Monster Mash 2016

Unfortunately, it’s again been some time since anything was posted here. I’d love to be able to say that the delay is due to accidentally curing cancer on the way down to settle this whole “world peace” thing, but that simply isn’t true. Day jobs and personal challenges have been the way of the year…but things will be getting better!

Just in time, too, as the fine folks at Ink After Dark have a flash fiction challenge just in time for Halloween. All one has to do is include one of several specific phrases in their spooky tale.

Happy Halloween to everyone, whether for that means costumes and candy, or celebrating the last harvest of the year with their ancestors, or something else entirely.


Tangled Dreams

Pictures rattled, but the music couldn’t shake the apathy from Rosa’s weary soul. Glancing around at the friends around her, she took another drink from a plastic cup. The unnamed liquor tasted tropical, a far cry from the suburban mini mansion they had broken into. The front door slammed open, and in case it was the homeowners or the police, she started to bolt from the scene. Instead, Max stomped inside with more beer and a bag of snacks.

“Sure know how to scare a girl, dude.” she said as he wiped his feet in the entry. He shrugged, trudging around the overloaded coach of card players.

Closing the door behind him, she asked the usual line. “Were you born in a barn?” It even sounded flat to her; she just couldn’t muster the enthusiasm.

“This isn’t my barn!” he responded playfully, and nodded his head toward the kitchen.

Once there, Rosa helped Max put the beer in the taken over fridge. He kept silent, waiting until Rosa explained.

“It’s no big deal, I’m just…bored.”

“The party?”

“Life. Everything. The parties, the jobs, all of it.”

Max nodded. “Yeah, been there. Even the same daydreams over and over.”

“Exactly. I just need a change.”

“Lucky night, then. Got just the thing.” Max grinned as he fished a vial out of his pocket. “It’s new.”

“What is it?” She looked at the silvery powder skeptically as she took it.

“One of those new quantum drugs. Called Tangle. Problem with your imagination, it’s always yours. Same you, same fantasies. This stuff lets you ride other people’s.”

“Mind reading? Come on.” Rosa fidgeted with the vial, but couldn’t quite hand it back.

“No, people have to let you. They take another kind, and it connects neurotransmitters or something.”

“Why?”

“Don’t know. Guess to them it’s like putting your brain inside a trench coat you can fling open. It’ll be different, guarantee.”

She snorted a dose, and moments later, she looked up at him. “That’s odd.”

Max replied, but she didn’t hear. Her brain only knew the fantasy. Exhilarating, she could feel every fingertip on her body as if it was real. Beads of sweat rose under hot stadium lights before the skin cooled under each affectionate touch. Her partners’ sweet breath mixed with the scent of freshly cut grass, while a crowd cheered.

Rosa broke free of the fantasy, and found Max grinning at her. Blushing, she looked down and wrapped her jacket tightly. Trying to act nonchalant, she yelled out to the partygoers. “You guys are sick!” Nobody was quite sure who she was talking to, but they laughed all the same.

Max grabbed a drink and moved toward the others. “You’ll probably get a few more tonight.”

The party went on, filled with reckless disregard for the borrowed home. The usual people were in their normal places: Sherry stood singing on a table, and Rick passed out in a makeshift hammock. While watching chair jousting, Rosa felt another fantasy coming on. She hid in an upstairs bathroom to be alone, with no audience this time.

This fantasy was different. She was crouched in bushes near the very house they were partying in, and a girl came out the front door. Helplessly, she joined the dreamer in sneaking up behind the girl and cracking her skull with a shovel. With a snap, another blow broke an ankle and sent the girl to the ground. The attacker laughed and stood over the helpless form, destroying the neck with the shovel. Rosa fought the scene, but remained trapped. The onslaught continued, with blows raining down on the corpse, tearing the girl’s leather jacket and deforming the face around brown eyes, now lost in the midst of black seas of infinity. Dark hair stained in ichor painted macabre brush strokes on the yard.

Rosa found herself back in her own body, and vomited into the sink, shaking in terror from the violence and gore. Tears streamed down, and she collapsed to the floor. The locked bathroom door rattled, and a knock followed.

“Man, hurry up in there.”

Rosa wiped her ruined makeup on an ornamental towel and gathered her composure to go back out to her closest friends. One of them was fantasizing about killing her, and that made tonight a whole lot different, guaranteed.

Hidden in Plain Sight – VisDare

What’s this under all the dust?  Why, there’s still a bit of life left in this computer after all!  It’s been far too long between postings.  Part of that is due to spending more time on larger projects, but a large part is just, well, the challenges of life.  I’ve missed flash fiction, though, and always seem to be a better version of myself when doing it.

I managed to get to the VisDare prompt this week.  As always, the picture has many stories that it tries to tell.  Here’s the one that I heard.  It’s probably because I believe there’s more to the world around us than we know or admit to.  Did the creatures of fairy tales get better at hiding, or did we just stop looking for them?


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(Photo by Benjamin Godard)

Hidden in Plain Sight

“Hey, man, got a cigarette?”

Walter’s attention was jarred from his concerns to the train platform, and to the homeless woman speaking.

“No. Don’t smoke. Sorry.” He tried to soften his response by meeting her eyes and giving her a small smile.

“That’s okay, man, thanks anyway. Careful of the animal people.”

Before he could stop himself, “Animal people?”

“Yeah. They were here first, and they usually look like us. They’re not, though, not at all.” The woman then drifted away through the crowd.

Walter settled into his thoughts until the train came to exchange dozens of people. Just as the doors closed, a young man leapt on and stood against one of the handrails. Only Walter seemed to notice that the man’s head was that of a large rabbit, and he spent the trip downtown trying to decide whether the woman was crazy, or if he was.

 

Sharing is Hard – #LoveBites2016

Once again, it’s been a while since anything has been added here.  There are excuses, of course, but that’s really what they are.  Even as I work on larger projects, Flash Fiction remains a fun way to experiment and grow.

And, luckily, there are opportunities to keep encouraging myself and others to keep going.  The ladies at Ink After Dark put together another little contest to give the darker side of the feelings around Valentine’s Day some attention.  I certainly appreciate the work they do to give us ideas to play with, and all of the writers who join in.  If you have a chance, you should definitely give them a read.  You might even find a new author that you like.

Here’s the bit that grew for me from the idea:


Sharing is Hard
Date night was a success as Will and Patty snuggled on the couch, with candlelight dancing across the walls. Hints of zinfandel wine passed between their lips as they watched a romantic movie. As the loving couple on the screen found each other at last, a similar scene was playing out in the living room.

As the couple on screen gazed deeply into each other’s eyes, the romance in the living room was overwhelmed by a strong odor from the other end of the couch. Patty covered her nose, as the smell of rotten eggs passed across the room.

“Bear, that was nasty.” Will scolded, more amused than angry.

Brown eyes looked up at him from the dog lying upside down on the couch. Hearing his name, his tail started wagging, with the unfortunate side effect of fanning the noxious fumes right at the couple.

“Ugh, I swear. It’s like he does these things on purpose. Like…I’m having to share you with him.” Patty complained as she got up from the couch.

“He’s just getting used to you, and he’s a dog, so he does dog things sometimes. He likes you, really.”

“It’s a good thing you’re cute, and he is too.” Patty scowled at the dog as he flopped off of the couch come sit at her feet, looking up with a grin. “It’s actually fine, though. Much later, and the wait for the bus is really long. Thank you for dinner.”

Will walked her to the stop and waited until the bus arrived. They ignored the bus driver’s gaze during a long, lingering kiss to end the evening with.

The relationship flourished during the next months. The couple spent more and more time together, but most of the little fights they had were about Bear. Patty was adjusting to having a pet in her life, such as having fur on her little black dress. Will and Bear were also making adjustments, like Bear having to share his corner of the bed. Bear and Patty grew close, with her occasionally bringing him treats. All together, the three were settling into a cozy routine.

One evening, though, Bear didn’t come meet Will at the door. Instead, he was lying on the tiles in the bathroom, with vomit around his mouth. Will raced the dog to the veterinarian, terrified and helpless.

“I’m sorry, but there’s nothing we can do.” the doctor said as kindly as she could. “We can give you a little time with him, to say goodbye, but not very much.”

Will nodded speechlessly, tears in his eyes, and called Patty to let her know what was going on. He asked her to try to get to the vet’s office before the dog was gone.

“What happened to him? He was just fine this morning. I just don’t understand…” Will trailed off.

“It looks like some organ failure. Being so young, did he get into anything? Cleaners, antifreeze, anything like that?”

“No, we don’t have anything like that around.”

Will rested his hands on Bear’s side, and on his forehead. He tried to keep from crying, as he looked into the brown eyes. The doctors gave the shots to make the dog more comfortable, and Will stayed with his friend all the way until Bear slipped away. Patty arrived shortly after, trying to comfort Will.

Several months passed, and Will’s house just seemed too empty. It felt like something was missing, especially on the other side of the bed. Toys and bowls were packed away. Patty spent more time there, until her apartment was merely a place to get the mail.

They decided that she should move in officially. Will even started discretely shopping for wedding rings. Just before her lease ended, they spent the weekend packing up her things for movers to bring to the house.

Will was boxing up the last of the beauty products from a linen closet when several bottles toppled over. A plastic one rolled forward, filled with a green liquid. Absently, he reached to put it into the box, but as it dropped heavily, he noticed the label.

“Protects cars from the worst that winter can dish out! Guaranteed past -50 degrees!”

 

Company Claus -#‎IADTS2015‬

It’s been a while since anything made it to here.  There was a little bit of November in the way.  In case you aren’t familiar, that is National Novel Writing Month, better known as “don’t disturb the writers month unless you  have caffeine”.

Breaking out of that shell, though, there’s another flash fiction contest from the ladies at Ink After Dark.   This time the theme involves the icons of Winter Celebrations combined with too much celebrating.

Here’s my submission, but first a pause.  As the nights lengthen in the northern half of this world, many cultures have midwinter festivals.  No matter how it’s called wherever you happen to be, I truly hope it’s a good one for you, and that the next year treats you well, wherever you might be.


Company Claus

“…And the profits of the 3rd quarter barely covered the downturn from the global market in the 4th…” droned the middle manager tasked with giving the state of the company address. No doubt, some transparent excuse for a lack of bonuses for the staff again this year. I stopped listening and made my way to the table festooned with tacky decorations and pot-luck dishes.

In through the conference room door came a late arrival in a red sweater. His white beard immediately ruled him out of the sales team, and as he stepped into the room, he blinked at the faces turned his way, and let out a bellowing belch that seemed to vibrate the air. Unashamed, he drew a flask from behind his back and raised it in a salute to the astonished crowd before raising it to his lips. His upturned face turned crestfallen when it turned out to be empty, and he shook it over his mouth in the vain hope for more.

“I seem to be out of sugar plum brandy. How’s the punch?” he staggered toward the feasting table, and to my horror, closer to me.

The manager whose speech had been so memorably interrupted bellowed over the crowd, anger turning his face crimson and making him shake so hard that his jowls seemed made of jelly. “Of all the impropriety! You’re fired!”

“Impropriety, Nathaniel? You of all people? Shove it, or I’ll tell all these nice people or your wife about how your secretary takes your…” he hiccupped loudly before finishing “…dictation. Hmm, I suppose I just did. Oh well, now what have we here?”

The onlookers froze in shock and horror, before a wave of angry amusement swept through the room. Furtive glances darted back and forth between a pair of people who looked like they wished they could melt away. The executive assistant was the first to react, and left the room without looking anyone in the eye. Due to the speech, the discount holiday music had been turned off, so there was no noise to cover up the different reactions to the internal scandal of the year.

One ambitious man started to approach the sloshed snacker, arms extended in supplication. One twinkling eye turned his way, and he stopped cold. The bearded man started filling a pair of cups with punch. “I wouldn’t, little Francis Walter. After all, you wouldn’t want your bogus expense reports or your tattling to make the Vice Presidents look bad coming to light.” Frank paled and stepped back, but not fast enough to save his path up the corporate ladder.

After taking a drink, he frowned mightily. “Bah, this is kid’s stuff. I’m out of here. But you all, I’m watching you. Not at all in the spirit of the season, let me tell you.”

He leaned closer to me and gave me a wink. Whispering conspiratorially, he nudged me with his elbow. “You, though, should definitely go talk to Natalie. She’s on the right kind of naughty list, if you know what I mean.”

With that, he staggered back out the door the way he had come, leaving a scene of frigid shock and memorable chaos in his wake.

There seemed no saving the company party after his departure. Though some tried, there was no drawing attention back to any speeches or team building activities. I left shortly after, but not before looking at Natalie in a new light. As I was leaving, I heard one voice cut through the din that I don’t believe was quite right. “I guess those IT guys really do know everything that happens on the network.”

 

Cold Storage, Warm Living – Monster Mash #IADMM2015

There was a bit of a writing contest the last couple weeks on Ink After Dark, just in time for the Halloween season.  I’m looking forward to doing more of their themed prompts, since both variety and deadlines seem to help my work improve.

The Monster Mash contest had two categories:  Light and Dark.  Here is the bit that I submitted for the Dark portion.


Cold Storage, Warm Living

“This office is always freezing. Why can’t it be a bit warmer?” Susan asked the rest of the team once again, wrapped under a shawl.

The familiar argument didn’t even elicit a look from the rest of her coworkers. “Boss likes it that way, I guess. Just give it time, you’ll see that it’s for the best.”

Ever since her promotion to the central office, her summer wardrobe had languished uselessly in her closet. She had to dress in layers even on the hottest of days, just to be comfortable enough to work. Her latest investment in some heated fingerless gloves had helped a lot. Her coworkers had gotten used to the temperature, it seemed, but she still had a long way to go. There had to be some sense to the cool, though. She had been more productive since she got that job, and had come up with some really interesting solutions to problems that had come up. Maybe the cold was keeping the team more alert, more focused.

Today, though, she had lunch plans with Lisa, a friend from college, and had tried to dress up a bit for it. The goose bumps on her arms seemed as though that might not have been the best idea. When lunchtime finally came around, she was relieved to thaw out enough to start dumping the extra clothes.

Once she got to the restaurant, she greeted her friend with a polite hug, and settled into catching up. Salads came, and the conversation flowed easily. When Susan’s new job came up, her friend’s face paled. “The one downtown? And you’re out here? What are you thinking?”

Lisa poured all the ice from her glass into Susan’s, and flagged down the waiter for more. “Drink that, and we’ll try to get you cooled back down.”

Susan stared incredulously. Her friend had never been much of a joker, and the concern on her face seemed very genuine. Reconnecting with her friend was quickly turning into one of the weirdest meals of her life. “What are you doing? You’re freaking me out. I actually need to warm up after how cold my office is, not cool down.”

“You don’t know?” Lisa pulled out several dollar bills and dropped them on the table. “Look, I’m not kidding. That’s the reason that I’ve never worked for them. There’s something that happens to some of the people who work there. Look it up, but it might be too late. I’ve got to go, and you’ve got to cool down.”

“Something happens? Like a guy with a hook comes out of a bathroom mirror and kills you with a video tape?” Susan was embarrassed as people started noticing the scene, and she got angry.

“Look, they’re known for having the best and brightest, right?” Lisa eyed the door like she was considering making a run for it. “The ones that don’t burn out, they push the stereotype: loners, work in dark and cool, live for the job?”

Susan nodded and crossed her arms. That sort of sounded like her boss, and her team, in fact.

“The why gets weird. There’re stories. The company uses the staff as some sort of cold storage, for something that gets in them. Maybe in the water, maybe in the catered breakfasts, who knows? If it gets a chance to warm up, that’s when the people burn out…literally.”

“That’s stupid. Like, what, aliens? The company is not sticking things in their employees. Why can’t you just be happy that I’ve got a good job, maybe better than yours?” Susan got up and stormed away from the table.

She glared at the host as she stalked through the front doors. Once in the car, her hands shook so much she could barely start it. Trying to calm down, she breathed deeply and counted to ten, but it still took several minutes before she felt safe driving. “Guess some people really do change.” she growled as she put the car into reverse and checked behind her.

Susan’s anger was so distracting that she didn’t notice as a tiny bulge moved along her collar bone, from her shoulder down toward her heart, under her warm weather blouse and under her skin itself.

 

Mortician’s Ball – Monster Mash #IADMM2015

As Halloween approaches, I was fortunate enough to find out about a flash fiction contest put on by some really fun people.  The site is new to me, but I’ve been lucky enough to be acquainted with the people who run it for some time now.  It looks as though there will be frequent contests and prompts there, so it is certain that Ink After Dark is one keep an eye on.

For Halloween, they are doing a Monster Mash contest.  Here is the main page, and they have it split between lighter and darker stories.  There are definitely some good ones up there, so it is certainly worth some reading time.

Here’s the short story that I posted up there for their Light section.


Mortician’s Ball

“No, I’m sorry; we don’t have any openings on that day.  Our technicians are always booked months ahead of time.” The receptionist on the other end of the phone went through the practiced delivery with the boredom of the repeated underpaid delivery.

Steven was desperate.  He couldn’t have known months ahead.  It had only been three weeks since the funeral, and only this morning that anyone had mentioned the Mortician’s Ball.  “Please, anything you can do.”  His voice broke as he explained.  “This is all so recent, none of it has really sunk in, and then this…whole event.”

“Oh, is this Mr. Davis?”  The tone shifted from boredom to sympathy at his acknowledgement.  “My condolences about your wife.  We were expecting you, the funeral director already has a reservation set for 5:30 on the 31st.”

“Thank you.  See you then.”  After the connection broke, he stood for several minutes, just staring.

Halloween evening came shortly, and Steven went to get his appointment, wanting to look his best.  It was a new and overwhelming experience immediately as he entered.  More than a simple haircut, the store was packed with carts of clothing and people bustling about here and there.  Glowing holiday decorations reflected off of shimmering dresses darting by, sending dizzying patterns of color through the store.  He was almost back out the door, when a young stylist caught his arm in one of his tanned hands.  “Just in time, but we can’t have you wearing that.  Oh, we have so much work to do, and again, our condolences.”

“I don’t understand.  I just thought a haircut would be nice.  This is all just, just no.”  He pulled his arm back and turned to walk out the door.

“Hold on.  You don’t understand.  You don’t want her to see you looking like crap, do you, Steve?  How do you think she will feel?”

Too unsure to resist, Steven was led into the middle of the frenzy.  Clothing colors were picked, and sizes given to runners who leapt into action.  Brushes and trimmers and hands and faces whirled about.  Every bit of skin and hair was meticulously buffed or trimmed to precise detail.  Once, through a gap in the action, he caught a reflection of a near stranger in the mirror.  Other customers came and went, undergoing similar transformations, and threads of conversation drifted past him.

“Blue was always Joe’s favorite color, can we work that in somehow?”

“Her eyes were as green as the lawn; I don’t want to clash with that.”

“No, we can’t do yellow.  Her sister’s bridesmaid dresses were yellow, and she hated it since.”

As the clocks chimed eight times, Steven’s transformation was finishing.  “Your ride is here, right on time.  And, oh my, your wife will be pleased.”  He stepped out into the darkened street, and a driver held the door to one of the waiting cars.  He slipped in and attempted to contain his anxiety.  He had wished he could have more time together, but it was quite an adjustment from never thinking that he would see her again.  As arrived at the graveyard, Steven noticed that it had been transformed as well.  Areas were secluded by tents and connected by carpeted paths.  He went in, past extremely polite staff eager to meet his needs, to a central area loosely filled with other people from the town.

As he waited nervously, looking around the crowd without really seeing, a hand lightly touched his shoulder.  He turned, and nearly dropped his drink when he saw his wife standing there, vibrant and beautiful.  He couldn’t speak, so he just grabbed her in his arms, and held her tightly.  The crowd around them may as well have vanished, as they just touched each other, making sure that they were real.  Familiar fingers brushed happy tears away, and arms twined together.  She was warm and tan, just as she was before the illness.

His wish had come true:  one more night together.  Somehow, it would again every year.  They were so utterly lost in each other, making each moment stretch as long as possible, that they paid no attention to the Mayor on the microphone.

“Welcome to this year’s Mortician’s Ball and Happy Halloween to everyone!”

Choosing the Act We Act

We fortunately had an extra day in the Mid Week Blues Buster, and I needed it to get an idea going. Still, here I am squeaking by at the very last minute. This specific song was difficult for me to find a story to go with, being primarily electric guitar exercises. The lyrics helped me out, fortunately.

The song we had to play with this week was The Act We Act by Sugar.


“Pardon me, but do you happen to have the time?”

The voice shocked me out of my inner thoughts and back to the bus stop where I waited and brooded. With a thick accent meant to sound British, and failing utterly, the speaker asked again.
I looked around to see who had intruded into the solace of the thoughts. It wasn’t the young guy with the thick glasses and expanded ears, shaking his head to some electric guitar scream that escaped his expensive headphones. The only other person at the bus stop was a derelict from the streets, standing just a few feet away. Dirty grey hair held in place by a faded bowler hat, and the suit jacket was a poor combination with the sweat pants below, held in place by a twisted section of orange extension cord. Tough skin wrinkled around grey blue eyes, as he smiled when he noticed me look up.

“Man, I don’t have anything extra. Sorry.” I said out of habit, starting to fall back into my reverie.

“Good sir, that’s simply unnecessary. I merely query about the time.” Unfettered, he pressed on.
Glancing down, an oft repeated glance at my phone revealed the time. “It’s 6:17. Why, are you late for something?” As soon as the angry words came out, I felt guilty. The problems in my life weren’t his fault, nor were his problems my responsibility either. His only sin, as far as I was aware, was disrupting the silent anonymous rhythm of the bus stop. The unspeaking passersby so close in the city.

“Not yet, not yet, but I thank you for your concern. Merely rolling with the tides, as they say. As you can likely surmise, I seem to have misplaced my timepiece.”
Driven by guilt or curiosity, I took another look at him. His clothes were in tatters, but he didn’t carry himself with an air of subservience or disgrace. Rather, as he stood slightly apart, straight shoulders and head held high, he more seemed to be surveying his domain. He noticed my attention, and took a step closer to speak directly to me. “Hours could slip by while you watch, with the thoughts cluttering your mind.”

“Sorry, it’s just…you don’t…I don’t know, you just don’t make sense.” I blushed at the explanation.

“Ah, yes, not what you expect once you raise the curtain? No, my young friend, this is a temporary condition.” He waved his hand along his body, indicating his colorful ensemble. “The act we act is what is reflective of that which is under the skin. One or two poor choices may have led me to this residential misadventure, yet especially in adversity, our carriage and bearing will carry us through.”

The bus pulled up to the curb as he finished, and I rose to step toward it. I noticed myself standing up straighter, and that simple act made the worries on my mind seem smaller and less oppressive.

The homeless man didn’t make any move to cross to the bus. “Is this yours, too?” I asked.

“No, mine is still coming, but I have enjoyed seeing the worlds collide this evening.” He bowed slightly and stepped back from the curb, waving the bus driver on.

“Well, good luck to you, and good night.”

As I sat on the bus, I looked around at the people already seated. Most were engrossed in their own thoughts or devices, yet none had the spirit or seeming energy of the homeless man. Most were the same that shared the bus every other work night, and most likely would continue the routine for many months or years to come. I thought of the differences, both on the inside and the outside, and couldn’t stop thinking about the difference it made.

“The act we act”, I muttered to myself, thinking that it might be time to consider my act, and see where my fortunes could take me.