the griddle.
                “I’m much better.” Your voice was still horse, but sounded much better than yesterday. “Is there coffee?” Lucy reached up and grabbed a mug while pulling the carafe from the coffee maker. As she poured you noticed that you could hear the sound of the liquid hitting the cup clearer. You could hear the bacon snapping too. Your hearing in general seemed to be generally keener. “I’m surprised to see you here. Were you sent to check in on me? Make sure that I wasn’t dead?”
                Lucy smirked, “Actually, that’s about right. The senior partners would hate to lose someone so promising so soon after they are made partner; especially since you haven’t finished you initiation yet.” She wiped her hands on a kitchen towel and removed the apron she had been wearing. For a slightly older woman she was very attractive. Honey blonde hair done very neat and tight in a French twist. Her suit was impeccable, in a soft brown that was form fitting without being snug. Her shoes walked the line of fashion and function so elegantly that you knew they must be expensive, but they weren’t ostentatious. She picked up her purse, Hermes, and pulled out her phone, dialing with a single touch of the screen. “He’s doing much better,” she smiled and looked at you out of the corner of her eyes. “Yes, I will give him the file.” She hung up the phone and pulled a file from her purse, placing it down on the counter next to your breakfast.
                “Now that I’m better they need me to earn my keep, eh?” You smirked at her and bit your bacon. Pulling the file toward you and opening it. You saw a grisly murder scene that took you by surprise. “Is this part of the initiation?”
                “That’s right.” Lucy walked up next to you and pointed at a few key things in the file. “This was one of Peterson’s clients. She was a high ranking investment banker at Goldman-Sachs and they found her dead in her apartment.” Her finger flipped the page over showing a picture of the victim before she was killed. “Kathy Walker, she was a real she-bitch in heels who loved to make deals.” When you looked at the picture it was unnerving, Kathy Walker was the woman you had seen in your nightmare; the redhead being flayed alive. Now, here she was plain as day, and the crime scene photos showed her skin had been removed in several places.
                “My God! Who did this?” It was odd, even though the images were beyond gruesome, you continued eating.
                “The police don’t know, they never know. She was one of our clients so we are keeping a close eye on this one. Since you’re new and barely know Peterson the senior partners want your opinion on it.” Lucy began to walk to the door to leave.
                “Do the partners think that Peterson did it?”
                Lucy stopped in her tracks and laughed out loud, “The senior partners don’t care as long as the fees are paid. But, should Peterson or anyone in the firm come under suspicion, they would like to have some ammunition for any defense that may need to be launched. See you tomorrow!” And without any further explanation Lucy left and you were stuck with your breakfast and a file folder.
                This was your first look at a murder file. Everything you had worked on in your professional life so far had been mergers and acquisitions, contracts, and other money related deals. In fact it was your ability as a deal maker that caught the attention of the firm in the first place. You had just finished the buyout of a small start-up, Mercy Medical, which made cancer testing machines. Their rival was a much bigger company, IntegraTest, Inc., who wanted the patents for the cancer test. It was you who structured the deal so that all of the patents were included in the final purchase price and effectively eliminated any royalties that would have been owed to the creators of the test. It was a dick move. You knew it, your bosses at IntegraTest knew it, but it was your job to sell it and sell it you did.  Even the other team’s attorneys didn’t catch it – until it was too late. When the case was taken to civil court the judge threw it out. The other side even got a slap on the wrist for not being thorough enough.  But you knew it was just good lawyering, and apparently Shaitan, Fahleen & Associates agreed. As you were shaking the hands of your IntegraTest bosses in court, a representative From Shaitan, Fahleen & Associates approached you and handed you a card. They were offering challenging assignments, a full support staff, and significantly more money. It was all you could do not to quit on the spot and accept their offer. And now they wanted your opinion on a major murder.
You smiled as you drank your coffee and reviewed the case. The facts laid out in the report included that she was found in her home, dead. She was in her dining room, nude and suspended by rope to the lighting fixture over the dining table. Marks on her buttocks and legs showed signs of being lashed or whipped (“possibly sexual” was jotted as a note in the margin) and there were long strips of skin missing from her back, arms and stomach. Her breasts, face and vagina were clean of blood. Make-up and powder were used to make the skin still appear alive, as if those parts were being put on display. The pictures showed that her face, although limp in death, still bore some of the pain and terror that she must have experienced as she died. It was horrifying. You were still eating, and enjoying it. Then a drop of blood fell on to the picture. Then another, and another; you had a nose bleed and it was bad. Running to the sink, you grabbed a towel and held it to your nose. As you looked up you saw a face in the reflection of the kitchen window – the face you saw from your dream! Your mouth fell open and blood poured from it as your ears filled with the painful ringing and the pain gouged into your head. You tried to scream, but nothing would come out. Reaching out for anything to hold you up, you collapsed on the floor and passed out.
The next thing you knew you were in the elevator in your firm’s building, going up. You were dressed in one of your finer suits, one of the new black ones that you bought after getting the job, and mid-conversation with Peterson.
“…then he says, ‘all right, buddy, you’re coming with me!’” Peterson finished his punch line and then both of you laughed. You didn’t remember the beginning of the joke, but you genuinely laughed as if you had. And you felt taller. “So, did you hear about my client? Yeesh!”
“I did, were you too close?” You didn’t really care, but maybe he had new information.
“Eh, no, not really; I handled her deals and did things when she wanted them done. Frankly I was planning on dropping her as a client.”
“Really?” You were truly confused, “why would you cut loose a major investment banker? Her billables must have been astronomical!”
“They were; ‘were’ being the operative term there.” Peterson leaned in and spoke softer, “she was starting to have a problem paying her fees.”
“No way, a high ranking executive at Goldman Sachs had a problem paying? Hell, from just what I saw in the crime photos she could have sold one art piece in her collection and covered months of whatever you bill.” Peterson gave you a confused look, as if he didn’t understand what you were talking about. Then you panicked a little. Were you not supposed to let on that you had seen the crime scene; that you knew about the report? Then Peterson smiled, “have you had your initiation yet?”
“I… I’m not sure. I think so?”
Peterson’s face relaxed and he slapped you on the arm, “You’ll know, trust me, you’ll know. It’s like falling in love, you’ll feel it all through your body and it’ll be the greatest thing that ever happened to you.” That seemed a bit exaggerated, but Peterson had a big smile on his face and didn’t say much else the rest of the way up.
When the elevator opened Peterson nodded at you, still smiling, and went off to his office. You turned left to go to yours. Waiting outside your door were the senior partners, Allan Shaitan, Lee Fahleen and Robert Beasel, and Lucy. Lucy was holding a bottle of champagne and an empty flute while the senior partners all held flutes that were full. Allan Shaitan, the founder and managing partner of Shaitan, Fahleen & Associates, stood in front smiling at you with thin lips as you approached. Both Shaitan and Fahleen were similar in appearance; they could almost pass as brothers. Both were completely bald, shaved clean, and tall. Mr. Shaitan was very thin, but didn’t look feeble. His body seemed like it was always coiled and ready to strike. Lee Fahleen wasn’t as slender as Shaitan, and had fuller lips and cheeks, but in almost all other respects looked the same. They both had very light brown eyes that could be confused as golden if you were in the right light. And they were pale, both looked like they had never seen the sun. Robert Beasel, on the other hand, was fat. He had thick black hair that was always slicked back and a black van dyke that looked sculpted on his face.  His eyes were dark too, almost void of color, like the light wouldn’t reflect. Of the three senior partners Beasel was the toughest to read. As you approached they began to clap softly and Lucy poured champagne into the flute that was to be given to you.
“So glad you are still with us,” Shaitan approached with hand outstretched to shake yours.
“I’m glad to be here,” you smiled as you shook his hand and then grabbed the flute.
“We were concerned that perhaps the new position was too much for you,” Beasel was gruff and it didn’t sound like he was joking.
“Quiet, Bob, don’t be ridiculous.” Shaitan turned back to you, “may we go into your office?” He opened the door and the three of them walked in before you could respond.
“I’ll be right outside if you need me.” Lucy closed the door when she left. Shaitan and Fahleen sat on the couch and Beasel remained standing as he drank his champagne. They allowed you to put down you things before they began to speak.
“We had hoped to do this yesterday, until you fell ill.” Shaitan put down his flute and crossed his hands in his lap. “We wanted to speak to you about the case file we had Lucy drop off with you. Have you reviewed it?”
“I have,” you responded quickly, “I have it here.” Then you reached into your case and pulled it out. “I was curious, is this part of my initiation?” the three of them laughed softly between themselves.
“It does appear that it may, since you ask.” Shaitan stood and walked over to you, “That is why we gave it to you. We need you and that deal-making mind of yours to review all of the deals that we have on file for her, all the work Peterson did.”
You must have looked like you had a question on your mind, Beasel answered before you could ask, “Since her untimely death we need to make sure that there is no way that the firm, or any deal made by lawyers of the firm, can be tied to her death.”
“Should I work with Peterson on this?” You asked as you finished your champagne.
“If you must, but try not to take up too much of his time. This is review work and we prefer to have him on new business.” Shaitan finished and then moved to open the door. The other senior partners left the room. “We do look forward to whatever you may find.” As they walked out you moved to sit at your desk. You called for Lucy to bring you all the Walker deal files and prepared for a long day. Before things got too busy you checked your email and calendar. A new event was scheduled for the next night, a company gathering at 8pm here on the main floor. You called in Lucy to ask what the event was.
“It’s for you!” She replied with a big smile on her face, “It represents the end of your initiation. Every lawyer in the firm who makes partner is thrown one. They are truly decadent. We always like it when someone makes partner.” A party, thrown in your honor! That was far better than what you had imagined the initiation might be. If it was just some research and then a party, well then here’s hoping they need to initiate you every year! By the end of the morning the first file boxes had been delivered to your office. It was going to be a long day.
The first few boxes were filled with fairly standard deals: real estate, long term planning, references to financial documents and investment plans. There were cars that were in her name and cars in the company’s name. Race horses and vacation homes, a variety of things that one expects to see when dealing with the ridiculously wealthy. You were about ready to call it quits until you got to the last file in the last box. It was a thick cardboard folder with no title. Inside were pearlescent vellum sheets that appeared to have no writing on them, yet were slightly greasy to the touch. A smell was coming off of the pages and your head began to hurt again; the pain crawling back into your temples and the sides of your skull. Blood dripped from your nose on to the vellum and was soaked up into it, like the pages were drinking the blood. You couldn’t believe your eyes, but it didn’t matter because you were in so much pain.
Then you were back in the nightmare-scape you were in before. The office turned into a carnal slaughter house. Sounds of torture came from behind office doors. You could hear Peterson’s sickening laugh from down the hall. This time was different, though. This time you were in a black robe too. A group of robed figures walked past you and, without realizing it, you began to follow. They walked down the halls until they approached Shaitan’s office – but it was transformed into a dark temple with torches gripped in the hands of corpses with eyes and mouths sewn shut. Shaitan was naked and daubed in symbols that seemed to defy their two dimensions. Beasel and Fahleen sat on the sides of the dais where Sahitan was standing. There was a chanting that you could hear, but no one’s lips moved. Shaitan was looking up, hands reaching toward the ceiling that was filled with an inky blackness that seemed to move and undulate under its own power, like ocean waves or desert sand in the wind. Slowly he lowered his arms and then lowered his gaze. His eyes were a bright golden yellow and he was looking at you! He said a word that you couldn’t understand and then you jolted awake!
You were in your office. It was 5:15pm. The sounds of the office were still in full swing. It was a dream – no, a terrible nightmare. There was a soft knock on the door. It was Lucy.
“Just checking to see if you need anything before you go?” She had only opened the door a crack.
“No, thank you, but I think I will leave soon. Could you please have the door man get me a car?” There was still a feeling in your head, like a scratching on your brain, but no blood. What a terrible nightmare.
“Of course, it should be waiting for you when you’re ready.” She closed the door and you could hear her at the desk calling down. You put away the file and tried to shake off the feeling you had; the helpless feeling from not knowing what was happening and hoping that it would all just go away. The car was ready when you got down to the lobby and it took you home in short order; certainly in better condition that the other day. All you needed was more sleep; it seemed to be doing the trick. You cooked yourself something in the microwave and then went right to bed, early and ready to sleep everything away.
Your dreams that night were still nightmares, but different than before in the office. In these were in a small row boat on a dark lake where you couldn’t see the shore. The sky was perpetual twilight, deep purples and blues, with no visible source of light. There was no sound of anything natural; no water against the boat, no waves, no fish or insects, not even your own breathing. The only thing you could hear was a tone, a tone that pulsed like an EKG or a sonar ping. Slowly it rang out; always alone with just the row boat and the pulse. You tried to call out, but your voice sounded muffled, like you were in a recording studio or padded room. No one could hear you no matter how loud you screamed because there was no one to hear you and your voice wouldn’t carry anyway. Giving up you leaned back to lie down in the boat. As you rested you head on the wood you opened your eyes to see the face that had been terrifying you staring back at the end of your nose!
You woke up screaming, wretched terrifying screams like a child who believes his parents dead or that there are monsters, real monsters, under her bed just waiting to grab a foot and pull. It was morning, you had made it through the night, but the light didn’t make you feel any safer. In a hurry you got ready, scared to be in the shower to long or to look down at the sink for fear that the face will return when you aren’t paying attention. Even though the light of day was shining through the windows, you still turned on as many lights as you could, just in case. Being on the streets was better, at least with other people around the face would have a harder time sneaking up on you. You avoided looking in reflections on your way to work, and that was probably for the best.
When you arrived Lucy took great care of you. There was coffee and a bagel ready for you. The boxes of Ms. Walkers other deals were prepared for you to review and everyone was excited about the gathering later that night, senior partners, partners and their assistants only! Very exclusive and exactly what you needed after the week you had. Settling in with the first of many boxes, you called Lucy.
“Yes?” She was chipper and light on the other end.
“I believe I should make a doctor’s appointment. I still haven’t been feeling well and think I could probably use a checkup.”
Lucy giggled softly, “I can make an appointment, but you don’t need one. I’ve seen this happen to new partners for years. You’ll feel much better after the gathering.”
Hearing that actually made you smile, “OK, but if I’m not feeling better by tomorrow morning I’m going to need that appointment.”
“Very good, we’ll cross that bridge if we get to it.”
You spent the rest of the day going through the deals, more of the same like you saw the day before; until you got to another thick cardboard folder, with the vellum sheets inside. Again your head began to hurt, the pain reaching deep into the center of your brain. Small rivulets of blood dripped from your nose and fell on the vellum, but this time the blood did not soak into the pages. This time it created words, words that spelled out a contract for Karen Walker. You stumbled up to your feet, blood now starting to drip from your ears, and with the folder in hand made your way for the door. When you opened it you could see it was night out the windows of the rest of the office. You turned and it was night out your windows as well. How did that happen? You took steps toward the lobby and everyone looked at you.
“It’s time!” Lucy called with a grin on her face. Everyone on the floor went to their desks and their offices. You watched, barely able to stand, as Lucy stripped down to nothing and threw on a black robe. Peterson laughed from down the hall and walked onto the main floor wearing a black robe and a necklace of skin strips around his neck, flies buzzing around it as it rotted.
“Finally!” Peterson yelled, “You’re taking too damn long!” Peterson slapped you on the shoulder and it was enough to knock you down. Dropping the folder you tried to get back up, but you were too weak. You were always too weak. Lucy and one of the other assistants picked you up off the ground and stripped you and then dragged you down the hall to Shaitan’s office. In your wake were rows of figures draped in black robes and then the chanting started. With blood now trickling out of the corners of your eyes it was getting hard to see. What you could see was Shaitan on a small dais with Beasel and Fahleen sitting on either side. Above him an undulating inky blackness that covered the ceiling.

Shaitan spoke, “Karen Walker died to bring you here.  Make me wait no longer.” And then your head split, cracking in the back where the bones meet to make the crown and tearing through the flesh and muscle that holds it all together. Your eyes bled as they fell from your skull, nothing was holding them in any longer. Your chest ruptured sending gore and viscera across the room and on the bodies of the faithful who danced and writhed in it. Your skin fell off of me and then I was you. I took your skills and I took your identity. You took my place in hell.

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Filed under 52 in 52, 52 stories in 52 weeks, creativity, horror, monsters, projects, scary, short story, storytelling

52 in 52 Story 2 “The Get-A-Way Girl”

The Get-A-Way Girl
I got another postcard today. They come every few months. They are always from some fantastic location: Hawaii, Tahiti, Norway, London, Paris, Venice, Tokyo, and other places all over the world. They are always signed the same and always a reminder of what could have been.
Adulthood. I always knew that it was coming and all my life I think I purposely looked for ways to put it off. I was trying to procrastinate growing up in spite of its relentless march. I surrendered, like most do. I got a job that pays steady, married a girl that is emotionally and physically compatible with me, had two wonderful children that are both the apple of my eye and the biggest pains in my ass. I did it all the way that was expected of me and it worked out as we were told it would, when we were still young and hopeful, if we were good and took the right steps.  Despite all that it’s been a life of regrets and pining for “the good old days.”
I know that this probably sounds like a big pity party, and I guess that there is an aspect of that, but as I get older I find myself looking back and wondering what could have happened “if.” “If,” it’s such a magical and damning word. It’s impossible to know how other decisions would have worked out, but I’d be lying if I said that I don’t spend my quiet times, in the shower or when I’m trying to sleep, wondering what other outcomes could have come out of my life. Then I look at my actual life and hate myself a little because what I have is, truly, wonderful. Yet it still happens. I just can’t shake it.
Getting these postcards takes me back to college. They were the last of my “Peter Pan” days, when I was still holding on to the idea of being able to chase off time. I had what I imagine people consider a typical college experience: I went to class, made friends (some that I still have to this day), met girls, and did my fair share of drinking. It was the mid-90’s when grunge was slowly losing its grasp of the charts and the disaffected youth of Generation X suddenly realized that we’d need to start making money because our Baby Boomer parents were starting to get tired of paying our way through everything.
I was at a state school on partial academic scholarship trying to decide if I was going to keep my business major or switch over to poli-sci. I was a sophomore in loose jeans, a t-shirt and an open, long-sleeve, denim shirt. My hair was a lot longer then. Well, longer than it is now, and more blond. It covered my ears and had just enough shag to it that I felt like I was wearing my alt cred well. I was thinner then too; 155 pounds of man and fit. I still wish that I had my old metabolism back. I could have eaten a whole Stouffer’s lasagna and not gained a pound. I had a great group of friends: Malcolm, the guy who played Oasis songs on his guitar under the trees between classes to woo the ladies; Danny, a guy on a baseball scholarship who secretly wanted to be a theater major; Mariah, the mid-western girl who smoked Marlboro Lights and jogged five miles a day to counteract the damage to her lungs; and Ben who was always coming from or going to some place. I had met Danny and Ben at orientation the year before and we became fast “line” friends. We had fallen into a conversation, awkwardly as you might expect, as we were being parsed out to our different departments to sign up for class. We were standing in the California sun trying to grab shade from a line of nearby trees and Ben decided to get a hat out of his backpack. It was stuffed full, impossible to tell from the outside what was in it, but I tried to guess. There were sharp corners poking out the sides, clearly books in my opinion, and on top the soft plumpness of clothes, maybe a sweatshirt? He opened his backpack and it exploded everywhere! Sure enough a sweatshirt, pair of shorts, several books (Dungeons and Dragons mostly) and the hat he was looking for. Ben wasn’t embarrassed about this, even as the girls in line around us giggled about it, but in what we would come to know as typical Ben fashion he was frustrated that he had to pick everything else up. Danny and I helped him so he wouldn’t lose his place in line. Ben threw the hat on his head, an Angels ball cap, and grabbed his D&D Player’s Handbook.
“You like the Angels?” Danny asked and he grabbed the Monster Manual in one hand and the pair of shorts in the other.
“Huh?” Ben looked confused as he retrieved the items from Danny.
Danny pointed at it and said, “Your hat?”
“Oh, sure, I guess. I’ve never actually seen them play. My Dad got it for me and it’s, like, the only hat I own.” Ben pushed the hat back on his head and pushed up his glasses as he adjusted his position to pick up a set of adventure modules.
“Here you go,” I had picked up the last of the books and reached over to hand them to Ben. He grabbed most of them but one thing stuck to my palm. It was a comic book, an X-Men comic book to be precise. Issue 222 featuring both Wolverine and Sabretooth on the cover locked in mortal combat. It was bagged and boarded the way any good collector back then would keep their comics. I had the same issue back home. “I dig the X-Men too.”
Ben smiled for the first time as he took the issue back. He put the comic back in his pack more carefully than the other objects and made sure to put it between the two hard cover D&D books to protect it. “Yeah? That’s cool. I’m Ben.”
“John.” We shook hands.
“I’m Danny, I like them too, but I stopped buying them when I graduated. My dad says that dudes in college don’t read that stuff.”
“Well we’re in college and we read them,” Ben reached out to shake Danny’s hand, “so, John, Danny, have you been keeping up with both titles now that the teams are split up?”
And that was all it took. Those guys and I were inseparable after that. I picked up Malcolm in my freshman English class and we connected over our mutual love of The Smiths and Oasis’s Definitely Maybe album. Mariah came into the picture one day at lunch when she decided to sit with us and injected herself into our conversation about how tough a teacher Professor Stewart was.
“She just hates men, guys, you’re doomed to fight for a C in that class.” She said it so matter of factually that we were all just kind of stunned into silence… except for Malcolm.
“That’s just ludicrous! That’s asinine!” then Malcolm stole French fries off of her plate and dipped them in the side of ranch that she had on her tray, “Oh, those are good! Guys you should try those.”
It was a good group. I still talk to them to this day, Danny and Mariah got married right after graduation and moved back to Illinois to be near Mariah’s family when they started having kids. Malcolm stayed in California and ended up in the music industry, as an A& R rep for a major label. Ben settled in San Francisco and opened up a comic book store that he still runs with his wife. They all ended up living the dream. It was different for me. While I always felt like those guys knew who they were before they got to school, I always felt like school just made me more confused.
I was never “defined” in high school. I wasn’t super popular, but I certainly wasn’t friendless or picked on. I was a good student, but not quite valedictorian material. I never liked competitive sports or played on any teams. My friends were casual about everything; growing up in suburban California can make you like that – especially in Orange County. I liked comics and music and football and movies but none of them enough to get excited about them. I worked to get into college because I thought that it would magically turn me into whoever I was going to be. Surprise, surprise it didn’t, but I was willing to believe that it was because it had only been my freshman year and there were still three more years to go (probably four due to class availability).
So there I was, the start of my sophomore year. I was single, I had been dating a girl named Becky but we had broken up pretty amicably a few weeks prior to school starting. I was on a real coffee kick. This was before Starbucks had taken over the world and so the group and I would frequent the little mom and pop shops near school. My favorite that summer had been a place called Caffeine Bean that was directly across from the main quad of the school. We’d sit out front, smoking Mariah’s cigarettes and watching the summer school students as we drank fancy lattes and judged people. That’s when I first started to notice Michelle.
Michelle had a favorite spot under one of the big trees in the quad. It was directly in sight of our favorite table at Caffeine Bean. At first I noticed the pattern of her being there more than I noticed her. She was a girl, usually in shorts or jeans and a colorful t-shirt, with her nose in a book under the tree who would occasionally write something in a big three-ring binder. The first few times I would just catch a glimpse of her when I would scan the campus. After the third time I started paying attention. I couldn’t see what the books were called from where we were, but they were always thick and looked like text books in how they were over-sized; and the binder, always the binder. It was a pale purple and had loose leaf paper in it. And when she wrote in it she would write a lot, occasionally aggressively erasing and then writing again.
After the seventh time I saw her I mentioned something to the rest of the group.
“Hey guys, does anyone know that girl?”
Malcolm perked up, “What girl?” He squinted and looked at the quad. I pointed to the tree and he stared hard before dismissing her and leaning back in his chair. “Don’t know her.” Then he lit one of Mariah’s cigarettes.
“Fucker! You better buy me another pack; you’ve smoked more of these than I have!” She grabbed a cigarette for herself and looked over to the quad as she lit it. “Sorry John, no idea.”
“She’s a little plain for you, isn’t she?” Malcolm was being a sarcastic ass. Admittedly most of the girls that I had been dating were girls who had been more adventurous in their appearance. Dyed hair, piercings, tattoos, and lots of torn jeans; nothing full Goth or completely Grunge, but a lot of girls were experimenting with their appearances now that they weren’t under their parent’s roofs. Michelle definitely didn’t fit that profile. She had long brown hair that had a natural curl to it and was always up either in a ponytail or in half up/half down way that girls do to keep hair out of their faces. I never got a good look at her face completely because there was usually a book in front of half of it. She didn’t look particularly tall or thin, she looked like a girl. I wasn’t surprised that no one had noticed her or knew who she was.
“No, you don’t get it. She’s been in that spot, like, every day. At least every day we’ve been here. She’s always reading her book and then writing things in that binder.” I just kept watching her.
“Are you stalking her, dude?” Danny punched my arm and laughed.
“They have laws against that John,” Ben poked me in the shoulder as he said it and got up, “I gotta’ run I’ve got to…”
“Get to the store, we know.” We all finished his sentence for him. Ben was working at a comic book store nearby and if he wasn’t in school or asleep he was there. He’d still meet up with us to hang out but usually only when the store was closed. If it was open we were just a brief layover before he headed back.
“Shut up you guys.” Ben headed off and the other three got into a conversation about which Beastie Boys album was the best. I still stand by Ill Communication if only because of the song and video for “Sabotage.” Man, I love that. As they talked I watched Michelle. She just sat there under the tree reading and jotting down whatever it was she was jotting down.
So when the fall semester started I wasn’t surprised when I saw her there again. But now I was on campus and could get a better look. She looked the same up close, except I could confirm that she was cute. She wore no make-up, at least none that I could see, and she had the skin of a girl who was recently a teenager with little patches of acne, but relatively clear beyond that. She had a pencil in her hand and a pen behind her ear. Again she was reading a large text book, but from where I was now I could see that it was a theoretical math book. Suddenly it made sense why she was both in summer school and constantly reading it, that had to be some hard stuff. I was never a math guy. I got through algebra and geometry just fine, but never wanted to move up beyond that. I made my way to class feeling like the mystery had been solved for the moment.
I had arranged my schedule to be Monday through Thursday, with Fridays off. Just like now, I lived for three day weekends. Tuesdays and Thursdays were my morning classes. It was history and, being a history buff anyway, it was one of my easiest classes. I rarely went in completely awake which probably explains why it took almost four classes before I realized that Michelle was in my class. She sat near the front and made what appeared to be meticulous notes. She carried a big backpack. It sat next to her seat like a boulder. It was impressive that her small frame could carry it. Just like my friends, no one else in class seemed to notice her. She was practically invisible. She’d come in, sit, learn, and leave. She didn’t look like she had any friends in class and even the professor didn’t seem to acknowledge her. I started to follow her after class.
Before you start, I know how this sounds. But you need to understand that she piqued my curiosity. It was like she was the Snuffleupagus and I was Big Bird; no one else seemed to see her. So, yeah, I followed her.  After class she went to her tree and pulled out her math book and made some notes. Then, after forty-five minutes or so, she went to her next class: chemistry. I went and got coffee at Caffeine Bean. Sure enough, when that class was over, she was under the tree again. I had a lab after that so I didn’t follow her the rest of that day, but I showed up Monday, early, to see when she would appear. I got to Caffeine Bean around 8:15am (it was the earliest I could rouse myself) and waited. Michelle must have had an early class because she came from campus to her spot around 9:30. I watched until she left at 10:30. I had an 11am so I crossed to campus as she was packing up and almost got up the courage to say hello. Worried that I’d make an ass of myself I headed to my class.
I knew I was a little obsessed that day; I really couldn’t focus on class. My imagination started to invent what things she might be writing down in her book. Was she developing some kind of super math code? What if she was a computer chick creating some kind of super program? Was she curing cancer? Danny noticed my distraction that day. He and I were taking an acting 101 class. I was taking it to fill my arts requirement and he was taking it hoping to back door into a drama minor without his dad figuring out it out. He caught up to me as I was walking to class.
He lightly shoulder checked me and caught me by surprise, “Dude, I’ve been yelling at you from across the way. What the hell? You goin’ deaf?”
“Sorry, man, I was lost in thought.”
“Huh,” he laughed, “don’t think too hard you might hurt yourself. What’re you thinking about?”
I hesitated to tell him. “Eh, nothing. Just had a busy morning today. I got up early and I think I might have messed up my circadian rhythms or something.”
“Sure.” Danny let it go and I tried to as well, but I didn’t do a good job of it. We met the group, minus Ben (he was at the store), for lunch and Danny couldn’t wait to throw me under the bus.
“Something’s wrong with John.”
“What?” I stammered trying to defend myself against the charge, “What’s wrong? Nothing’s wrong.” I dropped my head over my B.L.T.A. and hoped that lunch would save me.
“What’s wrong with him,” Malcolm asked as he took fries off Mariah’s plate. She slapped his hand, but it didn’t matter the fries were in his mouth.
“He’s been all distracted today.” Danny took a bite of his chicken sandwich.
“What’s her name?” Mariah ate some of her fries and then shoved a forkful of salad in her mouth.
“Her? What are you talking about?” I was completely flustered.
“Guys don’t get distracted by much. It’s usually a job thing or a girl thing. You live off your student loans so not a job thing therefore it must be a girl thing.” She shrugged her shoulders and ate a forkful of salad.
“The girl has a point,” Malcolm grabbed one of her cigarettes and lit up. “So who is she?”
“She’s… nobody. She’s…”
“Uh mah Gah,” Danny was talking with his mouth full, “Theh rehly isa gurh?”
“What? No!” I tried to play it off.
Malcolm laughed, “Hahaha! There is! Holy shit, do you like her? Why don’t you want to tell us about her?”
“Yeah, John, what’s the big deal? You’ve never had a problem telling us about your conquests before?” Another forkful.
“She’s not a conquest; it’s not like that…”
Danny swallowed, “Then what’s it like?”
I felt backed into a corner and at the same time I didn’t know what to tell them. I didn’t really understand why I was so curious about her either except that I didn’t know anything about her and that, in and of itself, was interesting. “You remember that girl from the end of summer break? The one under the tree in the quad?”
“No.” Malcolm looked truly confused, like you had just asked him to translate Chinese.
“The plain girl with the book?” Mariah stabbed her fork aggressively into her salad.
“Yeah, that one,” I finally took a bite of my sandwich.
“So did you take her out?” Malcolm still looked confused.
“No.” I took another bite.
Malcolm’s face twisted from lack of understanding, “Do you want to take her out?”
I wiped my mouth, “I don’t know! I’ve just noticed her around is all. She… intrigues me.”
The whole table burst into eye rolls and grunts.
“Intrigues you?!” Malcolm could barely stay in the chair.
“That’s pretty bad John,” Mariah put down her fork and lit a cigarette for herself.
“Wow, dude. Wow.” Danny went back to his sandwich.
I spent most of the rest of lunch with my face in my hand as the three of them took turns giving me shit. I didn’t make any efforts the rest of the week to see Michelle.
The following Monday I stopped at Caffeine Bean before class and happened to see Michelle under the tree packing up her stuff. After the ration of shit that I had gotten the week before I figured I should at least introduce myself before Malcolm or anyone else got any ideas about trying to embarrass me in front of her. And, really, if I’m being honest with myself, I just needed any excuse to finally get me to do something. I jogged lightly across the street and made my way toward her under the tree. As I got closer I panicked, I hadn’t thought this all the way through and I had no idea what to say.
I went with an old standard, “Hi.”
She didn’t seem to notice me. She kept putting her stuff away.
“Hey, how are you? I’m John.” I got a little bit closer so she knew I was talking to her. She looked up at that and looked around to make sure that I wasn’t talking to someone else.
“Uh, hi?” She looked a little confused that I was talking to her.
Truth is I wasn’t really sure what to follow up with. As it was I had barely gotten the greeting and my name out. Then I remembered, “I’m John. We have history with Professor Standish together?” 
“Oh, hi.” That seemed to work. She didn’t look nervous any more. “I’m Michelle. Did you need notes or something?”
“No, I’m good. Thanks, no. I was just coming from the coffee place and saw you and thought I’d say hi.” I was fumbling. It was all I could do to keep from saying that I had been secretly watching her and wanted to know what she was reading and what was in the big binder.
“OK,” she finished putting her stuff away and hoisted her backpack on clearly not sure what to make of the whole exchange, “Well I guess I’ll see you in class.” And then she walked away. At first I started walking to follow her, but I really didn’t know what to do when I would’ve caught up to her. So I just started heading to class, but at least now I knew her name: Michelle.
I met the rest of the group for lunch and things were fine until Ben showed up.
“Hey guys! Pete at the store is forcing me to take a day off so what’s been happening?” Ben sat down with an overly full tray of mac and cheese, a burger, an apple and the biggest soda they offered in the commissary.
Mariah started, “I got in a fight with my sociology professor about structural functionalism which turned into a shouting match that went fifteen minutes into his next class. I feel like I made my point.” Then she lit a cigarette.
“Suede has changed their name to The London Suede. The new album only has one decent single. And I banged Bernadette and we liked it enough that it might be a regular thing. Probably TMI, but I am beyond your judgments.” Then Malcolm grabbed one of Mariah’s cigarettes and lit it up.
“John is in love with some girl he’s never talked to.” Danny elbowed Malcolm and did a head nod at Mariah as he took a bite of his burger.
Ben blinked, “How much did I miss?”
“John, how is plain Jane?” Malcolm had a grin on his face, like he was ready to strike no matter what I said.
I sighed, “Her name is Michelle.”
The table burst out in “Ohs” and Ben looked a little confused, but joined in anyway.
“Wait, you talked to her?” Malcolm leaned in over the table in excitement.
“Yeah, this morning when I was on my way from Caffeine Bean to class.”
“Well, what happened?” Danny asked as he shoved more burger in his mouth.
“Nothing, I mean we kinda’ said hello to each other and now I know her name and that’s about it. We sort of talked about the class we have together…”
“You guys have a class together?” Mariah seemed upset that she didn’t know this.
“I thought you guys knew that.”
“No, we definitely didn’t know that,” Malcolm ashed and took another deep drag.
“Yeah, Tuesday and Thursday. History with Standish.” I tried to play it off and tried to eat.
“My God, how long have you been eyeballing this girl?” Malcolm was eating this up.
“I didn’t even know she was in my class until last week. Guys, seriously, I know this seems weird, but I don’t know. She reads that big book, takes a bunch of notes, it’s like a big mystery and I want to learn the answer…”
“…But what if the answer is totally boring?” Ben interrupted as he stirred his mac and cheese. “I get it man; sometimes the want is way better than the get. Still, don’t be, like, a total stalker. I don’t want to see you go all serial killer on us.”
“Dude, talk to her.” Danny was finally giving his two cents. “What do they always tell us in acting class? Get to the truth. Ask her about the book if you want to know, or don’t, but if you don’t you’re basically giving us license to make fun of you.”
“Hell, even if you do,” Malcolm took another long drag.
“OK, OK, I will. Jeez.” I kept eating my sandwich and Ben got caught up on our lives.
After class I decided that Danny was probably right. I should just talk to Michelle; ask her what was up with the book and the notes. As much fun as I was having creating these fantasies in my head of spy codes and programs I couldn’t keep it up. It was getting dumb. So I went to the tree, committed to talking to Michelle and getting the real story behind the book and the binder. She wasn’t there. I was at the tree, class was over, and she wasn’t there, naturally. I made the decision to come back and see her in the morning. We had a class so it’d be easy.
I got to class just a bit late (I slept through my alarm) and came in just as Prof. Standish was doing role.
“Mr. Peterson, thank you for gracing us with your presence. Please sit.”
I didn’t even speak, just nodded and made my way to the back. As I passed Michelle I waved and mouthed “hi.” She didn’t seem to notice. As class went on I found myself just staring at the back of her head and her backpack. I was getting pretty confused about my feelings. Was this really about book and binder or was this just my brain finding a reason because, for whatever reason, I was attracted to this girl? I was jostled out of my thoughts by the closing of books and the sounds of people getting up to leave class. I put my stuff away and made my way to Michelle.
“Hey Michelle.” She turned a little surprised that someone was talking to her.
“Oh, hey. John, right?”
“Yeah, that’s me. I wanted to know if you wanted to get coffee between classes?”
“Oh, uh, I can’t, really, I have to study.”
“Under the tree?” I don’t even know why it came out of my mouth. I wanted to put it back as soon as I said it. She looked surprised and caught off guard.
“Well, yeah, actually. Why do you know that?” She started going toward the door.
I came clean, “I frequent the Caffeine Bean, the coffee shop across from the quad, and I’ve seen you there, like, every time I go; with the book and the binder?”
She looked a little embarrassed. “Oh, well, yeah. I’m a math major and there’s a lot of reading.”
“Yeah, math is hard.” I mentally gave myself a face palm.
Michelle chuckled at that, “Uh, yeah, I guess it is sometimes.”
Hoping I had an in from the laugh I made one last shot, “So maybe that coffee…?”
“Sorry, John, I really do have to study. But thanks.” And then she was out the door. I stood there just an extra moment. She was studying. She was a math major. That was definitely not creating secret government codes or curing cancer. I felt a little relieved and a little sad, so I just went home.
“She’s a math major? That was the big secret?” Malcolm was puffing away disappointed, more so than I was, I think, about Michelle’s secret. “That’s completely asinine!”
“That is a bit anti-climactic,” Danny was chewing on some fried chicken, “but doesn’t it feel better to know?”
“Yeah, I guess.” Truth be told I was still a little bummed out about it.
“So are you going to ask her out?” Mariah had a selection of fruit on her plate today and moved them around with her fork as she ate.
“No, I guess. I don’t think so.” The question seemed to come from left field. “Why do you ask?”
“Just wondering. She occupied a lot of space in your head for a while. I thought you might want to see if there was anything else there.” She ate some melon. Mariah was right, this girl had been an obsession for weeks and in your early twenties weeks are a decent amount of time. But I was scared. Most girls I talked to seemed interested in speaking to me as well, Michelle could take or leave me and preferred to leave me. And she wasn’t my type, even though my type wasn’t even my type, if you know what I mean. It wasn’t worth it to me to try, so I just let it go, like everything else that was difficult.
A few more weeks passed. My routine set back in. I’d still see Michelle under the tree and in class, but didn’t do much more than wave if we saw each other. She was just another girl that I recognized on campus now; until one Wednesday when I was crossing the quad and passed near the tree. It was after 10:30, normally she would be packed up and on her way to class, but Michelle was under the tree and she was crying softly into her hands. I stopped and looked around; no one else seemed to notice. Not really knowing what else to do I went over to her.
“Michelle, are you ok?” She was startled until she saw it was me.
“Oh, it’s you.” She wiped her tears on her sleeve and moved to put her stuff away.
“Are you ok? Did someone do something to you?”
“No, I’m fine. I’m fine. It’s ok, don’t worry about it.” She was packing up and trying to get away.
I put myself out there, “Hey, I know we really don’t know each other but if you ever want to talk or whatever I’m around. You know where I like to hang out.” I gestured over to the Caffeine Bean and tried to make a sympathetic face.
“Are you asking me out?” She looked surprised and not all that happy about it.
“No! I mean, not that I wouldn’t, but, no, I’m not asking you out right now. I mean, not saying that I’ll do it later…”
Michelle started laughing through her tears, “OK, thanks, but I’m OK. It’s just my project, the one I’ve been working on, I don’t think it’s going to work, that’s all. Thanks for asking, though. I’ll see you in class, John.” And she walked away wiping the last tears from her eyes. I felt like my mission had changed. I didn’t need to know about her “project” any more, now I needed to save Michelle from what I had diagnosed, in my infinite wisdom, as her real problem: she needed some friends! In all the time I had known her, even in the early days, I’d never seen her with anyone else, and she was always alone. That couldn’t be healthy, right? And who would she talk to about her project not working out? I made the decision that I was going to help her make friends.
The next day, Thursday, we had our class together. I came in and dropped off a coffee I had bought for her that morning. She smiled and said thank you. After class I asked her what she thought of it.
“It was… all right, I guess?” She was making a face that said that she didn’t like it but didn’t want to be impolite.
“What?!” I said in mock shock, “That was a fine Ethiopian! You don’t even need to add anything to it, it’s so smooth.”
“I’ve never really been a big coffee fan.”
I acted like she had just shot me in the heart and fell on the desk next to me.”
“I’m more of a tea person, just so you know.”
“Great, can I buy you a cup of tea between classes?” This was going great! I really felt like I was on a roll!
“I can’t, I’m sorry.” I must’ve looked pretty disappointed, “It’s just, I need to keep working on my project. It’s… it’s just really important.”
“What, is it, like, 90% of your grade?”
“It’s so much more than that, but I’ll see you next week.” And then she was off.
I made a mental note about the tea and then left to meet my friends.
The next few weeks were nice. I made an effort to be up early and met Michelle under her tree, with tea of different types, and then go to class and see my friends. They went from teasing me about Michelle to wondering if we were going to get married and have a bunch of kids. We weren’t, our relationship wasn’t like that. I really liked being around Michelle, but it wasn’t in that “relationship” way. We talked about class and she tried to help me with the math that I had to do. I introduced her to my group (except Ben, he was always at the store) and, even though she never ate with us she at least got to know them a little. And she kept working on her “project.” It was always “the project.”
One Wednesday, when we were under the tree, I finally asked for details.
“So, we’re getting close to the end of the semester. Is this project going to be done, finally?”
She looked over the edge of her book with an “are you kidding?” face, “No, not yet. Probably not for a long time.” And then she scribbled some notes down. It was a string of numbers, and equation that I didn’t understand at all.
“Wait, so this isn’t for school?” I was shocked, who does math just to do math?
“No, this is just for me.”
“So, what does it do? Wait, are you secretly decoding government communiques?”  Suddenly all of my conspiracy theories came rushing back into my head. I knew it! She was curing cancer or making a super computer program or whatever!
She sat and put her book in her lap and thought about what to say. “Have you ever felt trapped?”
That wasn’t what I was expecting, “Uh, yeah, I guess.”
“Like, really trapped? Like you have very few choices in what happens in your life?”
“Sure, doesn’t everyone?”
“I don’t know if you know what I mean.” She got really quiet and closed her book. “I don’t want to be here, John.”
That threw me. “Wait, here like school or here like life?”
“Here like school, like California, like America. I don’t really feel like I fit in, you know.” She crossed her arms and tucked her legs Indian style. This was probably the most vulnerable I had ever seen her.
I tried to be reassuring, “Hey, that’s ok. That’s exactly what college is for, so you can figure all these things out. Figure out where you dofit in.”
“But what if I already know?”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s never been my dream to go to school, or get married or, you know, do things like our parents did.”
“I get that…”
“But my parents really want me to want that. Really want me to want that.”
“Oh, I see. I bet that’s tough.”
“I really want to travel, John, see the world, you know?”
“Sure, I’d like to travel too. I’m thinking about maybe going to London with Malcolm after we graduate…”
“No, John, it’s all I want to do. I want to see places and try new food and see things that are thousands of years old; I want to experience that all the time.”
“Well you’re a math major and a smart one too, from what I can tell. You’ll probably get a great job and then you can travel wherever you want, right?” She thought for a moment. I thought she was considering what I said, but now I know she was thinking of whether or not to trust me. I’m glad she did.
“What if you could find a way to travel wherever you wanted whenever you wanted?”
“Sure, just give me the winning Lotto ticket and I’ll hop a private jet to anywhere!” I thought I was very funny, but Michelle got a gleam in her eye.
“No, I mean anywhere instantaneously.”
“I don’t get it.” I really was confused.
“That’s my project, John. If it works I’ll be able to go wherever I want whenever I want and I won’t be held to anyone’s idea about what I should or shouldn’t do.” She started to tear up a little. I was at a loss of what to say.
“Well, ok, is there a way I can help?”
“Not really.” She seemed sad that I couldn’t help, and that made me sad too. “It’s my dream, John, and any dream that going to come true requires sacrifice. I have to be the one to make those sacrifices; no one else can do it for me.” She started to put her stuff away. I sat up in the grass and collected my stuff too.
“OK, well I guess I can be moral support?”
She wiped her eyes and chuckled a little, “Yeah, I really appreciate that.”
After that things were never quite the same. I could feel Michelle pulling away. We still saw each other in class, but not as much outside of it. She stopped coming by the commissary and saying hi. Sometimes she wasn’t even under the tree; she said that she found a new place to study. I assumed that some of the changes were due to approaching finals, and that lie kept me going.
On the last day of finals I was beat. I was down to my last one, history with Prof. Standish, which was great because I at least knew the answers to that test. I strolled into class just seconds from being late. I walked past Michelle and she slipped a note into my palm. She had a big smile on her face. I opened the note at my seat. It just had three words written on it: I did it. After the test we walked out together.
“So you did it, huh?” This was the happiest I had ever seen her.
“Yes! Can I buy you a coffee?”
“Well, who am I to turn down a free coffee?” We headed over to Caffeine Bean. It was dead since most of the students were now trading caffeine beverages for alcoholic ones. We took a spot looking out the window toward the quad. Michelle was very excited.
“John, I’m leaving tonight.” She could hardly contain herself.
“Wait, what? Tonight? Where are you going?”
I laughed a little, “Well, shit, that’s great! I thought you said your parents didn’t want you traveling.”
“They don’t, they have no idea I’m leaving. I figured it out!”
“Figured what out?”
“My project, John! I figured it out and now I can go all the places I want!”
I didn’t know what to say, this was all very confusing and at the time I still didn’t’t’t realize what the project actually did. “That’s great, Michelle! I’m so happy for you!”
“I want you to come with me.” She grabbed my hands as she said it.
“You want me to go to Paris, tonight?”
“Yes. You have been my only real friend though this and I want you to come.”
“Michelle, I’m flattered, but I can’t go to Paris tonight. I don’t even have a passport…”
“You don’t need one, you don’t understand, we can go anywhere! No planes, no boats, no trains, unless we want to take them. I figured it out!”
“What do you mean? Michelle, what you’re saying doesn’t make sense. What are we going to do, teleport to Paris?” Her eyes lit up. That’s exactly what she meant. I pulled my hands away not sure if she was joking or not. She looked hurt.
“What’s wrong? I thought you’d want to go.”
“I do, but what you’re saying is impossible.” I thought I was talking sense.
“No, it’s not. I figured it out.” Tears started to well up in her eyes. She wanted me to understand so badly.
“Michelle, I’m really sorry. I know you want this but I don’t want you get your hopes up and then see you crushed that much more when it doesn’t work.” A tear fell down her cheek. I got up to get her a napkin. I was only turned away for a second, but when I turned back she was gone. I ran outside calling for her, but didn’t see her.
Over the break I kept coming back to Caffeine Bean hoping she’d be under the tree, but she never was. My friends would sit with me, even Ben when he could, but after the first week they were telling me to let her go. After a while I started to agree with them. About a week before the new semester started I got a postcard with a picture of the Eiffel Tower on it. It was airmail stamped from France. It said, “Having a great time. – M.” My knees gave out below me. She really had done it. A couple weeks later I got another postcard from Amsterdam and then from London and then from Spain and Italy. Each time signed the same way.

I never did make it to Europe myself. The summer after graduation Malcolm did go and that’s where he met the guy from Atlantic Records who gave him his job. Danny did finally tell his dad that he was switching his major to theater and, even though it meant there were a few uncomfortable Christmases, it worked out. I was never that brave.  I still get the postcards, Michelle repeats herself every once in a while, but as far as I know she’s never been back home. At least I’ve never known if she’s home. All I do know is that she did it, she’s living the dream.

*WRITER’S NOTE: This story started really slow for me in the development process and as I was writing it some of the characters and the story itself started to drift into directions I didn’t expect. Good directions that time didn’t really allow me to follow through on. So any thoughts you have are welcome. This is a story I think I might re-visit when this is all over because I definitely have more to say about John and his friends. 
– Curtis

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