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.