21 September 2012

"The Calling" #Fridayflash

I’m going to die soon.

 Those words burst into life on my lips as I jolted out of a deep and melodic sleep. Where had that come from? Of course I wasn’t going to go anytime near in the future, I mean I was mid-thirties for Christ’s sake. I licked my lips and found them dry. My fingers clutched the duvet; I relaxed them, slowly, painfully. My legs. It was my legs. The numbness and pain that infused my lower limbs with tumble of white-hot needles of agony, sometimes so unbearable I couldn’t rest easy or at all. Old sweat caked my neck under my mane of wavy hair, tangled into an assortment of bed-knots as I tossed in my slumber. My face was slick with day-old make-up and kohl burned my eyes. I rolled over on my back.

So that’s it, isn’t it? The insistence in my mind to hurryhurryhurryhurry—be something—accomplish everything that I can, all the while a giant monolith’s heartbeat thrums at a slow plod, marking off my remaining days. Maybe months. Could I at least hope for years?

Madness. I couldn’t possibly know such things. No one could foretell their passing, not without a grim disposition from a fellow with three letters after his name and a comma. Yet the nagging feeling was there. It settled behind my solar plexus, tightening the strings that held my heart in place as my pulse reported my near state of panic eagerly.

What could I do with this new-found knowledge? This insight into the unseen? Would anyone even believe me? I sat up, clenching my hands into fists, feeling my nails dig into the comparatively soft skin of my palms. This would pass. It was all a ruse in my mind. A bit of unbalanced chemical or another. Perhaps too much caffeine and nicotine, rushed together to coagulate into a bit of post-midnight madness. It was lack of food, too much drink, and hours spent in the sun. The heat. It could well be a side-effect of the heat. Stifling and heaving with invisible drops of moisture like a living, panting animal.

Whatever it was, it didn’t frighten me as well as it should. My mind quickly snapped into action, ticking off a bucket list of desired accomplishments, and all looked well, save for my current project which lay halfway done, captured in text documents in various stages on my hard drive. My family. There was a problem. The set of caring individuals who always appeared before me once my internet time was cut short on holidays. Names of people I only recognized in Hallmark cards, sometimes with checks made out to me in desperation of giving me something, anything to be part of my life. To be seen. Did I see them? When was the last time I’d picked up the phone and given a call to my mother, whom incidentally lived within visiting distance enough to justify the fuel costs? Or my father, who supported me in my later teens, offering me his last dollar?

 Oh, we had our Facebook chats. We exchanged funny emails with the subject line FW: FW: FW: FW: This really made me laugh! But as for physical contact?

 How silent the house seemed in that instant of realization. Tears threatened at the corners of my eyes. I was a bad daughter. So many years, fighting to be seen by the world, and to be accepted by peers, and here I’d ended up ignoring those who meant the most.

I had to change. Immediately. Return calls. Send cards and back-listed gifts. Stop being such a spoiled, expectant bitch.

I rushed to my computer and checked my banking account online. The amount of digits there assured me I had the resources. I continued my trek to another website that sold my mother’s favorite perfume. A few clicks later, and she was scheduled to be astounded in a matter of days. A quick glance at the clock advised me that a phone call was out of the question at that hour, but I sent my father an email. One that hadn’t been forwarded from a stranger, or sent to ten others simultaneously.

Finally, I arranged for some time off of work. If I was to part ways with this world soon, what did it matter if I spent some of my accrued holiday time?

I would finish the project while on holiday, after dinner with my father. Although surprised, he did not decline an offered visit. He asked after my mother’s welfare and after we nattered on a bit about the state of things, I disclosed to him the stark feeling I was running low on time.

“I went through the same thing, about the time I was your age,” he explained after a hearty, good-natured laugh. “You youngins—always so obsessed with death and dying. Tempting the Devil to come for you early. Turning your face away from what’s so simple to learn.”

“What’s that, Dad?” I was confused. How could what seemed so real and ominous be wrong? I was fated to die early. I just knew  it somehow.

 “It’s easier to die than it is to live. It’s the whole getting there part that hurts the most.” He coughed, an ill-effect from decades of chain-smoked cigarettes. “You’re not going to be let off the hook that easy, dear daughter. But you can make the most of it.”

 Those words stuck with me years afterward. I went on to charity work. I sold my expensive car and home, and eventually set up a chain of friend’s homes I could stay in for a limited time as I traveled the country, learning all I could and seeing all I could see.

 The prognosis came the week before my forty-fourth birthday: brain tumor. Inoperable. The headaches had gotten to where I was left blind for periods at a time. My reaction was surprising to the doctor.

“Are you sure this time doc? You’re not just pulling my leg? Because I’ve tied all my loose ends, and I know the Devil likes to play his tricks.”

I’m still calling his bluff.

Photo credit: guilanenachez from morguefile.com

07 September 2012

"Thaw Before Serving" #Fridayflash

Warning: This story is pretty horrific, even for me. I dreamed this one. Take it as you will. Thanks for stopping by. - CC

Photo credit: ladyheart from morguefile.com

Toby and I filed out to Amanda’s car one by one to transfer the specialized foods she’d brought along for the trip. Our mutual friend Amanda had insisted on inviting herself to the vacation but traveled separately since she had an enormous amount of luggage. Airplanes gave her headaches, trains took too long and she would never be caught dead on a Greyhound bus, so she drove the distance in her fancy sports car. Amanda stayed in the rented rooms with Isaac, whom she’d just met in the hotel bar that day. Given her social status and that it’d happened before, the surprise guest wasn’t all that surprising. 

I grunted under the hot July sun as we worked together to shift colored plastic bags scented with heavy perfumes containing who knew what into the back of his pickup. The matching Coach bags were heavy, laden with more of the things she couldn’t live without, because when Amanda traveled, she thought of everything. When we reached the large cooler, we discovered that the trunk liner beneath it was standing in water. The drive from Laredo must’ve taken at least six hours so we knew that anything that Amanda had brought to supplement her highly-specialized diet was pretty much a goner. I started to open the lid.

“Are you sure you want to do that? One of her snow crabs might pinch your nose off.” Toby smirked from the other side of the trunk. “I’m baking out here. I’m gonna go grab us a couple bottles of water.”

“You might want to call her down to look at her food. It’ll be her choice whether we throw it away.”

Toby nodded and went off as planned. I stared at the lid of the cooler. Some of the food might be good still. I couldn’t heft the container alone so I flipped the slide-lock and opened it instead. Toby had cracked a joke about snow crabs attacking me, but he’d been closer to the truth than he thought. Nestled inside in neat packaging were all sorts of wild and exotic meats with a few unidentifiable vegetables. As we’d assumed, the meat was defrosting. We might’ve been been able to salvage a few choices but Amanda would have to consult with her physician, dietician, and whomever else she contacted to decide whether partially-thawed meats could kill her. I stared into that box for maybe half a minute as I tried to make a decision on how to handle the mistake. Amanda refused to eat standard meals anywhere. She’d find a way to somehow hold us responsible in one of her classic bitch fits. But we hadn’t loaded the car, and certainly not the travel cooler. One of the packages shifted and I blinked. Maybe the sun was getting to me. When it shifted again, I let out a sharp scream and dropped the lid shut.

Had I imagined the movement? Curiosity won over fear. My father hadn’t raised me to be a flimsy-wristed pansy girl. I squared my shoulders and opened the cooler again. No movement. I wrapped my fingers around the suspicious package, wrapped in pale pink waxed paper. It jerked weakly against my hand. I gaped. Oh my god. I pulled the bundle out of the cooler and took it the grassy strip that divided the hotel and the concrete drive of the loading area. The simple butcher’s tape gave up its prize: A whole, not-so-frozen-anymore brown rabbit. 

The eating habits of the rich were often disgusting, but this particular entrée had been forced to lie on its belly and was packaged similar to a child’s toy, with a cardboard collar around its body and included cutting board. And somehow, someway, this animal was still alive. 

I carefully tore away the cardboard from the wet, closely cropped fur and untwisted the vinyl ties that bound its feet together. It gave a sigh, punctuated with a whistle. How did this thing still live? When I rolled it over, it stretched its front paws and twitched one long ear. I looked up to see Toby walking back to me with Amanda and her gentleman companion in tow. 

“Whatcha got there?” Toby called, and I waved him over. The bunny hadn’t opened its eyes yet but its shaved sides rose and fell with rapid breath. Toby halted at my feet wearing the same expression I imagined I’d been wearing five minutes before. He eyed the discarded container, the reanimated rabbit, and then me. “Was that in Amanda’s cooler?”

I nodded slowly and turned the little animal over. Its big hind feet kicked in response but I held them together with one hand to show Toby the neatly-stitched gash I’d found in the bunny’s gut. “You’ve dressed game before. What do you think they might’ve taken out?”

He shook his head. “Could be anything. The liver, intestines…if it was flash-frozen to be baked…” He frowned as I laid the rabbit in his hands and rose to my feet. 

I strode back over to Isaac standing with Amanda at the trunk of her car as she fussed over the remains of her dietary choices and bemoaned her digestive demise for the remainder of our getaway. She turned to me as I approached and opened her mouth to speak but didn’t get a word out. I punched her in the face.

19 July 2012

"The Man in the Elevator" #Fridayflash

Depending on how the story-writing goes, this might be my last share of my work in progress, 27. Too disjointed to be a serial, with wild stand-alone flashes, it's seemed appropriate to post excerpts for #Fridayflash. Thanks for reading. - CC

Previous installments (in order):
64 Degrees
The Visitor
The List

Photo by Synde Korman
The door to my apartment stood open. Maintenance men clad in overalls smeared white paint over the marks left by my past. Tiffany was gone, and so were the rest of my things. But the elevator. There were two. Which one was it?

I punched the call button, and the slow growl of the lift whirred into motion. The door on my right opened first, but was well-lit, clean of blood stains, and trapped dead ghosts. Looping, Stein’d called it. Had to be the second cab. I reached around, felt for the keypad—cool, round—and sent the car to another floor. I punched the call button again. This time, I believed I could hear the difference between it and the other. Slower, creakier. As if it drew up a heavy burden from a dark well.

The doors split and I looked away almost immediately, but the sight was burned on the backs of my eyelids. A dead man, tracks of feces marking the floor. Fingernails torn and bloody. Sightless eyes turned towards heaven. The stench. I could smell the days of decomposition on him but that was ridiculous. He’d died before I’d even moved in.

The fluorescent lights buzzed in their ballasts like blow flies and a trickle of ants had found a marching line to the inside of his coat. I stepped into the cab and let the doors close me in with him. 

Darkness fell upon the dead and the very dead as the cab descended to the ground floor. As expected, it stuck. The stories had said between third and fourth floors, but it was actually second and third. The lights came on and I blinked at a man in a business suit checking his watch with a mutter. He leaned forward and punched the G button again. And again. 

“Do you think that hitting the button over and over will help much?” I smiled, despite the impending situation. I knew how the story ended now. He glanced over at me. 

“Whatever, kid. I have a dinner party I’m supposed to be the guest of honor at and if this fucking piece of shit elevator doesn’t move…”

I sighed gently. “Think about what’s going on here.” Who died and gave me Stein’s position? It seemed right. I ran with it.

“Mind your own business, kid.”

“Have you tried the call box to see what’s going on with the elevator?”

The man opened the emergency call box and put the receiver to his ear. He frowned and toggled the hook a couple of times before giving up and letting the phone fall to the floor with a metallic clang. “Dead.” 

He started punching other buttons and turned to look at me. “Aren’t you nervous, kid? You probably have some hot broad to bang or at least a band show somewhere. I’ve seen the girls that go in and out of places of people like you.”

“Moved out,” I said. I didn’t see any point of explaining my own demise when he was yet to understand his.

“So why are you here?” The man tugged at his collar and tie. “It gets hot in here quick.”

I nodded and sat down against the wall. The man glanced down at me. “What floor did you get on at?”

I smirked and shook my head. “I don’t know if I should tell you now or wait, Mr. Ashbury.”

His eyes bulged. “If this is some sort of sick joke…”

I shook my head. “No joke.” I eyed and nodded at his briefcase. “Nothing in there to survive with. Not even a small snack. No water. It’s a holiday. No one is around to hear your call.”

Ashbury banged on the metal doors. “Hey! We’re stuck in here!”

I let my head tip back and watched the flickering florescent light. It’d go out soon. The interior would get hotter and hotter and Ashbury here might have had a heavy dose of water before he left his apartment.

“Think they’ll miss you?” I tilted my head up at him. It was hard not to smile. I felt a little crack inside me give way. 

“You little fucking punk. Of course they’ll come get us out. You can’t just let people die in an elevator.”

“But would they miss you?” I reached into my jacket pocket for the cigarettes Stein had given me. Words on the package swam before realigning themselves into Marlboro. Should have been Camels. Get it right. The swirls reconvened to reproduce the cover of a pack of Camels. My brand. I opened the box. 

“You can’t smoke in here!” Ashbury set his briefcase down and swung at my cigarette dangling from my lips but I dodged him easily.

“Look,” I lit my cigarette and handed it to him. “You may as well. No one cares about you in here.”

Ashbury scowled at the smoldering cigarette in my hand, so I shrugged and smoked on it myself. “This isn’t real.”

“Of course it’s real!” His face was red; a vein pulsed on the right side of his forehead. He stank of sweat and fear. The briefcase fell on its side as Ashbury tugged his tie loose. “Of all the complete horseshit. This is a real silk tie. I’m going to ruin my whole suit if the air doesn’t come on.”

“It won’t.” As hot as he looked, I didn’t feel a thing. I wasn’t looping like him. “What’s in the briefcase, Mr. Ashbury?” I grinned. “You can tell me.”

“None of your fucking business!”

I nodded sagely and took a pull on my cigarette. Ashbury coughed and waved the plumes of smoke away. “You’re stinking up the whole damn cab.”

“It was open when they found you three days later.”

Ashbury blinked. “Found me?”

I snorted smoke. “You’re dead, Mr. Ashbury.”

12 July 2012

"The List" #Fridayflash

Happy Friday the 13th!

Yet another piece of 27 for your reading pleasure.
Previous installments (in order):
64 Degrees
The Visitor

“So, let’s go down the list.” He unrolled a strip of paper and put on a pair of reading glasses. I raised an eyebrow and he pulled them down his nose to peer over them at me. “Great effect, eh? As if I am in reading mode.” He cleared his throat. “Ahem. The dead shall not affect the living. Now what that means is, say you see an old enemy of yours walking a tightrope at a carnival someplace. Maybe he’s trying to impress the girl he stole from you. Don’t look at me like that, we know this doesn’t apply to you. You tossed aside every chance you had for a normal relationship.” He exhaled in a quick puff. “Say you see that enemy and all it’d take is one stray breeze…” His grin widened. “Not your call. Worse, his blood is on your hands. So.” He returned his attention to the little scroll. “With me so far, son?”
                     Photo credit: pagean97 from morguefile.com
I wasn’t sure what to make of the Grim Reaper. Or his sense of humor. I nodded mutely.

“You know, the rest of this seems to be blank, so there you have it. No direct effect on the living. No holding heads underwater, saving children from the path of a bus by pushing them out of the way, no contact that will change the course of their natural lives. Do you understand?”

“I think so.” I leaned over the table. “But I can’t even open a door, so I’m not sure how I could harm anyone.”

Stein rolled his eyes. “You’ll be surprised at what you’re capable of. Did you take the bus to get here earlier? No.”

“But how do I do other things?”

Stein rolled up the paper and crumbled it into nonexistence. “That’s not for me to say. I’m just the taxi driver. You have to have the address, otherwise we’ll drive in circles and I’ll charge you extra fare for wasting my time and fuel.” He sighed and pulled his glasses off, secreting them inside his jacket. “You’re a smart kid, Ren. Figure it out. Look around you. I know you’re ahead of the class just because you’re not looping.”

I furrowed my brow. “Looping?”

“Reliving your death over and over. It could be because you were just too fucked up to remember.” He grinned. “You’ve got to love drugs. See the gods, kiss the stars, feel no pain and bam! Wake up dead.” He stood and so did I.

“Keep in mind one little limitation, son. You’ve got a finite amount of energy. Think of yourself as a child’s toy with a fresh battery. The more you play with that toy, the faster the battery will drain. And once you’re out, and you still haven’t caught the train out of Limbo, well.”

“Well, what?” I was sliding down a slippery slope.

“You’ll find out soon enough.” He smiled and grasped my shoulder with a quick squeeze. “Welcome to the Afterlife. But this ain’t it. Except for now. Confused? You just got more sitting at that table than most have ever gotten. Maybe I like you. If I could ever like somebody, but no. It’s all business, as you’ll see."

06 July 2012

"The Visitor" #Fridayflash

Yet more from my 27 WIP: 
Previous chunks found first here and here. - CC

Tiffany had her kit out and looked like she was about to shoot up anyway. She was still in a towel and Nine Inch Nails was still playing even though that album was from ’eighty-nine. It was my CD. I guess now it was hers. Just like anything else within her reach. My sister was supposed to have all of this stuff. Maybe she didn’t want it. Maybe she hadn’t been contacted yet.

She snapped off the tourniquet and lay back against the sofa, her gaze looking somewhere into outer space. She licked her lips and swallowed. Curious, I went to stand in front of her. Her gaze shifted to meet mine and a small smile crossed her lips.

“Well, hello there…” she drawled.

I shook my head. Of course she would see me all fucked up. “You’re in my house.”

“Uh huh.” She closed her eyes and rolled her head around on her neck. “This is what I need.”

“What happened, Tiffany?” I crouched beside her and she peeked one eye at me. 

“Pretty easy…you OD’d. Pills, whatever, man. I tried to help you. I put you on your side and you vomited and bled, and I was fucked up too, baby.”

What about the sex we had after? And then she was looking into my fridge. I stood again. She was zoned out. I wouldn’t get anything else out of her, but at least I knew how to make her see me. It was always said drugs opened our minds. I guess that included eyes too.  

There was a knock at the door. I peered through the peephole. It was the creepy guy from the cemetery, Stein. He grinned, and the door swung open. I had to step back out of the way.

 “Mind if I come in? Of course you don’t.” He stepped forward and shook my hand in greeting. His skin was hot, like a stovetop when the oven was on. He even sported a little scruff on his chin and no tie. He indicated the dinette set and pulled a chair out for me. “Sit.”

I did as requested and he took a chair across from me. We regarded one another for a few moments before he spoke. 

“I’ve put this off for a day to think on what I want to do with you.”

I sat back in my chair and rested my palms on the tops of my thighs. “Who are you, exactly?”

Stein smiled and pulled a pack of cigarettes from the inside of his jacket. He tossed them on the table. I glanced from the pack to him in question.

“Go ahead. I know you smoked. May as well stay comfortable. I don’t think they’ll kill you again.” He chuckled softly.

A book of matches was tucked in the cellophane. I slid it out, pulled out a slim, white cigarette and struck one of the blue-tipped matches to produce an equally blue flame. Stein slid a heavy glass ashtray my direction. 

“Now, let me get to why I’m here. About a week ago, you died en route to the hospital in the back of an ambulance. A shot was administered to your heart to try to jumpstart you, but you were already on the outside looking in by that time. Do you remember?”


“See, my main aspirations are hot hookers and blow, sometimes at the same time.” He laughed. “But my job is to make sure you get where you need to be now.”

“So you’re an angel.”

“Wrong. Angels can’t interfere with the free will of humans. Or just drop down to earth without a damned good reason. No, son, I’m the one that every man, woman and child, and any variation thereof waits for.”

“Death.” The cigarette didn’t taste like it used to, but the simple familiarity of holding it between my fingers and breathing out the smoke was comforting.

“Close. I’m the fellow that shows up along with. I get confused with Big D, but no, I’m nothing that grand, although I have a comprehensive benefits package.”

“Grim Reaper?” I couldn’t help but laugh. “I expected a faceless figure…”

“In a robe? With a big fucking scythe?” Stein mimicked holding the weapon and covered his face. He laid his hands on the table again, only to lace his fingers. “Too passé. Times have changed, and so have I.”

“So what’s this got to do with me?” I crushed my cigarette into the ashtray to extinguish it.

“Keep the pack.” Stein nodded at my hand covering the box. His gaze returned to meet mine. His eyes were dark, like they’d been at the gravesite. “I’d love to take you, Ren, but the truth is you might be somebody else’s. Point is, you have to stay here for a little while longer. Try not to haunt too many folks, eh son?”

“And do what? Just hang around?”

Stein shrugged. “Whatever comes to mind. Need a job? Look around you. There’s plenty to do. Just remember the rules of the dead.”

I frowned. “Rules?”

Stein laughed and waved a hand at me dismissively. “Everything has rules, you know that. Our rules are a little stricter than most because instead of fining you a fee, we’ll just send your ass straight to Gehenna.”

22 June 2012

"64 Degrees" #Fridayflash

 A few weeks ago, I posted 27. Here is Ren once again... thanks for reading. - CC

Photo credit: click from morguefile.com

Far away, there was a siren fast approaching. The sound swelled in volume until it was all I could hear, like it was coming from inside me. I dropped the cigarette to the floor to cover my ears. Hands took hold of my wrists and held me down.
I opened my eyes.

I was in a moving vehicle and my body was a bag of sand. The stretcher poked the sides of my arms, but I couldn’t move. The sway of the ambulance increased the roll in my gut and vomit spewed up, unbidden. A woman of indeterminate age held a bag to the side of my face and turned my head. Her gloved hands waved close enough to my face to poke me in the eyes. I wouldn’t react. The siren stopped and so did we. So did I.

I stood close to the curb under the eaves of the Mother of Mercy hospital and watched as EMTs unloaded a covered body on a stretcher. The scene wasn’t frightening or panic-inducing. Not after being that jacked-up. Speaking of which, I’d need to get more. Now that I wasn’t clean anymore. Strangely enough, the thought of not getting more didn’t launch me into a cascade of worry. I slid my hands into my pockets, the swish of the automatic doors stuck on repeat in my brain.

Lights progressed overhead, swoosh-swoosh-swoosh like dotted lines on a road, blinding and sweet.

We got him?

Negative. Try again.

Lightning zig-zagged in my chest cavity. The pierce of a needle straight through the sternum. I hated needles, with their shiny points and oozing fluids, like sharp dicks. Like…

Thunder rolled on the horizon. Trees shimmied overhead. I was standing in a grove. What the fuck was happening? A dream, nothing more.

Renalt had a dream, damnit.

Nate called me Renalt. Nobody called me that but family and family didn’t come around.

“It’s Ren, asshole. Ren!”

A hand appeared on my shoulder, hot. Blazing. My skin wanted to shy away from that touch.

“I’d say Renalt was a fine name, just fine as the day is long.” His voice had a slow, Southern drawl, white Republican. Cheap sports jacket, lemonade-sipping, Tetley tea Southern.

I turned to look at him. I expected a policeman or maybe a security guard, but he was young, not young like me but couldn’t have been more than thirty-five. Sandy-blonde hair with a pronounced widow’s peak above an arched Jack-Nicholson eyebrow. A girl would call him handsome, but there was something about his eyes. The nothing there. Shine of sun on nothingness, to return a bead of white among the black, so deep it swallowed his irises. He smiled, exposing a row of pearly whites too perfect to be anything but caps. I knew caps, I had them myself.

“Rock musicians have to have good teeth, son.” His smile never wavered and seemed genuine.

A cloud blotted out the sun, exposing my flesh to the prickle of cold air. “I never said anything.”

“Why are you standing here? I’d be over there.” He raised his hand, finger extended to redirect my attention to what I recognized was a memorial service. “It’s the last time you’ll be the center of attention. Might as well enjoy it.”

Sunshine beamed down on my head again as the cloud conveniently wisped away, burned through grey wool. It was a beautiful day. And this man had just told me something that was important. My mind ticked away at the sentence. Last time. Center of attention. I liked attention. Once. Very long ago, only but a few years but at my age, twenty seven, a few years was forever. Forever. A trickle of realization oozed down my spine like an oiled snake.

The gentleman smiled again. Sun beat down on our shoulders, he in all black, hands clasped in front of his equally-black buttons as if he ought to be clutching a bible and giving the Last Rites. My Last Rites. I was dead. Dead, and about to be laid to rest in the ground. My mouth dropped open and I turned to the small crowd in slow-motion, mouthing the negative word like a supervillain about to watch his empire crumple in oversaturated and pronounced superdust.

The grass did not crisp under my feet, my shadow did not run ahead of me as it had ever since the day I first poked one pudgy baby toe against the solid earth, no I was air; an angry wind that fluttered the Xeroxed fliers clasped in my family’s and friends’ hands. A sudden breeze that whipped black skirts against black stockings and blew my aunt into my sister.

The man from over there stood over here. He wore a smile that made a tiny dimple in the right side of chin appear and fade depending on the light. “Nice try, son. But you don’t have a leg to stand on now, do you?” His hearty laugh stopped me in my non-existent tracks. I glared at him over the gloss of my black coffin, of course it’d be black, everything else was black out here in the cheery, laughing sunshine, it made so much sense.

“You’re a piece of work, Renalt.”

I jabbed a finger in his direction. “Don’t fucking call me that!”

The man shrugged and held his hands palms turned out, as if in resignation. “Suits you fine, I’d say. Have it your way, son. Ren.”

“Who are you?” I was clenching my teeth so tight, it felt like they would crack from the pressure. “Who the fuck are you?”

The man laughed again. “I’ve got a few names that folks call me, some new, some old, but you can call me Stein. And Renalt?” He arched a brow. “Try living with Cristein all your life.”

“We’re dead.”

“Some would say that, yes.”

Throughout the ordeal, my coffin had been lowered into the grave. The rectangle looked to be a hole into eternity, except if I stepped to the edge. My coffin with its spray of ivory lilies and I don’t know what else gleamed up as the first clod of dirt struck the lid.

“You might not want to watch this part.” Stein stood at my side, peering down in the hole with me. He was just an inch or two taller than me. He squinted his black eyes—not beady, but they still reminded me of a crow’s—at the sun. “Coffee or liquor? It won’t make you sicker.”

“What?” I glanced down at my outstretched arms. White. Whole. I felt real to me. I turned away from the sounds the clods of earth made as the people I’d known buried me.

Beyond the flat, green lawn, a long black car hulked on the shoulder of the narrow cemetery road. I looked from it to Stein. “This is really happening, isn’t it?”

“Depends on your point of view, Ren. Not everything you experience ever really happens now, does it?” His smile gave me a chill.

“Why can’t they see me?”

Stein shook his head and stepped back from the scene at my grave. I followed him half way to the car, which seemed to be his.

“Because you’re not really here.”

I blinked. “What? What’s that supposed to mean? Of course I’m here.”

Stein gave a little snort. “Well, you are, and you aren’t. You-you is over there, about to become wormdirt. What’s left of you is up for grabs. You see son, you did a naughty thing, and as for all naughty things, there’s gonna be consequences.” He grinned.

10 May 2012

"27" #Fridayflash

Photo credit: mconnors from morguefile.com

It wasn’t like I told her I’d love her forever. Or any at all. The posts she wrote about me on the public band forums were unforgiving, at the very least. I carried on with my life, hoping she’d give up, find someone else to obsess over but after fourteen months, I couldn’t take it anymore.

She’d taken the very thing I held most dear and destroyed my faith in it. The music in me was dead. My guitar sulked under a thin coating of dust. My curtains remained drawn to the day, as if I was some kind of nocturnal inhuman creature. I shied away from cameras while out and about, when before I’d embraced them.

She’d broken my trust in her. The things I’d told her that I’d never admitted to anyone. She’d poured my secret thoughts into the ear of anyone with more than five minutes to listen. My private fears, dripped out of her non-stop mouth. My voice died. The stage stood empty in my mind. There was no melody to draw life out of my slumped and lanky form.

My wrist bones stood pronounced, my cheekbones so sharp they could cut paper. Sunken hollows lay in half-circles under my eyes. I was frozen; an effigy of what was once great and powerful. The women had once ran their fingers through my blond hair. Now it flooded down my back like a road of static. I knew I was bad. I was fully aware of what the shit I was on would do. I just didn’t care. I didn’t want to want anything anymore, and I had plenty of money to get it.

I lay prone on the ratty couch, with the old dust cover haphazard, fingers brushing the raised rubbery buttons of the remote. I watched TV with one eye open, the other buried in a pillow of tears of regret. I had to pee. My stomach rumbled, pissed off that it’d been three days without solid food. A half-glass of water and a bottle of pills beckoned from the low coffee table.

It’d be so easy.

The thought hit me like a fully-loaded semi hauler. I didn’t have to go through day after day. I could give myself over to the great beyond. Past the tunnel and the blinding light. I knew there wasn’t a light. I’d nearly died twice while on the road in Europe because of a deadly booze and drugs one-two punch. Not the same booze. Not the same drugs. I was desensitized to danger but I wasn’t completely stupid. Just ignorant of the fact I was still mortal, just like every single one of my fans. The people out on the street. The callers, pushers, hookers, and kids that came up to my knee.

I don’t think I did it because of her. I did it because of her. That she’d happened, and that I’d let it. The case with her shit magnified my self-loathing to high definition. Bile rose in my throat, looking at those pills in that cautionary orange bottle. They were in arm’s reach. Mistake? Or solution?

I was irrational. I growled into the faded fabric and bit the cushion. My heart pounded in my chest like a fist on an oak door. The urge to pee became more insistent. I pushed up off the couch and swung my lowered head in the bathroom’s direction. I let forward momentum carry me there, slamming against the jutted ceramic sink. One of the twin faucets never stopped dripping. I’d taken pliers to it once;  I could see the rings of effort still around the narrow chrome.

Pee. Right. I positioned myself in front of the toilet, unzipped my fly and braced myself against the wall with one hand as I held my dick with the other. Her pink-handled razor was still on the shelf at eye-level. I glared at it until my eyes swam out of focus then swatted it into the bathtub. The clatter was loud in that small room. After I zipped up, I turned on the cold water and let it flow over my fingers.

I was a waste.

I dried my hands on a towel, avoiding my reflection in the mirror. I was afraid of seeing myself worse than I already pictured in my mind. My body had nearly atrophied in my year of seclusion and self-abuse. I resembled Jesus on the cross, just give me a cloth diaper and a crown of thorns.

I didn’t believe in God. If there was one, he was an asshole. Or a bitch. Yeah, that was probably it. A vengeful bitch that took particular pleasure in tormenting those guys that would try to rise to the top. I just liked singing.

Another woman had called me songbird once. I think I was fifteen. I gave her the finger. Literally. I was lucky. I always looked older than my real age. She thought I was eighteen. I may as well been. I never finished school. I didn’t need to. I’d been taken under Precocious’ wing by that time. He was the first gay man I’d ever encountered. Offers were made and declined. I was only interested in pussy. Including when I was obliterated.

I put my hands on the doorsill and rested my head on them. My knees trembled. Why was I thinking of my benefactor when he was gone eight years already? Sweat beaded on my brow. Great, I was probably getting sick. It didn’t matter. None of it did.

I’d eat, but only to make my stomach shut up. The growling was reverb in my ears and I whimpered against my skin. It was over. All of it was gone. I couldn’t reach out for my star any more than I could reach for that bottle of pills. But they would be there.

I staggered back into the den and glared at the telephone blinking stupidly with unanswered messages. My manager, my friends, wrong number. I knew what they would be already. We have a contract, we miss you, can I speak to Fernando?

I didn’t have a cellphone. I didn’t text or Tweet, or Facebook like everybody else on the planet. I was old-fashioned in that way even though I wasn’t old, despite the deep objection in my bones. It was just a setback, I’d told my manager Mindy. She’d said she was waiting on new material. I told her I was working on it.

I was a fucking liar. My name was Ren.

16 March 2012

"The Bath" #Fridayflash

Photo credit: fieryn from morguefile.com

She’s drinking gin and tonic, even though it’s not a girl drink. The blinds are closed, but splashes of red and blue still bleed through. A low hum of glass-bell silence in the house points an accusing finger towards the hall, up the stairs and to the bath. Signs, written in psychic hues of purple. Cryptic warnings. Don’t Go Upstairs. Her hand shakes, tinkling the ice in her drink. It hasn’t been said, but she’s getting talked to. She doesn’t want to get talked to.

Her fingers fidget for a cigarette. This ancient house usually feels warm, but the front door stands wide open, like a mouth, falling into a dark throat of frozen midnight. It’s always midnight when bad things happen, but maybe this one doesn’t count because she took a nap. Fatigue had etched away at her consciousness; the book she’d been reading, fell to the floor, where the cat could sniff and tear at the pages. Sleep is a thief. The night is its witness.

Dirty snow is left to perish on the Berber carpet.

If it happened while she was asleep, that makes it a dream. It feels like one. She takes another sip, and raises the glass to look at it. It looks like water but smells like hell, and that matches her mood.

A uniformed man stands over her. Not looking at her, but keeping watch as others like him file in and out of the door. They bring tools and bags. Soon, it’ll be time to move from the sofa. She licks her lips, numb from the alcohol and stained with nicotine. She’d ran out of cigarettes an hour ago. 

24 February 2012

"Karma" #Fridayflash

Not that she wasn’t pretty. Her eyes and lips told a different story. Leaning there against the door frame, smoking a cigarette with her arm over her head. Wide-set doe eyes, and balanced precariously on twig-thin heels. Beaded bracelets slid down her wrist, drawing attention to how delicate her bones were.

“And then, he just turned…dark.” She pulled hard from her cigarette, and released a plume of smoke in her words. “I never saw it coming.”

I shifted my weight to relieve the pressure of the holster against my hip. The page in my notepad was almost full. For someone who had nothing to say, she had plenty. It must’ve been the drugs. I’d have to arrest her. I felt like a criminal.

She slid a foot from one of her shoes and propped it against the wall. Her hair was bleached almost white, and made her red mouth look like a bloodstain in her pale face. Track marks pocked the inside of her left elbow. Which made her right-handed.

I looked at my watch. “Anything else, Mrs…”

“Smith.” The th in the word brought out her slur. “No, that’s it. Can I go now?” Her pupils were pinpoint, tiny holes of nothingness.

I shook my head. “I’m afraid not.” I expected her to cry, but there were no tears, only indifference. Maybe she was too high to care.

Crime Scene came in, interrupting us. “We need to take the body.” Nice boys. Stevo and Kieran.

“Look, Mrs. Smith, you’re a prime suspect in this murder case.”

 I felt sorry for the clean-up crew. They’d need a mop to pick up what was left of him. Prime suspect was the understatement of the year. She must’ve showered and gotten dressed before making the call. A chill snaked down my spine.

Her smile was coy, but her stare was icy. “Karma’s a bitch.”

I blinked first.

Photo credit: jdurham from morguefile.com

16 February 2012

"Geetar" #Fridayflash

Momma don’t stop me from playing the geetar out on the front porch. I sit and fiddle with them tuning pegs, twistin’ this way an’ that ’til I get the sound just right to my ear. I don’t need nobody to tell me how, I just know when I hear the right sound.

The neighbors walk by an’ stop to hear me play. Sometime they smile, sometime they frown and shake they head. I don’t mind none, just keep on picking them strings, humming under my breath ‘til them words break out like sun from behind a gray cloud.

Miss Johnson from three houses down bring her kids by sometime; they like hearing me play. Miss Johnson say I’m gonna be a big star someday but I don’t believe it. I just like to play. My fingers get itchy without strings under ’em, so I scratch them by playin’ songs out here on the front porch.

I don’t know where the words come from, they just roll out of my head onto my tongue and drip from my lips into the air. I get loud sometimes, an’ Momma come out and tell me to hush it down now, baby’s ’sleep. But the baby like my songs, he giggle and coos like he havin’ a ball. Sometime he claps his little hands and to me, it’s better than any ol’ big audience.

I look out from my chair and there’s a few folks out there, all lookin’ up at me. I stare at the dusty planks on the porch, I don’t know how to keep eye contact an’ all ’cause it sometime make me nervous. When I finish my song, they all clapping for me and I kinda shrug, mumble a word of thank’n and go on to the next one. An’ it is just fine. Right as rain. I smile for the people gathered out there at the gate, an’ I go on to the next song.

I play for awhile, ’til my head get tired and I feel out of breath ’cause I singing loud again, only Momma don’t stop me. She see that everybody just fine with me a playin’. An’ so is she.

(Photo credit: gianni from morguefile.com)

09 February 2012

"Five Minutes Alone" #Fridayflash

Photo credit: western4uk from morguefile.com

There’s broken glass on the floor. I feel it. Shards, digging up through the soles of my feet, letting the blood seep through the little holes to make the slick. It’s there. In the shadows. I can’t see it except out of the corner of my eyes, ‘cause when I turn around it hides. It’s a sneaky bastard, slim and dank, reeking of mold and poisonous spores.

I spin around, bark out a little laugh. Ha. Got you.

No. No I don’t.

Bricks form walls on all four sides and I rush one and pound on it. There’s no goddamn door. No way out. Nothing but me and it.

How long has it been? Years. Days?

Five minutes. Fuck, it’s been five minutes.

There. Jerk my head to the right. No. There. Glance to the left. Easy. Easy. Where is it? What is it? I’m pissed now, and punch the bricks, which is heinously stupid. Idiot. My knuckles are bleeding like my feet. A twisted stigmata. Clumsy shit. I think I broke something. Not really bone, just deep down inside, where black is something even bleaker; where the splash of the trunk in the well isn’t heard for hours. Weeks.

Five fucking minutes.

I can’t take this…this not-knowing. That thing is in here with me, with icy breath drifting over my neck and shoulders. I reach back in one swift motion and clamp my fingers around its neck. It’s growling and clawing at my back, shredding my shirt to dig its talons deep into my skin. Screams everywhere and it’s just me, echoing off the walls.

Let me out…get this thing off me. Getitoffgetitoffgetitoff!

I sink to my knees. Consciousness is growing dim. A ring of brown, deepening to gray. Gray to…

“How long did you say it was before you sedated him?” Dr. Masinchino glanced up from his tablet. To his right, two aides were receiving treatment from the patient’s attack.

“About five minutes, doctor.” She was a pretty thing, not too old, not too young. Doctors couldn’t date nurses, but he’d imagined. Those legs looked like they went all the way up.

“Any idea what caused this?”

“None, doctor. He just showed up in the waiting room and began shouting after about a half-hour.”

“Any records on him?” The doctor looked over at the nurse again. “Anything at all? We don’t even have an ID on him.”

She shook her head.

Dr. Masinchino sighed through his nose, slipped his stylus into his breast pocket, and waved for them to unlock the door.

03 February 2012

"Dead Horse" #Fridayflash

Hooves drummed the loose-packed earth. Arrows whizzed overhead. Somewhere, the sound of another man dying. Arcien turned to see he was no longer being pursued by the mob; instead they’d stopped a distance back, obviously distracted by something else. He drew back the reins, jerking his horses’s chin to its neck with an objecting snort as it halted. The dust cleared around them as he turned the stallion back the way they’d come.

The sun hung low in the bleeding sky, warning of impending darkness which would bring the battle to another standstill as forces separated and returned to their respective camps. Blood was not permitted close to the city walls; this was no-man’s land. Parched ground was grateful for the warm moisture of red seeping over swollen cheeks and bruised arms.  Rigid fingers still clasped their valued weapons.

Curious, he urged his horse back towards the battlefield at an easy trot, slowing as he drew near.

They’d circled around a single man who cursed, covered in sweat, as he flailed his horse, which lay there on the ground. The poor animal was obviously dead. The mob fell in at last, carving hunks of flesh off the great beast’s side with their crude daggers and swords.

When one of the scrawny aggressors looked up and caught sight of him, Arcien kicked his horse in the ribs to ride away. The war was never about land. The opposition was made up of nothing but starving men.

He recorded his recommendation and sent the sealed message to his Caesar.

Photo credit: jade from morguefile.com