Coffee, anyone? New Fiction

The Important Questions

by S. Scott Bullock

WAS it obsession? Was it pathological? Was I a stalker for Pete’s sake? Or was it truly and simply, love at first sight. Love, that is, with a liberal tablespoon of lust tossed in. I fully believe that it was the latter, but who knows, I could be nuts. Many have said that I am ‘one pint short of a quart’.

But regardless of pathological obsession or simple love, this woman was beautiful. No. Beautiful does NOT cut it. She was all of the beauty in the world rolled up into a beautiful, woman-shaped package and topped with some beauty sprinkles and tied up in a beautiful, beauty bow. She was… well… you get the idea.

I first saw her on Monday the sixteenth. I was in my usual seat, way in the back of the ‘Your Morning Jolt’ coffee house. I liked it way in the back. Nobody was ever back there at my favorite table because it was right next to the little hallway that led to the restrooms and any time anybody went in or out of the toilets, especially the men’s, the stink would waft by a little. You know that smell. Pee, poop, urinal cakes and Pine Sol. It doesn’t make for an appetizing accompaniment to one’s morning coffee and sweet roll. But I put up with it because I love that table so much. Way back in the back, up against the wall and private. Plus there is an electrical outlet right below it and I could always plug my laptop in and not have to depend on the battery, and plus-plus, the bathrooms weren’t really used all that much so the odoriferous assaults were few and far between.

So, anyway, I first saw her when she came in Monday morning and went to the counter to order. She was juggling three or four books and she almost dropped them when she went into her purse for money. Some clown in a button-down oxford shirt and man bun jumped up to help her with the books, but she declined his aid. I was glad. It showed she had taste. Never accept help from a yuppie-hipster. That way lies madness.

She gathered up her books and her purse and headed to an empty table by the window. She sat down and I saw, for the first time, the true color of her hair. The sun was pouring through the window and it shattered her hair into a thousand facets of color. Red and gold and auburn and rust. Her hair was a crown of roses. And her face was a gift from God. (I don’t believe in God, but after seeing her face I began to question the possibility of his existence). And what shade was her skin? Alabaster? No. Milky? No. Creamy? No. What was that shade of skin? What was it? There wasn’t a word yet. There had not been a word invented that could describe the color of her skin. So I guess I’ll just have to call it pearl-white. Her skin was pearl-white. Iridescent white. I swear to you it looked like it glowed from the inside. I’d never seen anything like it. And then her body. Holy cow. She wasn’t one of those tuning-fork-legged, anorexic pool cues. Oh no. This one was round in all the right places with not a single hard angle to be found. Well… no hard angle on her anyway. But that’s being vulgar, and I may be MANY things, but vulgar is not one of them.

As you can tell I was smitten immediately. And that was even before I had seen her eyes. Because, when I finally saw her emerald green eyes, it was game over for this California transplanted Indiana farm boy. Smitten became ‘where have you been all my life’ and I knew then and there that this angelic creature was going to be with me for the rest of my life. I know it’s kind of girlie, but I swear when I first saw her eyes, I heard wedding bells and started planning the ceremony in my head!

But I’m ahead of myself. Before I saw those eyes, I just sat back at my favorite table and watched. For three days, each morning at 8:15 precisely, I watched her come into the coffee shop and go through the exact same procedure.

She’d go up the counter, place her order (a large Caffè Latte and a glass of water) fumble with the three or four books she was carrying while digging into her oversize purse for her wallet. She’d pull out the wallet, almost drop the books, recover, and then pay the barista. She’d then shuffle over to one of the tables by the window, drop her books on it and put her purse on the chair next to her, then she’d sit down and wait for her order to be called. Every morning. And every morning I became more and more enchanted with this angel on earth.

On the second day, Tuesday, as she went up to the counter to get her finished order, I got up from my seat and casually walked by her table. I acted as if I was looking for something or someone out the windows but I was really spying. I wanted to see what books she was reading and I saw that they were all books about Silent Movies and the Silent Era. When I saw what they were a rush of adrenaline coursed through me and made my head light and swoony for a second. I couldn’t believe my luck. She turned toward her table and me. I must have looked like a real dope, standing there with my mouth hanging open and my hand on my forehead. I regained some composure and pretended I was waving goodbye to someone outside the shop and I walked back to my table as she made her way back to hers.

I sat down feeling unbelievably happy. This was an incredible coincidence. I loved silent movies! I knew everything about them. And this was going to be the perfect way to strike up a conversation. I settled it in my head that, day after tomorrow, Thursday, would be the day that I would finally talk to her. I opened my laptop and began to refresh my memory about all things ‘Silent Movies’. I kept glancing up at her, I couldn’t help myself. She was sipping her coffee and reading her books. She was highlighting parts of them with a yellow highlight marker and making notes on a legal pad with an old fashioned, very fancy, fountain pen. It was hard for me to concentrate with her so near, but I kept at it. Then, she finished her coffee, closed her books, put her notepad and pen back in her purse, rose and left. My heart sank a little when she left. I had the fear that the next morning would come and she wouldn’t show up. But I put my fear aside and went back to my studies.

Wednesday morning was no different. I sat and watched as she came in at 8:15 and did her morning dance. I watched her read and write and highlight as I continued to brush up my knowledge. I watched her finish and leave and I felt that little sadness again. I went back to my laptop and tried not to think too much about the next morning.

Thursday morning came and I got to the coffee shop just before it opened. I waited for the manager to unlock the door and when she did I headed straight for my table. This was a new manager and she didn’t give me the normal greeting I was used to. She just smiled at me and said ‘good morning’. I smiled back as I made my way to my spot. I put my laptop down and went up to the counter. I ordered my double espresso and two chocolate biscotti. I picked up my order at 6:15 and returned to my seat. I opened my laptop and continued my studies. Two hours. I had to wait two hours before she came in.

8:15 came and 8:15 went. No beautiful angel. My heart not only sank this time, but fell out of my chest rolled across the linoleum floor and banged against the dirty wooden base board at the bottom of the far wall. Or so it felt. It was still in my chest, beating too fast. I can tell you this though, I have not felt such sorrow before or since.

But then the sorrow fell away and a great light, joy replaced it. At 8:23 she walked in the door, juggling her books and her purse and heading to the counter. I wanted to rush up to her, hug her and say ‘You’re Late!’, but I knew that would be weird to say the least. Instead I looked down at my open laptop and waited for her to settle in. After about fifteen minutes she was fully settled, sipping and reading, so I drew in a great breath and stood up.

“Buster Keaton was my favorite.” I said to her, my heart beating out of my chest. She looked up from her book.

“Sorry?” She asked.

“Silent film comedian.” I said. “Buster Keaton was my favorite.”

“You know Silent films?” She asked.

“I love them.” I said. “I’m somewhat of an expert on them too.”

She just stared at me then for what seemed like hours. She didn’t say anything. I was about to turn and walk away, my tail between my defeated and embarrassed legs, when she broke her silence.

“You’re not weird or crazy or an escaped lunatic or anything are you?” She asked me with no sign of a grin or sense of humor at all. I was a bit taken aback, but forged ahead. No turning back now.

“Um.” I stammered. “Um… no… holy cow no! I just really love old…” She cut me off.

“Good.” She said smiling. “Go get your coffee and come sit with me. I’ve been watching you over there watching me. I wondered how long it would take you to come over and say hello.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“You’re cute.” She said smiling. “But more importantly you are the only other person in our generation who even knows that movies were silent once. And that bugs the heck outta me.”

‘Heck’. How perfect that she didn’t say ‘hell’ or ‘shit’. She was a lady, in the truest sense of the word. I walked over to my table and retrieved my fourth coffee and laptop. I walked back to her table not feeling the floor. My stomach was alive with the biggest swarm of butterflies I had ever felt in my life. My mind was swirling and whirling with imagined possibilities. She moved her books and made room on the table for my stuff.

“So, are you really an expert?” She asked me holding up her ‘Stars Of The Silent Screen’ book.

“Maybe I should say that I’m well read on the subject rather than an expert.” I reached for the book and in the process spilled my coffee all over the table. She grabbed up her books and pad as quickly as she could and jumped up, but coffee still splattered them.

“OH SHIT!” I said. “I’m sorry. I’ll get some napkins. I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay.” She said dabbing at her legal pad with her napkin. “No real damage. The books are mine, not the library’s, so you’ve not committed any crime. I’ll get some more napkins.” She walked towards the counter as the barista came over to the table with a bar towel and wiped up the mess I had made. So much coffee from such a little cup. It was everywhere.

“Thank you.” I said to him. “I’m a klutz.”

He winked at me then and said quietly enough for only me to hear.

“Don’t stop now, dude. You’ve almost got her. Whatever the cost. She’s worth it.”

And I knew what he meant. This girl, whose name I didn’t even know yet, this girl was worth any and all of it. She was the grand prize of all grand prizes. Just then she came back with a stack of napkins.

“Oh. It’s all cleaned up.” She said.

“John helped. The barista, John.” I said looking at my hands. “I’m sorry. It was an accident.”

“Oh Please.” She said smiling at me and taking my hand. “It’s no big deal at all.” Then with a great big grin. “I didn’t feel a thing. And even my note pad survived with only a few stains. I’m Katherine by the way.”

“Oh. Yeah. Zack.. I’m Zack.” I reached out my hand to shake hers. She had a hold of my other one and we laughed as she extricated one in order to shake the other.

“Lucky you don’t use a laptop or ipad or something electronic. I would have killed it with a single sweep of my clumsy hand!”

“I’ve got a desktop in my apartment.” She said sitting back down. “I transfer all my notes to it when I get home. I don’t like to study or do my reading there. I like it here. By the windows with a great cup of coffee. I can’t make coffee to save my life so I come here. Don’t you love their coffee? What’s your favorite Keaton silent?”

I was so enthralled by how she was speaking that I didn’t even hear what she was speaking about. I only noticed that all of a sudden she had stopped talking.

“Hello?” She said smiling. “You in there?”

“Oh. Sorry.” I stammered. “What did you ask me? Was it about coffee? I’m sorry I zoned out.” I attempted to cover my absolute enamor-induced brain fart with a stupid verbal dance. I think it worked though.

“Sometimes I talk too fast.” She said pointing at her mouth. “I asked if you loved the coffee here and also what your favorite Buster Keaton silent film is.”

“Oh. Yeah. I love the coffee and the one where the house falls on him.”

“You don’t know the name of it?” She asked. “I thought you were an expert!”

“Not an expert, just very well read, like I said, but my brain doesn’t seem to be functioning at full capacity today and I can’t remember the darn title.” I was still verbally tap-dancing.

“It’s called Steamboat Bill Jr., and was a 1928 feature-length comedy silent film starring Buster. Released by United Artists, the film is the last product of Keaton’s independent production team and set of gag writers. It was not a box-office success and proved to be the last picture Keaton would make for UA Keaton would end up moving to MGM where he would make one last film with his trademark style. Steamboat Bill Jr. was directed by Charles Reisner. How ’bout that for well read?”

“That,” I said grinning, “is WELL read.”

“It’s part of my Thesis.” She said. “The Continuing Influence Of Silent Cinema And Silent Screen Stars On The Modern Day Filmmaker.”

“Oh.” I managed. “Impressive.”

“And you want to hear an amazing coincidence?” She asked.

“What would that be?”

Steamboat Bill Jr. is playing, this very afternoon, at The Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax Avenue. You wanna go see it?”

I was gobsmacked. Was she asking me on a date? Could it really be this…

“I need you to stop now, Zack.” Dr. Warren said firmly but with compassion. “You’ve gotten way off track.”

Zack stopped talking immediately and shifted his gaze toward the doctor.

“You were doing very well up to the time you walked over to Katherine’s table. Although you fudged a little about knowing anything about silent movies. You don’t really know that much about silent movies, do you Zack?”

“Why do we have to meet in here?” Zack asked with a tinge of anger. “I hate the florescent lights. They make you look green.”

“It’s the facility’s psych clinic, Zack. It’s my office and it’s where I hold my sessions. Now, please answer my question.”

“I don’t remember it.”

“Yes you do. But I’ll ask it again. You don’t really know that much about silent movies, do you Zack.?”

“I know the stuff I looked up on my laptop. After I saw her books. I know that stuff.”

“Okay.” Dr. Warren began. “We’re going to go over it again. We are going to start with the important questions I mentioned earlier. This time, however, I’m going to stop you if you stray from the truth and I’m going to pull you back on course. Okay?”

“Okay.” Zack said, crossing his arms and looking like a freshly scolded little boy.

“Put your arms down at your sides and relax, Zack. I only want to help you though this.”

“Fine.” Zack said flatly.

“First question, Zack. Was it obsession?”

“I don’t think it was ob…”

“Zack.” Dr. Warren interrupted. “Was it obsession?”

“Yes. Dr. Warren. Yes. It was obsession.”

“Second question, Zack. Was it pathological?”

“Yes. Dr. Warren. Yes. It was pathological.”

“Third question, Zack. Were you a stalker?”

“I really think th….”

“Zack. Were you a stalker?”

“Yes. Dr. Warren. Yes. I was a stalker.”

“Good.” Dr. Warren said. “Now. Tell me again what happened between you and the young lady at the coffee shop.

“I saw her come in on Monday. I fell in love at first…”

“Zack.” Dr. Warren said firmly.

“I became obsessed immediately. I found out what she was reading and did some research of my own. I watched her for three days and..”

“Zack.” The doctor repeated.

“I stalked her for three days and on the fourth day I went over to talk to her.”

“Then what happened?” Dr. Warren leaned forward and put his hand on Zack’s knee. “What happened then, Zack?”

“I went up to her table and said the thing about Buster Keaton.”

“And?”

“And she asked me to sit…”
“Zack.” Warren said, cutting him off. “What happened when you said the thing about Buster Keaton?”

“She told me to ‘fuck off’.” Zack said flatly.

“And what happened next, Zack?”

“I turned around and walked back to…”

“Zack.”

“I picked up her fancy fucking pen and I stabbed her in her fancy fucking throat!” Zack shouted.

“How many times, Zack.”

“I stabbed the bitch twenty-three times in her stupid, nasty-mouthed throat!” Tears began streaming down Zack’s cheeks and he wiped at them, swatting them away like annoying flies.

“Zack, I need you to tell me what happened next, but I also need you to calm down. Tell me calmly what happened next, okay?” Dr. Warren put his other hand on Zack’s other knee.

“Then, that stupid barista John came up and pulled me away from her and he said that I was killing her and that whatever she had done to me it wasn’t worth killing her over, and he pulled me away and pushed me down into a chair and took the pen away from me and got some towels and tried to stop her bleeding and the blood was everywhere and there was so much blood everywhere, I couldn’t understand how so much blood could come from such a small woman and then I went and sat down at my favorite table and I watched the police come in and the ambulance guys and other people all staring at me and coming for me and all the blood, and then I was here.” Zack stopped and tried to catch his breath. “I don’t know how I got here. But then I was here.”

“You still don’t remember your arrest?” Dr. Warren asked quietly. “Or your trial?”

“No.” Zack had calmed but tears still flowed from his reddened eyes.

“We’ll, work on all that, Zack.” Dr. Warren patted both Zack’s knees. “Well work on that. But that’s enough for today. You’ve done very well. I’ll call the orderly to take you back to your room. Zack, I’m very proud of you. You’ve truthfully answered the most important questions, now we just need to fill in the rest.

“She’s very beautiful.” Zack said.

“Who?” Dr. Warren asked.

“Your new assistant. She’s very beautiful. I can’t stop thinking about her.” Zack said as the orderly came into the room.

Don’t go to sleep… or you may dream….. New Fiction

Poe Be Damned

By: S. Scott Bullock

Lenore sat up in bed, her sleep shattered by the raging storm. Lightning filled the bedroom with blinding-white, ice-cold light. Thunder exploded simultaneously. The storm was a ravenous animal crouching outside her window. It was roaring and clawing, trying to get inside and devour her. She felt the old familiar terror rising up in her again.

Lenore looked over at her husband and stared, mouth agape. She was once again astounded at what he could sleep through. She leaned in closer to make sure he was actually breathing. Lightning blazed again and the thunderclap was so loud and so immediate that she flinched forward in fear. Sadly at that moment her husband shocked awake and raised up in a jerk. Their heads banged together in a moment worthy of The Three Stooges.

“Owwwww!” Lenore shouted, laughing at the same time. She rubbed her forehead and felt a bump already rising.

“What the hell?” Her husband said, rubbing his own ravaged forehead. “Why did you…”

Lightning again. And exploding thunder.

“Shit!” He said getting out of bed and heading to the window. “What the hell is going on out there?”

“It woke me up.” Lenore said getting up and going to her husband. She hugged him from behind.

“Scared the poop outta me.” She hugged him tighter. “Especially because I was in the middle of one again.”

Eddy, her husband, turned toward her and pulled her against him.

“Again?” He said quietly.

“Yeah.” She said and lightning filled the room with a painful flare. “Man! That is one heck of a…”

The thunder was so loud and so immediate that both she and Eddy jumped away from the window and fell backwards on the bed, laughing.

“Holy sheet!” Eddy said laughing.

“You can say that again!” Lenore countered.

“HO-LEEEEEEEE SHEEEET!” Eddy shouted. He rose from the bed and went to the light switch on the wall. He flicked it up. Nothing. Then up and down. Nothing again.

“Power’s out.” He said and lightning flashed across the bedroom. Both he and Lenore clinched their whole bodies in anticipation of the thunderclap. It didn’t come right away.

“It must be further a….” Lenore began and BOOM, another earth shattering crash.

“Sounds like the whole damn world is coming to an end.” Eddy said. “There’s no way we’re going back to sleep. I’ll go get our camping lantern.” He walked out of the bedroom and headed to the basement.

“I fear it is coming to an end, my love.” Lenore said to the empty room. “I fear it is.”

The storm battered on for more than eight hours. Lenore and Eddy huddled in bed. She spoke of her dream to him in those sleepless hours of the raging storm. Her recurring nightmare.

“How long has this been going on now?” Eddy asked her. Rain battered the window, shifting directions with the wind.

“Like I’ve told you a million times they started when I was ten. But they have been on and off my whole life.” She lay her head on Eddy’s chest and inhaled the smell of him. Peppermint soap. Night sweat. Musk and watermelon. She, nor he, could ever understand or explain how he could smell like freshly sliced watermelon. But he did and she adored it. She adored him. Every single thing about him. He was her savior, her knight in shining armor. He was her everything.

“But just lately, like the past month or so, the are constant and relentless and are driving me insane.”

“Short trip.” He said poking her side. He brushed her curly, jet black hair off her shoulder.

“Not funny, Edgar.” She said pushing his hand away.

“And they’re always the same?” He asked, gently rubbing her arm.

“Same theme, different circumstances.” She said rolling off of his chest. She sat up. “This rain is crazy. I wonder if our basement will flood again.”

“You’re changing the subject.” Eddy said sitting up.

“Because it scares me, Melon Man.” She said softly, like a frightened child. “It scares me so bad. She’s trying to kill us. She’s been trying to kill me my whole life and now she wants you too.”

“But it’s just a dream.” Eddy said, feeling woefully inadequate.

“But it’s not.” Lenore stood up and walked toward the bathroom. She reflexively reached for the light switch and flipped it impotently upward. “Shit.” She said softly. “I need to light the candle in here.”

She walked into the bathroom. Eddy heard a drawer open and then the unmistakeable sound of someone rustling through the cast off necessities that occupy every junk drawer in the world. He heard the sound of a match being struck and watched as the flickering warm light of a candle flame illuminated the bathroom. The candle light cast Lenore’s shadow against the open bathroom door, it undulated with the flicker of the flame, and Eddy felt a sudden stab of unfamiliar fear.

“Why?” He began. “Why isn’t it just a dream?”

“I gotta pee.” She said and closed the bathroom door.

“You want some tea?” Eddy shouted toward the door, picking up the lantern.

“Yes, please.” She shouted back from inside the bathroom. “With honey, Honey.”

When Eddy came back with the tea, balancing a tray and the Coleman lantern, Lenore was back in bed and propped up with pillows. She helped him with the tray and they both crawled back under the covers. The thunderstorm was a little quieter but the rain was torrential and sounded at times like handfuls of gravel being thrown on their roof and at their windows.

“The basement’s gonna flood.” Lenore said sipping her tea. “Oh, the tea’s perfect.”

“Just like me.” Eddy said grinning.

“Yep. Like you, Melon Man.”

“So.” Eddy said dropping the grin. “Why isn’t it just a dream?”

“Shit.” She said and put her mug on the night stand. “You’re not going to let this one go, are you?”

“No.” He said

“They are too real to just be dreams. I know that sounds crazier than batshit, but that’s the only way I can say it. Too real. I wake up from one of them and it’s just as if it had happened in real life. I wake up from them and stare at the ceiling or at the nightstand or at you and I think, wait… is this real or was that real or…” She trailed off and looked down at her hands. “Am I even real?”

Eddy put down his mug and pulled her to him.

“You’re real.” He said moving a strand of hair from her face. “Would you like me to show you right now how real you are?” He moved his hand to her breast and caressed it softly.

Lenore pushed it away gently.

“I can’t right now, Melon Man. I’m sorry, but right now I just can’t.”

Eddy lay back and pulled her toward him.

“Then just stay here against me and tell me about this last one.”

“She was in the closet when I opened it to get my coat. She stepped out and I started walking backward away from her and she held out her hand and it was full of pills. She kept saying, ‘take these, take these and you’ll go away. Take these and you’ll go away forever. Take these and by tomorrow night you’ll be dead and gone and forgotten’.”

“And then?” Eddy asked. “I mean, yeah that’s spooky, but not really terrifying?”

“That’s why I don’t like to talk about it, Eddy. You can’t possibly understand. Unless you feel the absolute terror that I feel in these dreams, you can’t understand.”

“I’m sorry.” He pulled her a little closer to him. “Has it always been the same woman. All these years, in all these dreams?”

“Yes.”

“What does she look like?”

“What does that matter, Eddy.”

“I don’t know. Maybe she represents something to you. Maybe she… oh crap, I don’t know. Just, what does she look like?”

“She’s tall. And has very long, very straight red hair.”

“That’s it?” He said puzzled. “Tall and ginger?”

“No. That’s not it. She has blue eyes, a small nose, very full lips. Her legs are long and slender, she has a tiny waist and big boobs. She has slender hips and a round ass. She has creamy white skin, freckles on her nose and a beauty mark on her right cheek. Her teeth are a tiny bit bucked and glistening white. When she smiles, two deep dimples appear at the sides of her mouth. She walks like a trained dancer and talks like she studied at Bryn Mawr. She smells of ‘Joy’ perfume. She has a french manicure that she changes the color of occasionally but never to anything bright or gaudy. She has a small birthmark on the inside of her left wrist, I think it’s called a wine stain. She always wears tailored clothes and usually in shades of lavender or purple. When she is angry her eyes squint and her brow furrows and when she shouts it sounds like a smoke alarm. She’s thirty-five right now and she always carries a giant handbag that never matches her clothes or her shoes.” Lenore stopped and inhaled deeply.

“Could you be a little more specific?” Eddy said grinning.

“Yeah. I can. She wants to kill us.” She said without humor or hint of smile. “Dead.”

“Any idea why? Does she ever talk to you or tell you why?”

“Sometimes she just stares. Sometimes she talks a blue streak, repeating things like, ‘You MUST go away! You must leave me alone! You CAN’T have that. You MUST die!’”

The wind made a radical shift in direction and rain ravaged the bedroom window. The sound was beyond angry and made both Eddy and Lenore stop speaking and stare at the deluge. At that moment Lenore began to weep. Softly at first, trying to hide it from Eddy. But then all her control left her and loud, pounding sobs racked her body. Tears poured from her eyes and her raging sorrow matched the raging storm.

“Oh my god, sweetheart. What? What?” Eddy sat up and faced Lenore. “It’s just rain. We’re safe. We’re okay.”

Lenore couldn’t speak through the tears. She shook her head and sobbed. Trying to catch her breath, she looked up into Eddy’s eyes. She felt him then. Truly felt his strength and his love for her. It poured from his eyes like the tears did from her own and like the rain did from the sky at that very moment.

“We’re safe.” He repeated.

“Not. The. Storm.” She managed, gulping air between each word.

“What then? The woman? Your dreams?”

“Yes.” She managed. “Yes. She… She… She….” She stopped herself. Clamped her mouth shut tight and willed herself calm. She slammed her balled fist down on her thigh and shoved the terror back down into the slimy black cave it had crawled up from. She pulled away from Eddy and sat up straight on the bed.

“I won’t do this.” She said in a voice filled with fury. “I will NOT let her win this.”

Thunder rumbled impotently off in the distance.

“Storms far away now.” She said quietly. “Rain’s not. But the storm is.”

“Nice metaphor.” Eddy said taking her hand.

The light from outside the window began to change from pitch black to dark gray as the sun began its rise. The rain continued, but now it was a steady fall, not the flailing wild waves from earlier.

“It’s morning.” Lenore said. “And by tonight, we’ll be dead.”

“Not if I have anything to say about it.” Eddy pulled her to him and they began to make love.

Annabel stepped into the elevator the same way she had every week for the past year. She stepped in, turned toward the front, pressed the ’15’ button and stared up at the numbers as they changed with each floor passed. She shifted her oversize tote from her left to her right shoulder and adjusted her snug, knee length skirt. The beautiful lavender color of her outfit reflected off the polished chrome walls of the elevator. She loved purple in all its permutations. The elevator dinged and stopped at floor ’12’. An overweight woman wearing a beaded caftan stepped in pressed the ’14’ button.

“I’d take the stairs.” The woman said. “But I’m too damn fat to make it the two floors. I’d drop dead of a coronary on the landing of the fourteenth floor and mummify in the stairwell.”

Annabel just looked at the numbers. Not sure of how to respond.

“You sure smell pretty, sweetheart, what’s that perfume?” The woman said pulling the beaded caftan away from her belly.

“It’s ‘Joy’.” Annabel said to the numbers above the door.

“Well it sure does make you stink pretty.” The woman said smiling.

The elevator dinged and the doors snaked open.

“This is me. Have a great day, darlin’” The woman said and clomped out of the car like a rhino in a rush.

The doors closed and then opened again on the fifteenth floor. Annabel stepped out, turned right and headed for the double doors at the very end of the long carpeted hallway. She passed by door after door with engraved name plaques glued to them. The names, Cyrus Bandary, DMD’, ‘Roz Friedman, Ph.D’, ‘Frederick O’Brien, MD, Pediatrics’ flashed by her peripherally as she made her way to her destination.

Annabel stood in front of the double doors at the end of the hall and glanced at the nameplate.

Eugenie Lalande, MD, Ph.D

She stood for a moment staring at the plaque and hoping with all her might that this was to be the beginning of the end. She opened the door and walked into the office.

The receptionist slash secretary looked up and over her glasses.

“Hi Annabel.” She said pushing her arm mounted monitor to the side. “She’s on a call and running about 5 minutes behind. I’ll let her know you’re here. Your hair looks GORGEOUS today. What am I saying? It ALWAYS looks gorgeous. You can’t get that color red out of a bottle, that’s for darn sure. Trust me, I’ve tried.”

“Thanks.” Was all Annabel could muster.

The inner office door opened and Dr. Lalande stepped into the reception area and up to her secretary’s desk. She didn’t acknowledge Annabel.

“Email, Julius Rodman and tell him that I’m sending him a possible MPD. His name is Arthur Gordon Pym. That’s P – Y – M . He’ll be calling him for an appointment.”

The secretary motioned toward Annabel. Dr. Lalande turned toward her.

“Oh. It’s that time already. Hello Annabel. Come on in my office.” Dr. Lalande led the way.

“Right away, Madeline, okay?” She said over her shoulder. She let Annabel pass by and closed the door behind them.

“Sit.” She said and moved to her desk.

“You don’t want me on the couch?” Annabel asked.

“Nope. Not today.” Dr. Lalande said reaching into a file drawer and pulling out a folder. “So, I spoke with Dr. Usher and he agrees that while your case, your situation, isn’t unheard of, it is very rare.”

“And?” Annabel said setting her tote bag on the ground beside her chair.

“And, it’s going to take some aggressive pharmaceutical intervention on top of the therapy we’ve been at for the past year.”

“You’re going to drug me?”

“Not exactly.” Dr. Lalande leaned back in her chair and put her index fingers into a steeple shape. “Recurring dreams are not at all unusual. Recurring characters in all your dreams is a little more unusual, but a recurring character that has been in your dreams all of your life and has grown in age in tandem with yourself is very unusual.”

“I’m a freak?” Annabel asked without expression.

“Hardly.” the doctor said smiling. “But you are one for the books.”

“Those are books I’d rather not read.” Annabel said looking down at her hands.

“In our year together we’ve discovered why you dream of her. We’ve discovered what the particular dreams at the particular times and passages in your life mean. And why you have them. When you were ten years old and you wanted that bike so badly and your mother and father got you books, you first dreamed of her.”

“Yeah. And SHE got the bike.” Annabel said feeling the old familiar jealousy claw at her heart.

“And in school, she got the best friends and in college she got the quarterback boyfriend.

And she got the great job you wanted and the car you wanted and the house you wanted. She got everything you every wanted but couldn’t have and she got to do all the things you wanted to do that you never got to do.” Dr. Lalande paused.

“Why is it so bad now?” Annabel asked knowing the answer, but asking anyway.

“Don’t play me, Annabel. You know why.”

“I do?”

“Tell me why Annabel.” Dr. Lalande leaned forward and put her hands on her desk.

“Because the bitch has a husband and I don’t and her husband loves her the way I’m never going to be loved and…” Annabel’s voice trailed off.

“And?” Dr. Lalande asked pulling her glasses from her face.

Annabel sat. Silent.

“Okay. I’ll say it out loud then. Because she’s about to get pregnant. After that storm and all that conversation, Eddy started making love to Lenore in your last dream and she is going to get pregnant and you can’t. You can never get pregnant.”

Annabel began to softly weep and Dr. Lalande handed her a tissue.

“You’ve created a counter part who gets all of your deepest desires. You’ve given her everything you’ve ever wanted but you begrudge her every gift. She comes in your sleep, and has come in your sleep for 25 years because your subconscious was trying to give YOU those things. But your brain betrayed you, Annabel. Over those years your brain habituated and wired itself to dream these dreams as an outlet. But your conscious mind hates the woman that your subconscious created. Hence the turmoil and unrest in your life.”

“How can I stop it?” Annabel said wiping the tears from her cheeks.

“With this.” Dr. Lalande pulled a small paper from the folder and handed it to Annabel.

“What is this.” She said looking at the paper.

“It’s a prescription for the pills we talked about last week. I consulted with Dr. Usher and he agreed that you would be perfect for the trial of this medication.

“What does it do again?”

“It blocks your dreams. It’s like a reverse melatonin.”

“What’s mela…? Annabel started.

“Melatonin is a sleep aid that, in many people, causes vivid dreams. This pill, the pill that Dr. Usher is head of the trial for, does the exact opposite. It effects the area of the brain that creates dreams. It dampens it. Shuts it down.”

“So I’m never going to dream anything again?”

“Not for a period of about six months. After that we wean you off the medication. People have to dream. It’s vital for mental health, but if Usher’s studies prove true, you can last nearly a year without dream activity and still be healthy. And six months is more than enough time to rewire your brain. To un-habituate it. You take that pill and as of tonight, Lenore and Eddy and all the other inhabitants of your dream world will be dead and gone. I promise.”

Annabel smiled for the first time in ages. A genuine feeling of hopefulness swept through her. “I hope so. I hope SO much so.” She said still smiling and looking down at the prescription.

“Go see Dr. Usher and he’ll fill that and come see me next week at our regular time.” Dr. Lalande stood up from behind her desk. She walked with Annabel into the reception area.

“Next week, same time for Ms. Leigh, Madeline.”

“Holy cow!” Madeline shouted. “I’ve been seeing you here for what, like a year now, and I just realized you name is Annabel Leigh!!! Annabel Leigh, just like Edgar Allen Poe!”

“My father was a Poe fanatic.” Annabel said. “We’re supposed to be distant relatives. And he thought it would honor Poe to name me that. But quite frankly it has been the butt of too many jokes in my life for me to find it honorable.”

“Oh but I LOVE Poe.” Madeline said grinning a snaggle-toothed grin. “My favorite quote in the whole wide world is from him.”

“And what quote would that be Madeline?” Dr. Lalande asked.

“Well.. I can’t remember which of his poems it’s from, but it goes:

All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.”

“Oh.” Dr. Lalande said turning to Annabel. “After tonight, they’ll be gone. Next week then Annabel. ”

“Yes.” Annabel said opening the outer office door. “Next week.”

If you love dogs as much as I do, I think you might just like my story….FICTION

A Real Dog Lover

By: S. Scott Bullock

“Jonesy.” The old man said smiling. “You’re the best dog in the whole wide world. Did you know that boy? Did you know that?” The old man patted Jonesy on his jet black head and scratched behind his ear. Jonesy raised his head and partially opened his beautiful chestnut-brown eyes. He looked up at the old man, his lids at half-mast.

“You drowsy, boy?” The old man said rubbing Jonesy’s head. “That’s the medicine I gave you a little while ago. Like I been tellin’ you, you got to heal up, boy. So you can’t be runnin’ round crazy.”

The sharp sound of the bell of an old style rotary dial phone shattered the calm. The old man pushed himself up from the brown and tan Lazy Boy recliner with a grunt and a sigh. Jonesy raised his head and cocked it toward the phone.

“Lay still, boy.” The old man said walking over to the old style telephone table. He sat down on the Early American chair and picked up the receiver of the ancient black phone.

“Hellooooo.” He said in a sing-song.

“Hi Gumpy.” A woman’s voice said.

“Is this my favorite granddaughter?!” The old man said grinning with joy.

“I’m your only granddaughter, Gumpy!” She said laughing.

“You’re still my favorite!

“Guess what, Gumpy.” The woman said.

“The patent is off of Post Toasties?” He said, still grinning.

“No. Gumpy.” She said solemnly. Then with great excitement. “You’re gonna be a Great Gumpy!”

“Oh my land! Oh my land!” The old man shouted.

Jonesy lifted his head, held it for a moment and then dropped it back onto the floor.

“And.” The woman said. “We’re coming down to see you!”

“Oh my land. I am so happy for you, my sweet girl. I am so happy.” He shifted the heavy receiver to his other hand. “When are you coming, sweet girl?”

“Three weeks, if that’s okay.”

“Better than okay. Wonderful. I can’t wait to hug you and Carl. It’s been way too long. Way too long, sweet girl.”

“Five years, Gumpy.”

“Too long.” The old man wiped at the moisture gathering around his eyes. “You’ll be able to meet Jonesy!” He said, excited.

“Who, Gumpy?”

“My new boy! Jonesy!”

“Oh, Gumpy.” She chided. “Not ANOTHER dog! Where’d you find this one?”

“He found me.” The old man said looking over at the sleeping Jonesy. “Actually we met under some pretty bad circumstances.”

“What circumstances, Gumpy?”

“I accidentally hit the poor boy with my truck!”

“Oh my God!”

“He was runnin’ along side the road and I didn’t see him. I swerved to miss a squirrel and banged right into the poor fella.”

“Is he okay?”

“I brought him home and fixed him up. It broke both his hind legs so I put em both in casts.”

“You still have the office at home, Gumpy?”

“Of course. Old veterinarians never retire, we just wait till it’s our time to be put to sleep.” He said and laughed her favorite ‘Gumpy laugh’. “Besides, lots of folks around here still need my help once in awhile. Sick horses, dry cows, and what not.”

“How’s he doing now? What’s his name again?”

“Jonesy, and he’s doing great. I have to keep meds in him so he won’t hurt himself worse. Makes him drowsy and silly as all heck, but it keeps him calm and still. I can control him that way. He’s only been with me five weeks, but I feel like I’ve known him and loved him forever.”

“You’re a precious, special man, Gumpy.”

“Still got you fooled, huh princess?”

“I thought you were done with dogs after Sally Lynn passed.”

“Men like me are never done with dogs, sweet girl. They’re in our blood and our souls. I tried to be done, but it didn’t work. Jonesy showed me that I wasn’t done.”

“Oops. Gumpy, I’ve got a call waiting and it may be Carl, can I call you back?”

“You go talk to your man, sweet girl. You don’t need to call me back. Tell him I said ‘hello’ and just be sure to call when you’re coming down. I have to de-stink the guest room.” He said and laughed. “I love you, sweet girl.”

“I love you too, Gumpy. Bye.”

The old man hung up the phone and walked back to his recliner. He sat with a loud thump and another grunt. He picked the TV remote up off the Early American double level side table and punched the on button. An old Sony, twenty-five inch CRT set crackled into life.

“Time for ‘The Price Is Right’, Jonesy.” He said. “This new fella’s okay, but he’s no Bob Barker, I’ll tell ya that much.”

Jonesy twitched on the floor next to the old man’s chair.

The evening news was finishing up on the TV and a beautiful blonde woman was saying something about mass murder and a missing teen. The old man punched the mute button.

“Nope.” He said to the TV. “No bad news. Got no room in my head for bad news.”

He waited for the opening credits of ‘The Price Is Right’ before unmuting the TV. As the show began, the old man pulled a pipe off the standing ashtray next to his chair. He picked up a tobacco pouch and filled the bowl of the pipe with Cherry Stone tobacco. Soon the smell of cedar from the paneling and years of hardwood burned in the fireplace would be joined by the homey smell of cherry tobacco smoke. He lit his pipe and curls of smoke twirled up and away from his face. He sat back into his recliner and pulled the lever that raised his feet. As Drew Carey asked for bids on the first item, the old man began a walk down his own personal memory lane.

“You don’t know this, Jonesy.” He said. “But I was a big hero in the Korean War.” He pronounced Korean with the accent on ‘Ko’. “I was a medic. Saved a lot of fellas. But more important I saved lots of dogs. Halfway through my stint we were on R&R in this tiny village called Sung Houang. Me and my buddy, Dougie Babajian, Dougie was an Armenian fella, anyway, we were havin’ lunch at this little place in the middle of the village.”

The old man leaned forward, relighted his pipe, and sat back again.

“When we finished eatin’ I asked the Ko-rean fella what it was we just ate and he told me it was dog.” The old man looked down at Jonesy. “Sorry boy, but I didn’t know. Well, I grabbed a hold of that fella and I backed him against the wall. I pulled my gun out of my holster and I held it to that fella’s head and told him to pray to God or Buddha or whoever he believed in because I was gonna take the top of his head off with my side arm. Well, he starts sayin’ all this Ko-rean stuff and cryin’ and wailin’ somethin’ fierce. His wife comes runnin’ out and falls right to her knees in front of me, beggin’ me not to hurt her husband. Well, I’ll tell ya, Jonesy, that really got to me. That poor lady in front of me, beggin’ at me that way. So I pushed that fella down into a chair and I sat down real close next to him, pointing my side arm at him the whole time. I told him that if I ever got wind of him killing a dog again, I’d shoot him sure as sunrise. I said it to his wife too, who was still kneelin’ and beggin’. And you know what, Jonesy? He swore he wouldn’t, and his wife swore on it too. I told him that I was friends with every other American service man and if any one of them came by and saw dog on the menu or a dog tied up or even a pile of dog poop anywhere near his place, I’d come back and take the top of his head off. I was lyin’ about knowing every other grunt, but he didn’t know it. And from what I heard from the fellas I knew who R&R’d in that village later, he never served up dog again. I’m damn proud of that Jonesy. Damn proud.”

The motion sensor light in the backyard went on and there was a small clatter of metal hitting metal. Jonesy stirred and raised his head slightly.

“You hear that too, boy? What the heck.” The old man got up from his chair, grunting and sighing, and headed for his back door. He opened it and looked around. “I don’t see anything.” He said. “Hello?” He called out to the night. “Somebody there?” He turned around and stepped back inside.

“Racoons.” He said walking back into his den. “I’ll be there in a minute Jonsey, I need to get my dinner. I’ll feed you when those meds wear off before you’re next dose.”

The old man pulled a pot out of an under-sink cupboard and a knock came from the front door.

“Who?” The old man said heading to the door. He opened it.

“Hank!” He said to a uniformed state trooper. “What a nice surprise. Come on in.”

“It’s not a visit, Sam. It’s official.” The trooper said.

“Well. Oh my. Okay, what can I do for you?”

The trooper pulled out a four by five photo of a handsome young African-American man.

“Have you seen this guy?” The trooper asked. “Anywhere around here?”

The old man took the photo and considered it for a long time. He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a pair of close-up half glasses. He put them on and considered the picture further.

“Nice looking young fella.” He said. “But not familiar at all. Who is he?”

“Missing kid.” The trooper said.

“Come in for a cup of coffee, Hank.”

“I can’t, Sam. Wish I could. Gotta go check out some other folks. Thanks though.” The trooper took the picture back from the old man, shook his hand and walked away.

“Good luck, Hank.” The old man said and closed the door. He walked back into the den to check on Jonesy who was still sleeping and twitching on the floor. “Good boy.” He said and returned to the kitchen.

Sitting back down in his recliner with a TV tray in front of him, he finished off a bowl of chili and beans and drank the last of his Bud-Lite Lime. He put the bottle on the tray and got out his pipe and tobacco. He loaded up the bowl and lit the pipe. He punched the remote and the TV crackled to life. The local news was beginning and he quickly muted the sound.

“Nope.” He said to the TV. “No room in my head for bad news.”

The sound he had heard earlier in the backyard happened again.

“Racoons. I sure hope they find something to eat.”

Jonesy began to moan and move around a little. The old man looked down at him.

“Are you wakin’ up boy?” He said and patted his head. “Are you hurtin’. I’m gonna go get your meds and some food for you. How about that, boy? Lemme turn up the sound for you.” He said and unmuted the TV.

The old man walked out of the den. A pretty, African-American news anchor was speaking on the TV.

“The eighteen-year-old is still missing. More on that story in a moment, but now here’s Mika with the weather. An overly coiffed, middle-aged man with an orange tan came on the screen and began pointing at things on a map. When he was finished, a commercial for Tide laundry soap came on and the old man walked back into the den. He carried a dish of wet dog food and a syringe.

“You hungry my good boy?” He said and went to Jonesy. He knelt down with great effort and several grunts and groans. The news came back on and the pretty African-American anchor continued the story from earlier in the program.

“Police found evidence of a struggle and blood on the north side of Rural Route 58 yesterday morning after a routine traffic stop of a drunk driver. The blood type matches that of the missing youth. Unseasonably warm weather and lack of typical rainfall left the evidence intact. It could have been there for the five weeks since the youth’s disappearance.

The old man pulled the duct tape off Jonesy’s mouth.

“The youth, Duane Denzel Jones, was reported missing last June and his disappearance follows a pattern of teen-youth disappearances in this area that have occurred annually for the past five years. No direct correlation has been officially speculated but this disappearance is eerily reminiscent of last year’s disappearance of Sally Lynn Wilcox.

“Please untie my wrists” Duane said to the old man, barely able to speak. “They hurt me so bad.”

“Don’t you start yippin’ now Jonesy.” The old man said patting the jet black head of Duane Jones and scratching behind his ear. “I’m gonna feed you and give you your calmin’ down medicine.”

“My legs.” He cried out. “They hurt me. I can’t move em.

“Five weeks now.” The old man said. “Five weeks now and you ask me the same questions every time your medicine wears off. Five weeks, Jonesy.”

“I’m in a cast? Why are my legs in a cast?”

The old man spooned a glob of wet dog food from the bowl and held it to Duane’s mouth.

“Here you go boy.” The old man said. “Eat your food.”

“Please.” Duane said. “Please untie me.”

“Can’t do that Jonesy. But I will tell you this, and I think it’ll make you happy.” The old man put the spoon back into the dog dish and set it on the table. He picked up the syringe and gently pushed the needle into Duane’s arm. He pushed the plunger down.

“You’ll be asleep again in no time.” The old man said. “And next week your casts can come off. And while your under for that, we can kill two birds with one stone. Because, just like Bob Barker says… Always spay and neuter your pets.”

Duane slowly fell back into a drugged stupor. The old man patted his head and turned the channel to Gilligan’s Island.

“I love you, boy.” He said.

We all have an effect on one another. Even the tiniest. (New Fiction.)

Ripples

By: S. Scott Bullock

“Yes! We are everywhere. Yes, we have been here from the beginning of civilization. No. We don’t know each other or where we came from or what information anyone else has. But I will tell you what I DO know. If you don’t let me go… if I don’t do what I was put here to do… something horrible is going to happen.” The young man sat back in his chair and stared at the cop.

“Name?” The cop said.

“I told you! I don’t have a name, I only have a job.” The young man shifted his handcuffed wrists, which were attached to a bracket on the table of the interrogation room. He intertwined his fingers in a prayer. “Please. I am literally begging you. Just let me do this job and then you can throw me in jail. You can execute me. You can do whatever you want with me. But please. Please. I have to do this.”

The door to the room opened and a six-foot five, African-American man in a deep blue suit walked into the room carrying a file folder. He glanced over at the uniformed cop and nodded his head. The cop got up and left the room closing the door behind him.

“Hi.” The man said sitting across the table from the young man. “I’m Detective Warren. What’s your name?”

“Please, not again.” The young man said lowering his head.

“What do you mean?” Warren asked.

“Please let me do my job. Please.”

“Okay. Here’s the deal.” Warren began and opened the folder. “Driving at an unsafe speed. No identification. Open container. Concealed weapon. Stolen car.” Warren closed the file and looked up at the young man. “Does that about cover it?”

“I stole the car and drove it too fast. The alcohol and gun were in the car already.”

“Where were you headed, in such a hurry?”

“Here. San Diego, California.”

“Why?”

“My job.”

“What is your job.”

“Please take me where I need to go and then you can do whatever you want with me. Please.” The young man dropped his head and began to sob.

“We’re going to have to call you John Doe, since we don’t have any other information.” Warren said putting his hand on the sobbing young man’s hands. “And were going to bring in a psychiatrist to have you evaluated. She’ll be here in a half an hour or so.”

“My job.” John Doe said through his tears.

“That is one scraggly looking kid.” Dr. Mara said to Detective Warren. They stood on the opposite side of the two-way mirror that occupied the entire upper south wall of the interrogation room.

“If he is a kid.” Warren said. “We don’t know anything at all. Except, five foot six, shoulder length blond hair, blue eyes, no tattoos, two three inch scars at the base of his spine.”

“You stripped him?” Dr. Mara said looking up at Warren.

“He came in shirtless.”

“I’ll talk to him now.” Dr. Mara said looking back through the glass at John Doe.

The door to the interrogation room opened and John Doe looked up and into Dr. Mara’s eyes. She could tell immediately that he was dangerously close to full-out panic.

“MY JOB!” He cried out to her. “Please. Will you help me?”

“I will help you.” Mara said sitting across from him. “I will. But you’ve got to help us too. First you need to inhale slowly and exhale even slower. Will you do that? Will you do that for me.”

He inhaled deeply and then exhaled.

“Excellent. Now one more time.”

He did as she asked.

“Tomorrow.” He said calming. “Tomorrow, July 4th. I’ve got to be there tomorrow, July 4th at 3:38 pm. Can you help me get there?”

“First things, first.” Mara said. “My name is Dr. Janet Mara. I’m a psychiatrist. I’m here to evaluate your mental health and stability. Do you understand so far?”

“Yes.” John Doe said. “I’m new formed but I have the collective knowledge.”

“New formed?” She asked.

“Yes. Three days ago. Could you take these off?” He asked raising his cuffed wrists.

“I promise that they will come off as soon as we know a little bit more about you, okay?” She asked and put her hand on his. He looked down at it, then back to Mara’s face and then back to her hand.

“I’m sorry for the pain you are in.” John Doe said softly.

Mara flinched almost imperceptibly.

“This isn’t about me, John. This is about you. Do you have a name?” She maintained her well practiced demeanor. “It’s very important that we identify you.”

“We don’t have names. We have jobs.”

“We?”

“Yes.”

“Who are ‘we’, John?” Dr. Mara pulled out a legal pad from her briefcase. She took out her favorite pen. It was an antique fountain pen given to her by her father.

“That pen means a great deal to you.” He said.

“Yes. It was given to me by my father when I…”

“Graduated.” He said finishing her sentence.

“Yes.” She said. “Good guess. Who are ‘we’ John?”

“I told this all to the first cop and then the second one and then the third one.” He said shifting in his seat.

“I know. And I’m sorry that I need you to tell it all over again, but I need you to do just that. Tell me everything you told the police officers and anything more you can think of. Okay?”

“We are ‘Ripplers’” He said.

“And what are ‘Ripplers’.” She asked writing on her pad.

“We stop the course of events.”

“What events?”

“Disasters that befall human kind.” He said and a single tear fell from his eye to the table.

“And how do you do that? How do you stop the course of events?” She said handing him a tissue from a tiny pack in her briefcase.

“We stop the ripple.” John Doe said laying his head on his cuffed wrists and dabbing at his eyes with the tissue. “I need you to help me do my job. Please.”

“I will John. I promise. Can you tell me what your job is?”

“I have to go to San Diego, California. I have to go to 3409 Crestview Drive. I have to go to the backyard patio wall on July 4th at 3:38 pm. I have to crush the single black ant that is crawling on the fourth cinder-block from the left.” He raised his head and looked at Mara. “Help me.”

“An ant?” Dr. Mara said, writing. “Your job is to kill an ant?”

“Yes.” John Doe said. “Please help me.”

“Why do you need to kill an ant, John?” She looked up and into his eyes.

“I don’t know. We never know. We only know when, where and how. We never know why.”

“The Ripplers?” Mara asked.

“Yes.”

“What will happen if you don’t kill the ant?” She asked looking down at her pad.

“Something horrible.” John Doe answered. “Something horrible.”

“Well.” She said. “We need to kill that old ant. But first I need some more information, okay?”

“Yes. Okay. Thank you so much. Thank you. Can we talk on the way?” He was smiling for the first time since his arrest.

“We can’t leave just yet.” She said. “But I will get those cuffs off of you.” She got up and went to the door. She opened it and called out. “Josh, can we get these cuffs off of him?” She sat back down. “They’ll be in with the key in a minute. Now. Back to The Ripplers.”

“Yes.”

“How many of you are there?”

“I don’t know.”

“Twenty?”

“Oh, no. Many, many more.”

“Hundreds?”

“More.”
“Thousands?”

“More.”

“Millions, Trillions?”

“Millions, I think.”

“And where do you all live?” She asked writing.

“We don’t live.” He began. “We are formed when needed.”

“Formed from what?”

“I don’t know.”

“Formed from where?”

“I don’t know.”

“Okay.” Dr. Mara said putting down her pad and pen. “We’re going about this wrong. John, I need you to tell me all you know about Ripplers and how they work. Can you do that John? Can you tell me everything you know?”

“Ripplers.” He began. “Stop the ripples of circumstance that cause disasters, tragedies and holocausts whether human or nature initiated.”

“Okay.” She said picking up her pen and writing.

“We are formed when a ripple is perceived to begin by The Others.”

“The Others?” She asked writing faster.

“Those who watch out for human kind.”

“Oh. And where do The Others live?”

“They don’t live.”

“They’re dead?”

“No. They do not live, they are not dead. They are.”

“And why don’t they stop the ripples themselves?”

“They have no form. They need us to physically intervene.”

“And why do they care about human kind?”

“They care for all and every.”

“All and every?”

“Yes. All that are and every that is.”

“Oh. Wow. Okay. Have you ever met one of them?”

John Doe let out a laugh. It was a laugh filled with frustration and sorrow.

“That’s funny?” Mara asked him raising an eyebrow.

“It’s sad.” He said. “I’m so sad. I will never make you understand. I don’t even understand myself. I only know what I have to do. And if I don’t…”

“Something horrible will happen.” She finished his sentence.

“Yes.” He said as the door opened.

A uniformed cop came over and unlocked John Doe’s handcuffs. John Doe rubbed his wrists.

“Thank you.” He said to both the cop and Dr. Mara.

“Thanks, Josh.” She said to the cop.

“You sure he’s safe?” Josh asked her pointing to John Doe.

“Yes. I’m sure. Thank you Josh.”

“Okay. Yell if he tries to kill you.” He said over his shoulder as he left the room.

“Why would I try to kill you?” John Doe asked, concerned.

“He was just kidding, John. Now. I’m going to get some coffee, would you like some? Or some water?” She asked getting up from her seat.

“No thank you.” He said sitting back into his chair. “Please hurry though. Please.”

“Okay.” She said and smiled. “Be right back.”

She went into the viewing room and met Detective Warren who had been watching the interview though the two-way mirror.

“That is one F’d up nutcase.” Warren said to her.

“Hardly the clinical term I’d use, Darnell. I’d say most definitely paranoid. Maybe schizophrenic. With a bit of clinical narcissism thrown in.”

They watched as John Doe got up and began pacing around the room.

“He dangerous?” Warren asked.

“I don’t think so. Not to humans anyway. But I wouldn’t want to be around him if I was an ant.”

“No shit. What the hell was that all about anyway?” Warren poured two coffees. “Here you go. No cream. No sugar.”

“Black.” She said and smiled at him. “Like my man.” She leaned in and up on her toes. She kissed his cheek.

“How’d he know that stuff?” Warren asked.

“What stuff?” Mara said blowing on her coffee to cool it.

“He knew you were in pain and he knew about your fountain pen.”

“Oh, sugar lumps.” She said sipping her coffee. “Look at my hand.” She held it up to him, and wiggled her fingers. “See these unattractive knotty knuckles? Those are evidence of my arthritis. Evidence of my ‘pain’.”

“Oh.” Warren said a bit chagrined. “And the pen?”

“He guessed. He finished a sentence that I already started and gave information in. It was a good guess. A stab. But he made it and it worked.”

“Wow.” Warren said putting his hand on her waist. “You’re something else.”

“Four years undergrad, four years for the M.D., four years residency and ten years in practice does that to a girl.” She said grabbing a handful of his butt. “I gotta get back in there for round two But I need to talk to Josh first.”

Warren kissed her cheek again and she walked out of the room.

“My job.” John Doe said as Dr. Mara walked back into the room ten minutes later. “You’ve been gone so long. You promised.”

“I certainly did.” She said sitting down. “Sit down with me for a minute. I want to talk a little bit more, first. Okay? Sit down.”

John Doe sat down and put his hands on the table. He rubbed at the red marks left by the handcuffs on his wrists.

“Do they still hurt?” Dr. Mara asked him, pointing to his wrists.

“A little.” He said. “Nothing like yours.”

“You noticed my arthritis?” She asked him and carefully watched his body language.

“Your what?” He asked, confused.

“We’re going to take you to a medical facility tonight, John.” She said, taking control. “Overnight. For observation.”
“But you can’t!” He shouted. “You promised!”

“Just for the night, John.”

Officer Trendall opened the door and walked in carrying a small evidence tube.

“Oh good. Josh.” She said then turned to John Doe and took his hand. “Breath in deeply for me again, and then breath out very slowly.”

He did.

“Again.” She said to him.

He did again.

“I had to go all the way to the dumpster behind Hank’s Liquor but I found em. A damn conga line going back and forth.” He handed the small glass, rubber-corked vile to Dr. Mara.

“Thank you Josh. This will help a great deal.” She said, concealing the contents of the vile in her closed hand.

“Yell if he tries to kill you.” Officer Trendall said walking out of the room.

“Not funny the second time either, Josh. And please bring in my medical bag.”

“I would never try to kill you.” John Doe said quietly. “Or anybody.”

“I know, John. I believe you.” She put her hand on his. “I want to ask you something. If you can’t make it to your job tomorrow, can ‘The Others’ send another ‘Rippler’?”

“No.” He said and his expression melted into fear.

“Why not?” She asked him and he pulled his hand away from hers.

“No time. Ripplers take three days to form. No time for a new one.”

“Okay. I understand.” She put her closed hand on the table in front of John Doe. “Now, I’ve got something here in my hand that I think is going to make you feel a lot better.” She opened her hand and revealed the glass vile. Inside it a tiny black ant ran frantically around.

“What is that?” John Doe asked.

“It’s your ant, John.” She said putting the vile down in front of him. “You can open the vile, let it out and you can do your job. Go ahead, John. Do your job.”

“I don’t understand.” He said. “I don’t understand.”

“The ant you must kill. Your job. You can do it here. Right here now.”

John Doe looked up at her and realization changed his expression from sad confusion to fury. He swept his hand violently across the table knocking the vile into the far wall. It shattered just as Officer Trendall stepped back into the room with Dr. Mara’s medical bag.

“Hey!” Trendall shouted. “What the hell is….”

“THAT’S NOT THE ANT! THE ANT IS AT 3409 CRESTVIEW DRIVE TOMORROW JULY FORTH AT 3:38 PM!!!” John Doe shouted leaping up. “MY JOB!” John Doe broke for the door and Trendall tackled him and threw him to the ground. John Doe began to scream incoherently then. The only recognizable word being ‘job’. Trendall held him down and Mara moved to her bag as Detective Warren ran into the room. She took out a vial and syringe. She filled the syringe, voided the air pocket and approached John Doe.

“Hold him tightly.” She said to Trendall and stabbed the syringe into John Doe’s shoulder. She pressed the plunger and injected the sedative.

John Doe continued screaming and Mara shouted over the din.

“A couple minutes!” Just hold him down a couple more minutes!”

Mara and Warren sat in the station lunch room several hours later. They both had unfinished cups of coffee in front of them.

“And the people at 3409?” Mara said and sipped her coffee.

“A family. The O’Briens. Mom and Dad and three kids aged two to nine.” Warren said leaning back in his chair. “They don’t know anyone who meets John Doe’s description. Haven’t been contacted by him or anyone of a suspicious nature. As a matter of fact the lady, Toni, said that their life bordered on dull and she would have welcomed some excitement.” He shook his head. “Some people.”

“Well.” Mara began. “They won’t get any from poor John Doe. He’s in lock-down at Paxton Memorial. Sedated, strapped in and monitors glued to every part of his body. He’s the state’s problem now. Poor thing. He was a sweet kid.”

“Maybe he’ll be an exterminator some day.” Warren laughed and sipped his coffee.

At exactly 3:38pm the following day, July 4th, an Argentinian black ant crawled with great purpose across the forth cinder-block from the left on the back patio wall of 3409 Crestview Drive in San Diego, California. It was racing and leaving a pheromone trail all along its path. It had found a food and water supply of great abundance and it was hurrying back to its colony with the information. By 3:45 the ant had reached its colony, conveyed the information and began to lead the way back along the pheromone trail to the small crack in the foundation of the two story, mid-century house at 3409 Crestview.

The unending line of ants made their way into the kitchen and up to the counter next to the sink where only an hour before, Deacon O’Brien, whom the family called Deeko, the middle child, six years old, had left the unfinished and unwanted remainder of his salmon patty sandwich. Deeko wasn’t fond of salmon patties and preferred to move on immediately to his dessert. Tiger tail twinkies.

As the ants swarmed the remains of the salmon patty, tearing off great ant sized hunks in there mandibles and starting a second line that paralleled the first that returned to the colony, Deeko sat in the TV room watching reruns of Bewitched on Netflix. He had finished off his second Tiger Tail when he heard his mother holler from the kitchen.

“DAMN IT DEEKO!” She yelled. “You left your … and GOD! All these ants!!!”

Deeko jumped up and headed to the front door.

“I’m going over to Terry’s!” He shouted, ran out and slammed the door behind him.

Toni O’Brien looked at the long black, undulating line of ants, seemingly going in two directions at once.

“I am SO SICK OF THIS!” She shouted at them. “How many times are we going to have to deal with you bastards!” She squatted down and opened the under-sink cabinet. She grabbed the Raid Ant & Roach killer. “Caio you mothers.” She hissed and sprayed a swath of poison along the trail. She sprayed from sandwich to the perceived point of entry and then sprayed some more. The noxious smell of floral-scented insecticide became overwhelming and she pushed open the over-sink window. She opened the back kitchen door and turned on the ceiling fan.

A cry came from a back bedroom and Toni knew that it was her youngest, two-year old Dillon. They called him Dill Pickle and Dill Pickle was up from his nap and hungry.

“I’m coming angel!” She shouted toward Dillon’s room. “I’ve just got to wipe up this mess.”

She pulled a wad of paper towels from a roll on the fancy brass holder and begin wiping up the dead ants and insecticide. She did the same with the half-eaten, dead ant covered, sandwich. She dropped the vile mess into the trash and soaked a sponge with hot water. She poured a generous amount of dish soap on the sponge and wiped at the counter where the poison had been sprayed. She threw the sponge in the sink, and ran hot water over it. She left the tap running as she headed for the baby’s room.

Dillon stood up in his crib. When Toni walked into the room he began bouncing up and down and sucking frantically on his pacifier through a huge smile. His arms were held up in the ‘lift-me-outta-here’ position and Toni obliged.

“Let’s check your sleepy-time and get your supper.” She checked his sleepy-time diaper and found it unspoiled. She pulled out his pacifier, threw it into the crib, picked him up and made her way back to the kitchen. “We’re gonna have your favorite, Dill Pickle.” She said sitting him in his high chair. “Alphabet Spaghetti O’s!” She pulled his Oscar the grouch bowl and his special Elmo spoon out of the drying rack that was sitting next to the sink. She turned off the running tap and opened the pantry.

An hour later, Dillon began to cry while sitting next to his oldest brother, Sean, on the couch. He fell to one side and started to twitch. A bit of foam was forming at the sides of his mouth and the crying turned into sounds of choking or drowning. Sean jumped up and yelled to his mother.

“MOM!” Sean screamed. “MOM COME IN HERE! DILL! SOMETHING’S WRONG!”

Two weeks later, on July 18th, Dr. Mara and Detective Warren sat at an open air restaurant having a long anticipated, non-working, lunch date. The sea breeze brought scents of ocean brine and freshly planted rosemary. The sun was hot, but the cool breeze turned the high temperature down to mild perfection. A waitress, bone thin and brittle, was standing at their two-top table taking their order.

“Fries?” The waitress asked Warren.

“Yes, please.” Warren said putting down his menu. “The garlic ones, right? You still have the garlic ones?”

“You bet.” The waitress said writing on her pad. “Drink?”

“House red. Large.” He said and smiled at Dr. Mara.

“Okey dokey.” The waitress said taking both menus. “I’ll be back with your ice tea and your wine right away.”

Warren pulled his chair around closer to Mara.

“My news.” He began. “Will beat your news, guaranteed.”

“Go for it, Detective.” Mara said. “But I doubt it.”

“Twenty-two hundred and six people died and a thousand more injured in the explosion at Petco Park on the forth. That’s the final tally I got this morning.”

“Oh god.” Mara said quietly.

“It could have been worse since the place holds over forty-two thousand and it was filled up because of the Padres game and the giant fireworks show that was supposed to happen that night.”

“Who did it?” Mara asked him.

“Final word is the nebulous ‘Domestic Terrorist’. But we know for sure, and this my love is where it starts getting weird and you ain’t gonna believe just how weird it ends up, we know that the explosives were brought in by truck. A delivery truck filled with concession supplies. And we know this because the punk-ass, insufficiently trained kid who was acting as a gate guard told us. He said that he looked into the moving van sized truck and saw boxes of hamburger buns and mustard packets and stuff for the concessions. He said he opened up a couple of the boxes and found buns and cans of nacho cheese sauce and everything looked kosher to him. But what the dumbshit didn’t do was crawl inside and look behind the boxes where he would have found four-hundred pounds of military grade explosives.”

“Why was he in charge of the gate if he was so incompetent?” Mara asked as the waitress came back with their drinks.

“Here’s your tea.” The waitress said setting a dew covered glass in front of Dr. Mara. “And your wine.. LARGE.” She said smiling and setting the extra large wine glass in front of Detective Warren. “I’ll be back in a few with your lunch.” She said and walked over to a table occupied by two men who sat very close to each other and touched hands a lot.

“Why was he in charge?” Mara asked again.

“Because the guard that is normally at that gate was late that day.”

“Would HE have looked deeper into the truck.” She asked sipping her iced tea.

“That particular guard is a cop by day. And his specialty is training methods for recognizing and deterring potential terrorist attacks. He teaches the damn class at the academy! He moonlights as a guard at Petco Park. By day he’s La Jolla P.D. So, he was late to Petco because he was breaking up a fight in a Hospital Parking lot here in San Diego.”

“Why was he here in San Diego?” Mara asked.

“Wait.” Warren said and took a swig of wine. “So this Tom Gotlund, that’s the cop’s name, Tommy the Cop Gotlund, is on his police cycle. He’s heading back to La Jolla to turn in the bike and change his clothes and get to his night gig at Petco Park and he’s stopped at an intersection and this BMW comes racing up to the four-stop sign intersection blaring its horn, going about sixty and zooms right through without stopping. Right in front of Tommy the Cop who is heading back to the office to clock out. Well, Tommy the Cop is a good cop and he can’t let turbo-charged BMW get away with it so he goes in pursuit. He chases the BMW for about six blocks when the BMW turns into the driveway of the emergency room of South Hills Hospital. He pulls up behind the BMW just as a woman is jumping out with a toddler in her arms and running inside yelling something about ‘my baby’ ‘my baby’.”

“Oh my god.” Mara said again.

“So…. Tommy the Cop goes inside and finds out that the lady was driving like a loon because something was desperately wrong with her two-year old son, convulsions or something, and she needed to get him help. Which she did. Tommy the Cop is satisfied that all is kosher and he doesn’t need to further burden the lady with a citation or warning and he exits the ER and sees, much to his pissed-off dismay, two drunks duke-ing it out in parking lot.”

“Poor guy.” Mara said and sipped her ice tea.

“Yeah. All Tommy the Cop wants to do is clock out and get to his night gig and now he has to break up a brawl. So he goes to just break it up when one of the drunks goes for Tommy The Cop’s gun and Tommy the Cop levels the guy, cuffs him, calls for back up and lands himself three hours of booking and paper work. Which means he’s going to be REALLY late to his night gig.”

“How does this qualify as weird, Darnell?” Mara asked as the waitress came over balancing their lunch plates.

“Shrimp salad, dressing on the side.” She said setting the plate in front of Dr. Mara. “And Double Blue Cheese Burger and garlic fries for the handsome gentleman.” She set the plate down and winked at Detective Warren then turned and winked at Dr. Mara. “Enjoy folks.” She said and disappeared into the restaurant.

“I’m handsome.” Warren said grinning at Mara.

“You are. But I am starting to question your ability to judge what is truly weird. Would you like to hear what is truly weird, Darnell? Because I have a story for you, if you would.”

“I’m not done.” Warren said putting a garlic-butter soaked fry into his mouth.

“Finish, then.” Mara said. “And try not to breath on me.

“So the reason the explosives get through security was because the guard that would have discovered them was breaking up a fight in a parking lot and he was in that parking lot because he was chasing a speeding car and the car was speeding because a woman was taking her gravely ill child to the emergency room.”
“I got all that.” Mara said picking up her fork and loading it with salad.

“The woman.” Warren began. “Was Antoinette O’Brien. Otherwise known as Toni. She was taking her youngest son, Dillon, to the hospital because he had ingested insecticide accidentally sprayed onto his bowl and spoon.”

“Awful yes. Weird no.” Mara said stabbing another fork full.

“Toni O’Brien and her family live at 3409 Crestview Drive in San Diego and the insecticide was ant poison that she had sprayed all over her counter when an incursion of black ants invaded her kitchen.”

Mara stopped dead. Her fork full of salad halfway between plate and mouth.

“Oh my dear god.” She said and put her fork down. “Oh my dear…. Darnell…my news… my news is.” She put her hand to her mouth.

“What?” Warren said putting his hand on top of her other hand.

“I had an appointment at Paxton Memorial today.” Mara said looking at Warren with tears welling in her eyes. “I thought, since I was there, I’d look up John Doe and see how he was doing.” She stopped and looked down at her salad.

“And?” Warren prodded.

“Two weeks ago, on July 4th, the day after we admitted him, at exactly 3:38 pm, the active duty nurse saw a flat line on the remote heart monitor for John Doe. She rushed to the room and found he was gone.”

“He died?” Warren asked, mouth agape.

“No, Darnell. He was literally gone. The wrist and ankle restraints were still closed and locked. The pillow and bed were indented where his head and body had been and the leads for all the vitals monitors were laying on the bed in the exact position they would be if a body were in it. No windows. No way out but past the nurses station. He was gone.”

“How’s your lunch folks?” The waitress asked standing over the two of them and blocking out the sun. “Save room for dessert. Today we have home made Fudge-Ripple ice cream.”

How about teaching them ALL a lesson?!?!?!? A new piece of… ‘fiction’.

That Would Teach Them.

By S. Scott Bullock

Greg Weston had had it. He had reached his limit. He was… fed UP! Sitting in his cubicle he watched with great disdain the approach of his bastard of a boss. Greg HATED this prick. The boss. The head honcho. The royal pain-in-the-ass. Greg thought of picking up one of his pointy mechanical pencils and sticking it into the prick’s hairy hand. THAT would teach him. But then he thought better of it. The boss wasn’t worth it. He wasn’t worth going to jail for. Besides, Greg was a lot of things, but he was NOT a criminal of any kind. Especially not a violent one. In point of fact, Greg was a chronic rule follower. An obey-er. When HE went grocery shopping you wouldn’t find HIM with eleven items in his cart standing in the ten-items-or-less line.

“I need you to call Malone and get the quote. Tell him we have to have it in writing and tell him we need it by Thursday.” The boss said tapping his finger on the top of Greg’s cubicle wall.

“Will do.” Greg said smiling.

“Now. Okay, Greg?” The boss said, tapping.

“Right. On it.” Greg picked up the phone and held it toward his finger-tapping boss. “Calling now.”

“I’m counting on you Greg.” The boss said, walking back to his office.

“You couldn’t count to ten without using both your hands.” Greg mumbled under his breath as he dialed the phone. The one saving grace to all of this was that it was Friday before a three-day weekend and that meant that quitting time was two-o’clock instead of the usual five. But he would wait until five minutes after the hour. Just like he always did.

On regular days, when five-o’clock came, Greg would start packing up his things for home. He’d leave work at his usual time, five minutes after five o’clock. Five o’clock was quitting time, but he refused to leave until five minutes after. He was sickened by the no-accounts that left a minute before five. Or some of the real lazy, Asshat, no-goods who left even earlier than that, so he made an example of himself. He would not only NOT leave before quitting time, HE would leave AFTER it. That’s what a person who follows the rules does. He makes an example of his rule following. That would teach them. The damn Asshats. Especially the “almond cruncher”. That stupid idiot in the next cubicle that ate dry-roasted almonds all day long. Greg could only imagine that the guy, his name was Wayne, (what a stupid-assed name THAT was), must chew with his pie-hole hanging wide open. That’s the only possible way he could make THAT much noise just chewing almonds. Regardless, the sound drove Greg bat-shit crazy. It made him furious and nauseous at the same time. How could ANYONE chew like that? Didn’t he have even the slightest notion of how maddening that sound was to people? No, of course he didn’t. The “almond cruncher” was just another tormentor in the never-ending line of rude, self-centered, tormentors that made it their special sacred duty to push Greg Weston over the precipice and onto the jagged rocks below. All of them, every damn one of them had it out for him. And he knew it. Two-o-five finally came and Greg packed up to leave. As he walked by his bosses open door the boss called out.

“What did Malone say, Greg?”

Greg stopped in his tracks and turned toward his boss. His stomach tightened as it always did when he had to make eye contact with the fat jerk.

“He was out of the office. I left a message for him to call ASAP.”

“Shit.” His boss spat. “Great.”

“Anything else before I go?” Greg asked, knowing full well there would be something else. There was ALWAYS something else with this jerk.

“No.” His boss said. “Go home and have a nice long weekend. Get some rest.”

‘Yeah right’. Greg thought. ‘You’re being nice to me now so I’ll let my guard down. I’m not falling for it. You’re gonna come after me Tuesday and give me some heavy grief. You’re not fooling me for one single second.’

“See you Tuesday.” Greg said and walked toward the elevators. As he exited the building and walked toward his car he noticed how close the car next to his had parked.

“Dammit!” He said to the ice-cold outside air. His phone rang and the sound made him jump.

“Shit.” He said fumbling the phone out of his pocket. His breath was fogging as he read the screen. It read ABBY. He pushed the ACCEPT button and put the phone to his soon to be frost-bitten ear.

“Yeah?” He said way too curtly, especially when addressing his wife.

“Whoa.” Abby said. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, Abs. Just some retarded moron parked his car so close to mine that I’ll barely be able to open my door. AND he parked backwards in the spot so he probably dinged my door too when he got out. Jerk.”

“You in a mood?” Abby asked.

“I hate people.” Greg said with just the slightest hint of a smile in his voice. And that slight hint was only there because he was talking to Abby, and Abby was the only thing in life that gave Greg true uncomplicated joy.

“You don’t hate people.” Abby chided.

“Yeah right. I don’t hate people and I LOVE salad.” Greg said trying to fish his keys out of his pocket. He pulled them out and promptly dropped them. They slid under the car.

“DAMMIT!” He shouted.

“OW!” Abby shouted back. “You just blew my ear out! Why are you yelling?”

“I dropped the damn keys.” Greg said going to his hands and knees and looking under the car. “Abs can I call you back or can we just talk when I get home, I’ve got to get the keys, they slid under the damn car and I am about to freeze solid out here.”

“Okay, real quick.” Abby said stifling a giggle, as she thought about her husband getting all red faced and pissed off trying to retrieve his keys from under the car. “I’m making Macho Nachos for dinner and I forgot the damned pickled jalapenos. Could you hit Stop & Shop on your way home and get a jar?”

“This is NOT funny Abs.”

“I didn’t say it was.” Abby said still grinning.

“I can hear you laughing at me even if you’re not laughing out loud.”

At that Abby let out a great guffaw.

“I’m sorry.” She said through her laugh. “I’m just seeing you all PO’d and digging around under the car and that just tickles the poop outta me.”

“It’s a wonder that we’re still married. You have a bizarre and cruel sense of humor and I deeply worry about your sanity.” Greg was halfway under the car holding the phone to his ear with one hand and reaching, to its limit, for his keys with the other.

“Just get the jalapenos.” Abby managed through another giggle fit. “I love you and drive carefully.”

“I will. I love you too.” Greg punched off the phone and crawled all the way under the car. He wrapped his hand around his keys. “GOT YA!” He said raising his head and banging it against the gas tank.

“DAMMIT TO HELL!” He shouted thru clinched teeth as he extricated himself from beneath his Ford Explorer.

Greg stood up fully and looked down at his clothes. His long top-coat was unbuttoned and when he saw that he was one long grease stain from the toes of his leather shoes to the upper most button on his eighty-dollar shirt all he could muster was a sigh and a quiet, “Crap.”.

Twenty minutes later, because not ONE idiot on the road knew how to drive on icy streets, and due to that fact, turned a ten minute trip into a twenty minute one, Greg pulled into the parking lot of Stop & Shop and scouted out a typical spot for himself. He always parked well away from the front of any store and well away from other cars. No spastic, asshat was going to ding HIS door. He found a totally vacant parking lane and pulled his car into the very last spot, leaving a good three feet between his door and the demarcation line. As he got out a light snow begin to fall and the air took on the unmistakable smell of settled-in winter.

“Great.” He said quietly. “Now it’ll take me an hour to get home.”

He walked up to the automatic doors as a woman burdened with four brown grocery bags walked out and right into him. One of her bags went flying and oranges, onions and turnips rolled away like billiard balls after a well executed break.

“SHIT!” She shouted shoving her other bags into Greg’s arms and running after her wayward produce.

“Why me?” Greg mumbled under his breath. Breath that had begun to fog from the sub-zero cold. He set the lady’s bags down on the bench by the door and walked into the store. Before the doors closed behind him he heard the woman shout.

“Thanks a lot, dude! You’re a REAL gentleman.”

He stopped for a split second then. He almost turned around. He’s ears began to get red hot. He needed to read this woman the riot act. ‘Thanks a lot dude!?!?! You’re a real gentleman!??!?!’ Is that REALLY what she said. This dumb broad who slammed into him then dropped a bag of her crap, then shoved the rest of her crap in his arms and ran off after her freakin’ turnips? Is that REALLY what she said!?!? He wanted to rip her a new one. That would teach her. But he didn’t. Greg never did ANYTHING when stuff like this happened. He just swallowed his angst and went about his business. As he headed to the ‘International Foods’ aisle in the Stop and Shop he couldn’t stop his mind from obsessing over the incident. He replayed it over and over and felt his ire raise exponentially with each replay. He didn’t DO a thing to that lady. He didn’t deserve to be spoken to like that. He SHOULD have said something to her. He SHOULD have told her to choke on her turnips. He SHOULD have…

Greg stopped in his tracks. He stood in the ‘International Foods’ aisle of his local Stop & Shop without one clue as to why he was there. It was if he had awakened from some kind of psychic fugue. He looked left and saw canned humus, dried chickpeas and felafel mix. He looked right and saw bottled chicken fat, kosher noodles and matzo meal. He stared at the shelves of foreign food and began to feel a bit frightened. Why the hell was he here? His phone rang from his hip pocket and he jumped again at the sound. He had to change that damn ring tone. Every time his phone rang it gave him a small heart attack. He pulled it from his pocket and looked at the screen. It was Abby again. He pushed the ACCEPT button.

“I just crapped my pants, Abs.”

“You haven’t changed your ringtone yet?” She asked stifling yet another giggle.

“YOU said YOU were going to do that for me. I can’t figure this damn phone out.”

“I will.” She said smiling. “I will. Where are you? Have you left the store yet?”

“No. I’m still here. But I forgot what you asked me to get. This stupid woman slammed into me walking out of the store and…”

She stopped him mid sentence.

“In the car?” She asked concerned. “Are you okay?”

“Oh. No. Not in the car. I was walking into the store and she was walking out and she slammed into me and dropped a bag of groceries and… well… she was a bitch to me… that’s all. What did you need again?”

“Did you help her with her groceries?” Abby asked.

“Yes. I did. I, well I put the other bags she handed me down on a bench and walked into the store while she was chasing down her stuff from the bag that fell.”

“That’s not really helping, Howard.” She always called him “Howard” when he did something she didn’t approve of.

“Can we please skip over this part and get to the part about what you wanted me to get here?” He was feeling a little embarrassed and a lot miffed.

“Pickled Jalapeno peppers for the Nachos.” She said flatly. “But I called you because I wanted you to get some cigars too.”

“Guitars? What are you talking about?”

Abby let out a huge guffaw.

“Not guitars….” she said cracking up. “Cigars!”

Then the connection broke. Greg looked at his phone and saw that his battery had died. Perfect. Just freakin’ perfect. He thought. Cigars? What the hell could she want with cigars?

Greg shoved his impotent phone back into his front pocket and turned toward the Mexican section of the aisle. He picked up a bottle of pickled jalapenos and froze. You give cigars out when you have a baby! He yelled in his mind.

He pulled his phone out of his pocket and pressed the call button. Dead. Still dead. A useless brick. He looked around to the front of the store hoping to see a pay phone. He noticed a kiosk out the window in front of the store. He made a beeline for the front doors. When he got to the public phone kiosk he saw that the phone had been removed. And from the condition of the exposed metal it looked as if it had been removed a very long time ago. He looked around for another. Nothing. He thought of asking to use the phone in the store or asking someone if he could use their cell, but quickly thought better of it. He certainly did NOT want to deal with the Asshat’s questions or conditions. And there WOULD be conditions and questions. Asshats ALWAYS have conditions and questions. And that was the world. Greg, Abby and Asshats.

Greg decided to just head home. Get there as fast as he could. He knew that “cigars” may have meant something else, but the chance that it meant what he was thinking it meant was motivation enough to drop everything and get home fast. He and Abby had been trying to get pregnant for over a year with no success. They had started discussing clinical intervention. Abby had even investigated some local fertility clinics. But maybe they didn’t need that after all. Maybe they got lucky and…

“CIGARS!” He shouted as he unlocked his door and got into the car. He noticed that some Asshat had parked their car RIGHT next to his. Even in his excited joy he marveled at the stupidity of people. The mindless idiocy of parking right NEXT to another car in an otherwise totally vacant aisle. Greg put the key into the ignition and only then realized that he was still holding the jar of jalapenos. He should take it back. He was NOT a shoplifter. But… ‘cigars’ she said buy some ‘cigars’! He decided to pay for them on his next visit and set the jar down next him on the seat.

Greg started his car and raced toward the exit. His Explorer did a little sideways shimmy as the tires grasped for purchase on the now slick-with-ice asphalt. The weather was alternating between sleet, freezing rain and full blown blizzard snowfall now, and driving was about to become very difficult. He came to a full stop at the stop sign at the parking lot exit and leaned over to the glove box. He popped it open and quickly rifled through the jam packed cubby. Nothing. Or at least NOT what he was looking for. He popped open the between seat storage and did the same. Not there. Just then a horn bleated from behind him and he looked up to the rear-view mirror, startled. Three cars were behind him waiting to exit the Stop and Shop parking lot.

“Asshats” he muttered and pulled onto the main road. “Where the hell is the damn car charger?” Another beep from behind.

“UP YOURS!” Greg shouted to his rear view mirror. “I should put it in park and JUST STAY RIGHT HERE!!!” He yelled over his shoulder as he slowly pulled further into traffic. “That would teach them.” He finished quietly to himself.

The snow began to fall with an attitude, and visibility was diminishing rapidly. He knew he had to get to the Town Common road before it got much worse. The TCR was the last ten mile stretch before his turn off into the Town Woods and home. It was only one lane going each way, and it was a tough ten miles. It was winding and steep and when it got heavy snowfall, managing it was tricky at best and scary-as-shit at worst.

The light turned red in front of him and he slowed to a stop. The snow increased and a little sigh escaped from deep in his chest. It was a good five miles to the TCR and a lot of snow can fall in the course of five miles. ‘Cigars’ he thought. ‘And snow’. The signal turned green and he crept the Explorer forward, careful not to give it too much gas. The tires slipped, but only a little, and he got up to speed quickly. Already the Asshats were screwing with him. Driving too fast, driving too slow, not going fast enough on the greens and speeding through the yellows. ‘They should all crash into each other’ he thought. ‘THAT would teach them.’

He made the TCR in less then fifteen minutes which, under the current conditions, was quite good time. He made the right onto the TCR and saw that the snow was really accumulation along the sides and filling the long ditches that followed it up to the Woods turnoff. He’d have to take it slower than he wanted but as the saying goes, ‘better safe than dead in a ditch’.

Greg took into account the Asshat count at this time. None ahead of him on the TCR and three behind him. A red Mercedes directly behind him (probably owned by a rich, entitled, trust-fund baby), then behind it and way back, a pickup truck of some kind (owned, no doubt, by an inbred, first-cousin-humping rube), and behind that and at quite a distance, a huge semi. This fact royally pissed Greg off, because semi’s THAT big weren’t allowed on the TCR. They were supposed to take the Powell Highway loop which led them AROUND town and not through it. This Asshat truck driver was not only breaking the law but he was making ANYONE behind him miserable. And Greg had been behind enough semi’s in his life to be VERY familiar with THAT type of misery.

The Explorer took a little slip and Greg let off the accelerator a bit. He desperately wanted to get home to Abby, but he wanted to get home in one piece. As he slowed, the distance between him and the Mercedes quickly closed. The trust-fund Asshat was not slowing enough and came up fast on the Explorer’s bumper. He flashed his lights. Greg was aghast.

“WHAT?” he said aloud. “You’re kidding me right? It’s snowing like a son-of-bitch and you want me to go faster!?”

The Mercedes’ lights flashed again.

“This is NOT happening.” Greg said and slowed a bit more.

Just then the pickup truck completely closed the gap between it and the Mercedes and formed a three car conga line with Greg at the head.

“See how you like this.” He said. “Nice and safe and slow. That’ll teach you.”

The first horn honk came then. A quick short bleat.

“GO AROUND ME ASSHAT!” Greg shouted at the rear view. He lifted his hand and did a ‘go-around’ gesture and then saw through the heavily tinted front widow of the Mercedes a hand raise up as well. But instead of ‘go-around’, THIS hand was only using one finger. The Mercedes honked a little longer this time.

“Son-of-a….” Greg whispered. “Okay. Okay. Let’s try this.”

Greg increased the pressure on the accelerator peddle and the Explorer lurched forward. He kept the pressure as his speed increased. The distance between he and the Mercedes increased as well and when it reached about three car lengths, Greg hit the brakes. The Explorer began to skid, but Greg immediately let off the brakes, hit the gas, and quickly recovered control. The driver of the Mercedes, however, was not as fortunate. When Greg hit the brakes so did the Mercedes driver and the super-expensive vehicle began to skid, totally out of control. The car did a complete rotation and ended up half in and half out of the ditch along side the oncoming lane. The pickup driver had, obviously being a more experienced snow driver, managed to slow to a stop and Greg saw in the rear view that he had pulled over to assist the trust-fund baby. ‘Good’. Greg thought. ‘Asshats deserved it and they deserve each other.’ He also thought, briefly, of turning around and going to help as well, but thought better of it. They’d blame HIM for the accident and gang up on him. And he was NOT responsible. That Mercedes was following too close and…

Just then Greg saw in the rear view that the semi truck was coming up fast. Too fast. The snow was really coming down now and visibility sucked. Too fast. That truck is going to…

The semi driver saw the accident too late and over compensated. He had plenty of room to pass but for some reason, probably shear surprise, he must have thought that he didn’t. He hit the truck’s brakes and the huge semi began to skid. The trailer section spun around, disconnected from the cab and fell on its side. It skidded for sixty feet before coming to a stop laying across and completely blocking both lanes of the TCR. The cab of the semi stayed upright and rolled unceremoniously into the ditch about a hundred feet from the trailer section. The view behind was becoming increasingly difficult to see as the snow fell heavier, but the last thing Greg did see was the trust-fund baby and the cousin-humper running up to the semi cab. Then all was white behind him and Greg looked ahead to see his own course. ‘You should go back.’ His conscience said loudly in his head. But that voice was quickly silenced.

“They’re fine. Nobody hurt. And they deserved it. That taught them. Asshats.” Greg said slowing the Explorer down another couple of miles-per-hour. ‘Their gonna have one hell of a time getting the semi trailer off the highway.’ He thought. ‘Gonna block the TCR for hours, maybe all night.’

He heard sirens then. Police or ambulance or fire? He couldn’t tell, but he was pretty sure it was coming from the direction of town and not ahead of him. Hell there was nothing ahead of him for about fifty miles, so it must be from behind. No ambulance though. Nobody was hurt, so no ambulance. Police maybe. That’d be good. The sooner they get heavy towing equipment out there the sooner the damn road would be open again. Abby’s mom and sister were due to come over in the morning and that road was the only way in from town.

Greg came to the left-hand turn that took him up into the woods and to his tiny rural cul-du-sac. Three houses. His and Abby’s, their okay neighbors, an older gay couple Abby called ‘the boys’ and then the Asshat. No matter how large or how small a neighborhood is, there is always an Asshat.

Ten minutes later Greg made the last turn in the tall trees and begin to see smoke rising from the direction of his neighborhood. His breath caught in his throat as he rounded the corner and saw that a third of his roof, the roof above the kitchen was alive with flame. Fire and smoke were coming from the kitchen window. He revved the engine of the Explorer and came to a skidding stop in front of his house. One of ‘the boys’, Gary, ran up to the driver’s side of the car. Greg threw the door open and yelled.

“What happened! WHAT HAPPENED?! Where’s Abby. ABBY!” He took off toward the house and Gary grabbed his arm.

“She’s at our house, Greg. She’s safe. She was making chips. The oil… it was an oil fire.”

“WHY?!?” Greg shouted heading toward Gary’s and Michael’s house. He was looking over his shoulder at his burning home and stumbled on a garden rock in Gary’s yard. He fell to his knees and immediately lept back to his feet. He took off again, changed course, and headed toward his house, now nearly halfway engulfed in angry red and yellow flame.

“The hose!” He screamed. “I’ve got to get the hose.”

“The fire department is on its way, Greg.” Gary held tight to Greg’s arm pulling him back. “We called fifteen minutes ago. They’re close. They’re right in town. Just twenty minutes up the TCR. They’ll be here any second. Don’t go near the fire. We called them. They’ll be here any second.”

Greg fell to his knees and began to sob.

“No they won’t.” He cried. “No they won’t. It’s blocked.. it’s…” Then very, very quietly through agonized sobs. “That’ll teach me. That’ll teach me. That’ll teach me.”

How about another story? Slimy Goo anyone?

There Will Be More

By: S. Scott Bullock

You’re going to think that I have totally lost my mind, and come to think of it, you may be totally correct. I truly don’t know if all the things that have happened in the last forty-eight hours are simple flights of deranged fancy or rock-hard reality. The only thing I am certain of, as I sit here in a candlelit attic writing these words down on the backsides of old, yellowed photographs with the nub of a red-colored pencil I found among the floor-strewn detritus, is that I am afraid. I am, in fact, more terrified than I have ever been in my life. More terrified than I thought possible.

My hand is cramping as I clutch the pencil nub and write. I hope this will be legible. But, whether it is or isn’t, I must keep writing. I must. It is the only thing keeping me sane at the moment. The only thing keeping my mind off of what is downstairs. If I write, I’m safe.

My name is Derrick Delroy. Derrick Dorian Delroy. My parents were fond of the letter ‘D’. I am not. I was born twenty-four years ago in a town called Tedesco. It’s in New Mexico. My family moved here, to Arlington, Maine, when I was ten. Dad’s work. Two years after we moved here my parents were coming home from an anniversary night-out when a teenager, who had stolen his father’s vintage, wood-paneled pick-up truck, t-boned them at a rural four-way stop. Mom and Dad were killed on the spot, the teenager bruised his upper left thigh. I was twelve, so Mom and Dad had left me home alone to fend for myself that night. I was too old for a babysitter. Or so I had loudly proclaimed. When the police came to the door at 5 the following morning I realized how wrong I had been. I needed a babysitter then, and so much more.

It’s moving downstairs now. I can hear it. A sloshing, slithering sound. And breathing. Heavy, labored breathing. It sounds like jello being sucked in and out of garden hose. I can smell it now too. Jasmine flower and coffee grounds mixed with burned hair. I don’t know if it knows I’m up here. The only movement I am making is my hand, writing this, and I’m pretty sure it can’t hear that. The candle is burning low now and the flame is flicking wildly. Must be an open door or window downstairs causing the draft up here. The flame is creating terrifying shadows out of the stacked boxes and discarded furnishings. Dancing demons are all around me. But they pale when compared with what waits downstairs. The sun will be up in a couple of hours. Hopefully the candle lasts that long. Hearing those sounds in complete darkness would well and truly push me over the edge of sanity and into the abyss of total madness.

I first heard the Thing two days ago. I was waking up from a particularly bad drunk. The night before had been the office party to end all office parties, but the night and the party hadn’t ended at the office. Five of us closed down three different bars and one fast-food joint by the time the sun came up. I was lying in bed around noon and I heard, what I thought was, my landlord downstairs. It sounded like he was using a giant plunger on my office toilet. I had told him two weeks before that it wouldn’t stop running and I figured he finally got around to fixing it. I found it weird that he had let himself in to do it though. He was always very respectful of my privacy and never let himself in with his pass key. I dismissed it all and got out of bed to go get some aspirin. As my feet thudded on the hardwood floor the noise from below ceased. I took three Excedrin from the bottle in my medicine cabinet and chewed them dry as I shuffled back to bed. I slept soundly till around four that afternoon.

When I finally hauled my hungover ass out of bed, I made it downstairs to the kitchen before feeling a very strong urge to vomit. It wasn’t the hangover making me nauseous though, it was the smell. Jasmine flower mixed with coffee grounds and burned hair. It was a god-awful combination of odors and it took all of my emotional moxie to quiet the feeling of fear-filled revulsion it evoked. I opened the kitchen windows and turned on the cook-top fan. The stench clung to the walls and ceiling like baked-on cooking oil. There was a trail of slimy, mucousy, goo that wove a pattern of confused movement along the floor of the kitchen. The repulsive trail led to the living room and out the open front door.

What was this stuff and why the hell was my door open? Fred, my landlord, wouldn’t have left it open. Unless he wasn’t done working on the toilet. I went to the open door and looked out on the deserted country road my house sat on. The sun was getting low and the shadows were long and ominous. They played across my dirt driveway swaying and changing shape with the soft, pine and lavender scented breeze. My drive was empty but for my Corvette and the long trail of goo that wove its way around the corner and out of sight. Fred’s truck was long gone, as was Fred it seemed. So why did he leave the door open, and what was all this gunk everywhere? I turned, pulling my door closed, and slipped in the muck. I landed on my ass and left hand. My wrist hurt like a son-of-a-bitch, but I didn’t notice the pain as much as I noticed how the muck that my hand landed in was pushing up between my fingers and covering the back of my hand. My revulsion reached a new high. This stuff seemed alive. It covered the back of my hand and started creeping up my wrist. It was ‘The Blob’ only REAL. One difference between this science-fact and that science-fiction was that MY blob didn’t burn or hurt. It just moved. Also different from the Steve McQueen Sci-Fi epic, was that this blob was easy to pull off. It came away from my skin like a sweat-soaked bed sheet. I jumped up and made sure that none of it had gotten on me anywhere else. I noticed that the stench was stronger and without thinking sniffed the back of my hand where the blob had been crawling. The odor was so intense and so noxious that I gagged and wretched. I vomited on the hall floor, and I swear to you this next is true. The goo moved toward my puke, surrounded and swallowed it. Pulled it inside itself somehow. The stuff was clear, like see-through silly putty, but when it… for lack of a better term… when it ate my vomit… it turned a deep purple then went back to transparent. I pulled my hand away from my nose and headed for the toilet and nearest bar of soap.

This could NOT be happening. Living goo? There had to be some kind of reasonable explanation to this unexplainable experience.

When I reached my office bathroom I heard the toilet running and realized that Fred hadn’t been here after all. The sounds I was hearing that morning were not coming from my perpetually-showing-his-butt crack, happy landlord. Then what the hell HAD they come from. As I scrubbed my hands in scalding water I was happy to realize that my nausea had passed. I wasn’t going to need the toilet after all, but I started to think very seriously about needing to consult a shrink. I walked out of the bathroom and found, to my shocked pleasure, that the goo was gone. Everywhere it had been was now only pristine hardwood flooring. I walked the former trail of muck and found it had all disappeared. I went into the kitchen and examined the floor. Nothing. The smell was completely gone as well. I made my way to the wall phone and picked up the receiver. Who was I calling? I didn’t know. The police? They’d call me crazy. Disappearing, living goo was not a very sane cause for requesting law enforcement assistance over the phone lines.

I put the phone back on the hook and saw movement out of the corner of my eye. Out the kitchen window, about a hundred feet away in the back field, I saw, what I can only describe now as, a foliage-covered Bigfoot. A great hulking humanoid figure, eight or nine feet tall,covered, literally COVERED from the top of its ape-like head to the bottoms of its size 20 feet, in a green mossy carpet. It was walking back and forth among the pines, crushing the foot tall reeds. Every step it took left a trail of the same stinking goo that had profaned my floors earlier. I watched the stuff hang from the Thing’s green covered toes like snot running from a kindergartener’s rhino-virus’d nose. I had a sudden sense-memory of the smell of that slime and felt nausea rise up and make a valiant attempt to crawl out of my stomach. I tried to turn away, but couldn’t. What I was seeing was too compelling. It was a living creature. A living horror movie.

It was shortly after that moment that I saw with my own eyes what danger I was in.

It’s moving more downstairs now. Banging against things in the kitchen. Pots and pans and dishes. As if it were looking for something. I pray it isn’t looking for me. After I saw what it did to the deer, I know what it will do to me.

As I was looking out the kitchen window earlier and watching with stunned disbelief, the Thing ambling back and forth among the pines, leaving trail after trail of that vile slime, I saw a very normal yet now surreal site. Deer are frequent visitors to my back field and marsh. It’s not unusual for me to see ten or more a day. So seeing the twelve-point buck wandering down the slope toward my grassland was not startling at all. But for this. The innocent creature was heading directly toward the Thing. I had an overwhelming urge to open the window and shout at it. To get it to run away before the Thing saw it. But I couldn’t. If I yelled, I’d call attention to myself. The last thing in this world I wanted was for that Thing and its slime producing feet to come back into my house or anywhere near me. As the buck came closer the Thing seemed to sense its presence. It stopped moving and froze in its ambling tracks. The damn buck just kept coming. But then, about fifteen feet from the Thing, the buck stopped. It raised its head and sniffed the air. He shook his great antlers back and forth and snorted. As it began to turn away, I saw something that I will never be able to un-see or forget. The trails of slime that the Thing had left all over the green carpet of my back field, shot hundreds of glistening tendrils toward the buck. In an instant the poor animal was covered in slime. The muck was pulling at him, dragging him toward the ground. The animal was struggling, desperately trying to extricate itself. Then I heard a sound. Like snapping stalks of celery. Only much, much louder. I began to weep, then. Desperate sorrow mixed with my terror as I realized what I was hearing. The slime was pulling the beautiful stag down with such force, and he was fighting against it so valiantly, that his bones were cracking. He made no sound because the muck had filled and covered his mouth and nose. His shattering legs snapped a final time and gave way. He collapsed to the slime covered ground.

The Thing, who up until that point was motionless, turned to face the lifeless buck. It lumbered toward the fallen animal. The slime parted, pulling away and moving off the buck and into the surrounding tall reeds. The Thing bent and picked up the huge animal effortlessly. It held it up to its enormous chest. And then, in a truly unfathomable turn of events, among the day’s many truly unfathomable events, the Thing’s chest cracked open. It opened vertically, becoming a huge, lip-less, sideways mouth with row after row of shark-like teeth. I wept and chocked back vomit as I watched the Thing devour the buck. An immense twelve-point stag disappeared in five bites into that massive razor-rimmed maw.

I stumbled backward and fell over a step stool. I grabbed for purchase and pulled a drying rack full of dishes and pans on top of me and crashing to the floor. I leapt up and looked out the window, dreading what I might see. And indeed I saw what I was dreading. The Thing was facing my house now. Its maw had closed and it was looking, or as far as I could tell, not being to see its eyes, looking at me. It took a step forward. I reflexively stepped back and once again fell over the same damn stool. I got up and looked out the window. The Thing was gone. The slime was gone. The only evidence of its trespass was the crushed and flattened reeds and glistening, blood covered grass.

I moved to the phone again. I picked it up and dialed ‘0’. It rang. And rang. And rang. I counted twenty-eight rings before I hung up. I picked it up again and dialed again. Thirty-five rings. No answer. How was this possible? No answer from the operator? I needed help. I needed the police. I suddenly felt twelve years old again. Just like the morning the police came to my childhood front door. I felt terrified and so very, very alone.

There was a splintering crash at the front door. It sounded like a giant pine breaking and crashing to the ground. I knew instantly what it was. The Thing was back, and on its way in to devour me like it had the buck. I didn’t hesitate. I ran with everything I had in me. I ran to the back door. I threw it open and saw that my house, or as much as I could see of my house, was surrounded by a foot deep, six foot wide, river of the Thing’s slime. Tendrils of it rose toward me and as I slammed the door shut I heard the sickening liquid impacts they made against the wood. I heard more crashing and things breaking in the entry way of my house. The smell of the slime filled my nostrils and I once again chocked back my bile. I looked around panicked and realized I had only one route of escape; the back stairs leading up to the second floor and up further to the attic. I made for the stairs and heard what sounded like my antique double highboy being hurled across the dining room and disintegrating against the opposite wall. I took three stairs at a time and made it to the attic door. I turned just for a second to make sure it hadn’t followed me and saw that the stairway was empty. I opened the attic door as quietly as I could, stepped inside and closed the door with a click that to my ears sounded like a sonic boom. I pushed boxes and old chairs and an antique desk against the door. I crept to the opposite end of the attic and sat down on a bundled and tied pile of Life Magazines. My heartbeat was moving the front of my shirt. The top buttons moved in and out in crazy rapid succession. My breath came and went so quickly that I felt lightheaded and faint. I was shaking so violently that I had to press down on both my knees with all my might to keep my feet from tapping out a betraying Morse Code to the Thing. For two hours I sat like that. Terror is such a weak word in expressing what I felt. The Thing crashed and banged and slammed and pounded below me. Then suddenly, silence.

I have been up here since then. Cowering. Too afraid to check and see if I could go downstairs and escape. I haven’t had a thing to eat or drink and I have been peeing into a collection of vases that I inherited from my Great-Aunt Madge. About five or six hours ago I had pulled myself together enough to at least consider going downstairs. And just at that moment, I heard it again. Banging things. Breathing like jello through a garden house. And I keep getting wafts of that puke-inducing smell. It’s looking for something. It’s looking for me.

I can hear it closer now. Oh, dear God. It’s climbing the stairs. I hear it climbing the stairs. It’s coming closer and closer. I can hear grunts now. Oh God. Oh dear, dear God. It’s at the door. It’s at the door. The door is crashing open. It’s standing in the doorway staring at me!

“Stephen King! I told you an hour ago to put your damn writing away and get ready for school! Your brother and I are downstairs waiting on you for breakfast and your bus will be here in twenty minutes. And, young man, you are NOT going to be late on your first day of Junior High School! Now MOVE!”

I have to stop writing now. The Thing is making me stop. But there will be more written. I promise you… there will be more.

Doing WHATEVER it takes. A short story of love and fiction.

Wait, Love, Wait

By: S. Scott Bullock

Suzanne pressed the disconnect button on her ancient flip phone and looked at Martin. She put it down on the chipped, green and white tile kitchen counter, picked up a wet dish towel and walked over to the small kitchen table. She began wiping it down and Martin lifted his glass to accommodate her.

“They said they’re going to repossess it.” She said, wiping the table in small frantic sweeps.

“The table’s clean.” Martin said without emotion. “It won’t get any cleaner. Nothing’s gonna get any cleaner.”

“What’s next Marty?” She sat down across from her husband and folded the dish towel. “I’m so scared.” She unfolded the towel and folded it again.

Martin took it from her and held her hand.

“I’ll fix it.” He said. “I promise babe, I’ll fix it.”

“With that?” She said, pointing to Martin’s glass.

Martin downed the last of his vodka. He stood up and walked to the cupboard above the single chrome sink. He opened it and pulled out a nearly empty bottle of bottom shelf booze.

“No.” He said. “This is simply a band-aid to my deep-seated despair and ultimately will lead to my physical and mental collapse.” He filled his glass with the remaining vodka from the bottle. “Cheers.” He said and downed the small glassful.

“It’s no longer funny, Martin. You can’t joke our way out of this. We are in trouble.”

“I’ll fix it.”

“I’m HUNGRY mama!” A little chestnut-brown headed boy ran into the kitchen. “Kraff Macuncheez!” He said climbing up onto a chair at the table. “Kraff Macuncheez PLEEEZE!”

“What do you want?” Martin asked laughing.

“He wants Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.” Suzanne said to Martin, then turned toward their four year old son. “We don’t have any right now, angel. We’ll get some tomorrow. Would you like some raisins?”

“Raisins?!” Martin said laughing. “Instead of Mac and Cheese!?! Don’t take the plea deal, kid! Hold out for the cheese!”

Conner, their son, belly laughed and repeated his father’s words.

“Hole out for da cheeze!”

“Martin.” Suzanne chided. “We don’t have any. You’re gonna make it worse.”

“Hole out da cheeze!” Conner said raising his hands in the air. “Hole out da cheeze!”

Suzanne bent down so that she was face to face with her son.

“Conner.” She said in the tone that always got his attention. “Stop.”

“HOLE DA CHEEZE!” Conner shouted. “HOLE DA CHEEZE!”

“CONNER!” Martin shouted. “KNOCK IT OFF, NOW!”
“Don’t.” Suzanne barked at Martin. “You’ll make it worse.”

“HOLE DA CHEEZE!” Conner repeated over and over.

Suzanne took her husband’s hand. “Come with me NOW! NOW!” She led him out of the kitchen and into their bedroom. She closed the bedroom door behind them.

“What the hell are you doing?” Martin asked sitting on the bed. “He’s going crazy out there.”

“He’s melting down.” She said sitting down next to Martin on the bed. “It’s the only way to stop him. Just walking away. It’s the only way to stop him. You’d know that if you spent more time with him.”

“Spent more….” Martin stood up. “Are you shitting me, Suzanne? Really? Just when am I supposed to do that? Those long luxurious breaks I have between my two poverty-pay jobs? Or on the weekends when I’m busting my ass looking for a real job after cleaning out Ms. Cantor’s gutters for fifty freaking bucks? Is that when, Suzanne? Is that when?”

Suzanne lowered her head and began to weep.

“I’m sorry.” She said through her tears. “I’m just at the end of…”

The knob on their bedroom door turned and the door swung slowly open. Conner stepped into the room and walked over to his mother.

“May I have some raisins pleeze?” He asked climbing up on the bed next to his mom. “I’m hungry, mama.”

“I’ll get them.” Martin said walking toward the door. He stopped and turned toward his family sitting on the bed. “Where are they?” He asked.

“Kitchen drawer. Top left.” Suzanne sad pulling Conner onto her lap.

“You cryin’, mama?” Conner said looking up at his mother.

“Nope.” Suzanne said smiling down at her boy. “Nope. Mama’s got allergies and they make her eyes water.”

“Can I have some?” Conner asked leaning back against her. He raised his arm and put his hand into her long auburn hair. He began twirling it between his tiny fingers.

“Some what?” She asked.

“Alzerjeeze.” Conner said putting his thumb into his mouth.

“Al-er-geeze.” She said, over enunciating. “And no, you wouldn’t want them if you had them and take your thumb out of your mouth, you’re too old for that now.” She gently pulled Conner’s hand away from his face. “Let’s go into the kitchen and help Daddy find the raisins.”

“Daddy can’t fine his ass wiff bowf hands.” Conner said nonchalantly.

“Conner!” Suzanne barked, trying to suppress a gut wrenching belly laugh. “Where did you hear that?”

“You say it, mama. To Daddy. You say it.” Conner took his mother’s hand and pulled her toward the door. “Mardin!” He shouted. “You can’t fine your ass wiff bowf hands.”

“WHAT?” Martin shouted back from the kitchen.

“Nothing!” Suzanne said still suppressing the laugh. “You don’t say that anymore, Buster-brown. Okay? Promise mama that you won’t say that anymore and I’ll promise you that I won’t say it anymore, either. Deal?”

“Deal or no deal.” Conner said pulling hard on this mother’s hand. “Deal or no deal…. it’s a DEAL!”

Suzanne, drug by Conner, stepped into the kitchen. Martin had the entire contents of a kitchen drawer emptied on the counter.

“There’s nothing in here but magazines and birthday candles.” Martin said looking up in despair. “No raisins.”

“Raise your right hand.” Suzanne said arching her eyebrow.

“What?” Martin asked.

“Raise your right hand.” Suzanne repeated.

Martin raised his left hand then quickly lowered it and raised his right.

“Hence your consternation.” She said walking across the kitchen to the cabinets. She opened the top left drawer and pulled out a small red box of raisins. She held up the box to Martin and wiggled it back and forth. “Your other left.” She said. She opened the box and handed it to Conner. He grabbed it and headed out of the kitchen to his bedroom.

“You can’t find your ass with both hands.” She whispered smiling.

“NO DEAL!” Conner shouted from the hallway.

“That’s why I’m such a good provider.” Martin said without an ounce of humor. “What does he mean, ‘no deal’?”

Suzanne walked to Martin and put her arms around his neck.

“Look at me.” She said to him. “Look at me. I love you. That will never change. I love you and we are in this together. The boat is sinking, but it hasn’t sunk totally yet. We’ve got to figure a way to bale out the water. And we’ll bale together.”

“Said Captain Smith.” Martin kissed her forehead.

“Now.” Suzanne said solemnly. “I need you to sit down.”

“Oh shit.” Martin said sitting at the kitchen table. “What now?”

Suzanne looked at him and a single tear fell from her emerald green eye and ran down her cheek.

“What?” He asked. “Babe. What?”

“We’re pregnant.” She said, just above a whisper.

Martin got up and walked to the cupboard above the sink. He stopped and lowered his head.

“There’s no more in there.” She said. “You drank the last of it.”

Martin turned and picked up one of the magazines he had pulled from the wrong drawer.

“Why do you keep all these?” He asked.

“Those have recipes and DIY ideas in them.” She said wiping at the tear.

“What are we paying for all of them?”

“Nothing now. I haven’t renewed any of them. And most of them I got for free. They were buy one, get one free subscriptions.”

Martin tossed the magazine back into the open drawer.

“More magazines in this house than cockroaches.”

“Martin?” She said. “Why are we talking about magazines?”

“I need a drink.” He said and walked out of the kitchen. She heard him open the coat closet. Heard him pulling on his coat, and the sound of him grabbing his car keys from the bowl by the door. She heard the door close and the car start and the unmistakable, excruciatingly empty, sound of him leaving her alone.

“MAMA!” Conner yelled from his bedroom. “I HAVE TO POOP!”

=

“Why didn’t you come home last night?” Suzanne said to her phone, more frightened than angry. “Where are you?”

“I’m coming home now, Babe. And I’m coming home now with some good news.”

“Where….” She started, but Martin was gone. She closed her phone and sat down on the ratty, brown and tan sofa. A hole had been worn into the arm straight through the fabric and padding down to the wooden frame. Conner ran into the living room.

“I did a fart so loud puss’da’boots ran out of my room, Mama.” He said jumping up on her lap.

“You take after your Daddy.” Suzanne said and kissed the top of Conner’s head.

“Daaaadeee. Daaaadee. Where is Mardin?” Conner sang to a tune of his own creation.

“He’s coming home in a little bit, Buster-brown.” She stroked his hair. “Where did puss’da’boots run to? Did she go out the kitty door?”

“Puss’da’boots is daaaadee’s kitty and puss’da’boots run’d away to the outside of the yard with the people that live there outside of the yard and don’t like when the T.V. comes on for Star Trek.” Conner sang to a brand new, made up, tune.

“That’s my favorite song, Buster-brown, now go color in your room.”

The sound of mail being dropped through the door slot stopped Conner mid-run.

“COUNTING GAME!” He shouted and ran to retrieve the mail.

“Counting game.” Suzanne repeated with a tone of surrendering sorrow.

“Here Mama!” Conner said and jumped up on the couch next to Suzanne. “One big pink elvelope.”

“Envelope.” Suzanne corrected him. “Okay. One big pink envelope.”

“One, two, three, four, long white elve…enel…

“Envelopes.” She said.

“Envelopes. Four long white ones.” Conner said handing them to Suzanne. “And one big magzine.”

“And one big.” She stopped and looked at the white envelopes. She knew them all too well. Second and third ‘late’ notices. She tossed them on the coffee table and looked at the pink envelope. “This looks like a card. Do you think somebody sent us a card, Buster-brown?”

“Open it, Mama.” Conner said clenching and unclenching his little hands over it.

“I think I will.” She said tearing it open. “Oh it’s pretty. Looky, flowers!”

“Pretty flowers, Mama.”

“Let’s see who…” She stopped and read. “Oh my fuh.” She stopped. “Oh my god.”

“Who sended it, Mama?”

“It’s from our landlady, sweetheart. It’s from Mrs. Cantor.”

“Is it a birthday?” Conner asked waving his hands.

“No angel, it’s an eviction threat. Sent in a beautiful card. Such class.” Suzanne closed the card and looked at the ceiling.

“VICTION THREAD VICTION THREAD!” Conner sang.

“Go color, angel. K?”

“K. Mama.” Conner ran to his room and Suzanne sat silently, holding the card. She didn’t move until the sound of a car broke through her reverie.

A key in the door. Then.

“Hey Babe!” Martin shouted bounding into the room. “Oh. You’re right here. Why are you sitting in the dark?”

Suzanne looked up. She raised the card to him.

Martin leaned down and turned on the table lamp. “Wait. I’ve got to tell you…” Martin began.

“Read it.” She said

Martin took the card from her and read it.

“That BITCH!” He said.

“SHHHH!” Conner can hear you.

“DADEEEEEEE” Conner shouted running into the room, arms in the air. “Fly me!”

Martin picked him up and spun him around in the air.

“Not too much, Martin, he’ll puke.” Suzanne chided.

“Nod too mush, Mardin!” Conner yelled, belly laughing.

“I’m going to get his dinner, Martin. Put him down now and come into the kitchen with me, please.” Suzanne stood up. “Go color in your room, Buster-brown, I’ll call you when dinner is ready.”

Martin put Conner down.

“ Kraff Macuncheez!” Conner yelled, running to his room.

Suzanne took a pot out of the cabinet under the sink and filled it with water. She put it on the two burner stove top and turned on the flame. She pulled a hot dog package out of the fridge.

“One left.” She said to Martin. “One fucking hot-dog left. And no money to get any groceries until next Tuesday.”

“Wait.” Martin said hurrying out of the kitchen.

Suzanne heard the front door open, then the car door open and close. He was back in the kitchen in seconds and he was carrying two bags of groceries.

“Where’d you…” Suzanne said, mouth agape.

“This one,” Martin began. “is full of only one thing.” He upended the bag and emptied it on the kitchen table. Thirty boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese tumbled onto the table top. “Kraff Macuncheeze!” He said smiling. “Every box in the damn store!”

“Where did you get the money?” Suzanne asked stunned at the booty on the kitchen table.

“That’s not all, my love.” Martin said picking up the other grocery bag.

“What?” Suzanne said laughing.

“Wait, love, wait.” He set the bag next to the bounty of boxes on the table and reached in. “Champagne.” He held the bottle out to her like a waiter in a fancy restaurant. “And NOT the cheap stuff. He reached back into the bag and pulled out a plastic container. “Pate. Duck and Cognac.” He reached back in. “And Fritos and squirt cheese and hot dogs and buns and peanut butter and rye bread and milk.” He crumpled the empty bag. “How’s that for a bag full of goodies?”

Suzanne walked over to the table and picked up a box of Mac and Cheese.

“Did you rob a bank?” She said, only half kidding.

“I got a job.” He said and grabbed her around the waist. He pulled her to him.

She pushed away. “Where were you all night?”

“Saving our home.” He said.

“Don’t play now, Martin.” She picked up the bottle of champagne. “Fifty-dollars?! Martin where the hell did you get this money?”

“When I left yesterday I went to O’Briens.”

“The bar?” Suzanne said. “You spent the night in a bar?”

“It’s a Pub, Suze.”

“Just because they have pickled eggs on the counter doesn’t make it a Pub, Martin. It’s a freakin’ bar. And you’re telling me you spent the whole night there?”

“I was there till they closed. Till two. Then we went to Denny’s to eat and talk.” Martin said, putting the boxes of Mac and Cheese into a cupboard.

“We?” Suzanne asked.

“Nick Delmarko and his friends and me.” Martin said keeping his back to Suzanne.

“Nick…” She stopped mid-sentence.

“Don’t Suzanne.” Martin said quickly. “He’s not the same as he was in High School.”

“He was a hoodlum and gang member and an asshole. What’s different now, Martin? What has he gotten you into?”

“He’s saved our asses, Suze.”

“Oh my god. What has he gotten you into?”

“STOP IT!” He shouted at her. “He’s good now. I’m gonna drive for him.”

“Drive what?” She asked sitting at the kitchen table.

“He’s got a pickup and delivery service. I’m gonna drive for him. He gave me a two-hundred dollar advance and I’ll be on salary and on call for him.”

“On call?”

“He wants to use me on the important jobs. He trusts me cause of all we went through together in school. Let’s open the champagne, Babe. Let’s open it and celebrate.”

“I have to make Conner’s dinner.” She said walking to the stove. “You did good with the Mac and Cheese. Thank you.”

“Then after, we can have champagne and pate and nookie?” He wiggled his eyebrows and grinned the grin that had made her fall in love with him.

“After his bath and he’s in bed. Yes. But you’ll be drinking alone.” Suzanne patted her stomach. She walked to him and kissed his cheek. “I love you. You better not have done something stupid.”

“I haven’t, Babe. I haven’t. My first job’s tomorrow morning. We’re in the money!”

The following afternoon there was a knock on the front door. Then a ring of the doorbell and another knock.

“Coming!” Suzanne shouted from the kitchen. “Hang on, please.”

Conner ran from his room to the door and peaked out the long skinny window that ran along side of it.

“The policemens is here Mama!” He yelled running toward the kitchen.

“The what?” Suzanne came out of the kitchen drying her hands on a dish towel.

“Policemens!” Conner said clenching and unclenching his tiny hands. “Policemens!”

Suzanne went to the door and looked out the long window. She saw two uniformed policemen and a man in a suit standing in front of them.

“The hell?” She said quietly and opened the door. “Hi.”

“Mrs. Suzanne Daniels?” The man in the suit said.

“Yes. What …?” Suzanne said.

“Is your husband Martin Edward Daniels?” Suit man said.

“Yes. Who are you and what is this about?” Suzanne said formally with mounting concern.

Suit man reached into his coat and pulled out a leather wallet. He opened it and showed Suzanne the badge inside.

“I’m Detective Mallon and this is Officer Evans and Officer Anderson.”

“Hi.” Suzanne nodded toward the officers. “What’s going on?”

Detective Mallon looked down at Conner who hugged his mother’s leg.

“Is that your son?” Mallon asked.

“Yes. Conner. His name’s Conner.”

“Officer Evans will walk him around to your backyard while I speak to you.”

Evans stepped forward and Suzanne pulled Conner back away from the door.

“No. Officer Evans will not.” Suzanne said and turned toward Conner. “Go in your room and color, Buster-brown, K?”

“Policemens.” Conner said pointing.

“Yes, Policemen. Now go color and I’ll make you rye-bread and peanut butter toast in a little bit, deal?”

“Earlandmarys!” Conner shouted. “Yeah! DEAL!”

Suzanne stepped out onto the porch closing the door of their duplex behind her.

“What?” She barked.

“Ma’am.” Detective Mallon began what sounded like a memorized speech. “I and these other officers have been dispatched to inform you that during the commission of a felony, your husband, Martin Edward Daniels, was shot and killed by police officers this morning at 09:30 hours.”

Suzanne stared at him. Silent. Emotionless.

“Do you understand what I have told you, ma’am?” Mallon asked

“He lied to me.” Suzanne said and turned toward the door.

“Ma’am.” Mallon said taking her arm. “We’re not finished here yet.”

Suzanne turned back toward him and tears were gushing from her eyes. They poured down her cheeks and wet the front of her neck and blouse. Her face still showed absolutely no emotion, but the tears came in river floods.

“Do you need to go in and sit, Mrs. Daniels?” Mallon asked, genuinely concerned.

“Suzanne.” She said. “I’m Suzanne.”

“Can I come in, Suzanne. Sit with you for minute? Mallon took her arm and led her into the house. He moved her to the couch. She stared at it not knowing what to do. The tears still poured from her eyes. “Sit, Suzanne. Sit down, ma’am.”

Suzanne sat down and looked around the room.

“It’s messy in here. I’m sorry it’s messy.” She said. “I have a little boy and it gets messy so fast. It’s hard to keep up. I’m sorry it’s messy.”

“Suzanne, do you have someone we can call for you? Someone to come here and be with you? Family or friends?”

“He told me he was delivering things.” She said, the tears flowing torrents. “Driving for Nick.”

“Nicolas Delmarko is responsible for seventeen armored car robberies, Mrs. Daniels.”

“He’s all good now.” She said not hearing the detective. Not hearing anything but her own disjointed thoughts. “He’s not a hoodlum anymore.”

“Ma’am. Is there someone we can call?”

“The rent is due tomorrow and we have the cellphone bill and the water and power and Conner’s special education aid and the car payment. They’re gonna repossess the…” She trailed off and a sound began deep inside her. A low guttural sound, like the beginning of an angry lion’s roar. It was the sound of unspeakable grief. It exploded from her and she fell forward off the couch and on to her knees. She wasn’t crying so much as whaling. She rocked back and forth. Detective Mallon dropped to his knees and held her. Then all was blackness. Blessed blackness.

Suzanne woke up in her bed. She was in her nightgown and soft morning light was filtering in through the worn draperies.

“You’re awake!” A very familiar voice said as her bedroom door opened. “Good.”

Mrs. Cantor, her landlady came into the room.

“You ready to see Conner?” She asked Suzanne. “He’s very worried about you.”

“Where’s Martin?” Suzanne said. Then. “Oh no, no, no, no.”

“No time for tears.” Mrs. Cantor said opening the drapes. “You have a frightened child and responsibilities. I’ve called your sister in Canada and she’ll be here day after tomorrow.”

“What day is it?” Suzanne managed.

“It’s Wednesday. I’ll get you some coffee. You slept straight through the night. That’s good. You had the shock of your life yesterday. Poor Martin. Your rent is due today, but we’re going to give you a pass this month considering the circumstances.”

Conner bounded into the bedroom.

“Mama!” He shouted and jumped onto the bed. “You were cryin’ soooooo loud. You were cryin’ like a cryin’ crybaby!”

“That cop said that since you’ve been officially notified, Martin’s name is going to be released and once it’s released the news people are going to want to talk to you. Maybe even Channel Four. Maybe that wonderful Morgan Sterns will show up. You need to get up and get dressed. I’ll get your coffee.” Mrs. Cantor walked out of the bedroom.

“Why were you cryin’ so much, Mama?” Conner said leaning back against her and putting his hand into her hair. “Like a cryin’, crybaby.”

Suzanne gently pulled his hand from her hair.

“Mama’s gotta get up now.” She said to him. “Mama’s got to…. I’ve got to….”

A hard pounding knock came at the front door. Conner leapt off the bed and ran to it. Mrs. Cantor came running into the room.

“A van is outside!” She said, excited. “I saw a man with a big camera on his shoulder and another one with a microphone! It isn’t Morgan Sterns though. Put on your robe, Suzanne. Put on your robe and come talk to them!”

Suzanne zombie walked to the front door, not feeling or thinking, just obeying. Conner was peaking out the window.

“Camera Mama!!!! He squealed with excitement. “Camera with a big light!”

“Open the door, Suzanne.” Mrs. Cantor said, hiding in the kitchen doorway.

Suzanne opened the door. A man with a microphone and a man with a video camera on his shoulder stood on her porch. Several other people stood by them and more on her lawn. And there was one man who, inexplicable, had a huge bunch of helium balloons.

“Suzanne Daniels?” The microphone man said to her.

“Yes.” She answered. And the man with the camera flipped on the flood light attached to it.

“Suzanne Daniels of Farmwood, New York! You are the winner of the Ten Million Dollar Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes!”

One of the men on the porch handed her a giant rectangular piece of cardboard with writing on it. The balloon man handed her the balloons.

Suzanne began to laugh then. Humorless, low and terrifying. Suzanne fell to her knees and just laughed and laughed and laughed.

The Magic Of Theater – Another short story of mine called… “The Dresser Too”

The Dresser Too

By: S. Scott Bullock

“It was such a silly play. Not lifelike at all. And you know how I feel about art and reality.” Celeste turned away from the lighted mirror and faced Natalie. “The relationship between an actor and their dresser is different. Don’t you think Natalie? Aren’t we so much different than the characters in that play?”

“It was an amateur production of ‘The Dresser’ for god’s sake, Celeste. That’s material not exactly suited to an amateur production.” Natalie moved a stack of magazines on the chaise and sat down. “And I’m more of your assistant than your dresser, don’t you think?”

“I hate this dressing room.” Celeste said turning back toward the makeup mirror. “It’s so cramped. And that monstrosity you’re sitting on? That is truly the ugliest fabric I have ever seen in my entire life.”

“I could have someone exchange it if you’d like.” Natalie moved her hand along the chaise. “But I kinda like it. Especially the texture.”

“You would.” Celeste said smiling. “And no, we don’t need to raise another stink around here. This is the most unaccommodating theater we’ve every played. Except for New Haven. Remember New Haven?”

“How could I forget.” Natalie said still stroking the fabric.

“Could you hand me the bottle, dear? It’s time to start the war paint. How long till curtain? Are we at half-hour yet?”

“Yes, we’re at half-hour.” Natalie stood and pulled a makeup bag from the shelf above the mirror and set it down in front of Celeste.

Celeste stared at her reflection and leaned forward. She stroked the loose wrinkled skin of her aged neck.

“God, I’m old.” She said with a sigh. “I’m so old. How old am now, Natalie? I’ve lost count.”

“You don’t want to know, ‘Seal’.” Natalie said using the pet name she had made up for Celeste.

“No I don’t. You are right once again. Every year it takes more and more of this stuff to make me presentable.” Celeste opened the makeup bottle and poured some out on a makeup sponge.

“Every year more. Soon I will disappear beneath it. I will simply be a walking layer of Max Factor Number Seven where once was a beautiful young woman.”

“You are more beautiful with every passing day, Seal, and you know it.”

“And you, my dearest, oldest friend, are a sweet-talking liar.” She touched the sagging skin of her neck again. “The only woman that can get away with a neck like this is Maggie Smith. It works for her. It doesn’t work for me.” She pulled a makeup brush and powdered blush from the bag. “Speaking of liars, has Benton signed in yet. That old fart always waits till the very last minute. Worries EVERYONE to death.”

“He’s here.” Natalie said bending down and looking at Celeste’s reflection. “You need a little more base on your neck.”

“There isn’t enough in the bottle for all this skin.” She waggled the skin on her neck with her finger.

“Here.” Natalie said taking the bottle and sponge from Celeste. “Let me.”

Celeste raised her chin and Natalie applied the makeup.

“You are too good to me, my darling. I don’t deserve you.”

Natalie finished and put the bottle down on the table.

Celeste lowered her chin and took out a brush and powder. “Got to powder this down or my face will run like a candle on a hot radiator.” She stopped, the brush halfway to her face, and her breath caught in her throat. Her face grimaced and tears rolled down her freshly made up cheeks. They left trails as they fell.

“What?” Natalie knelt down and turned Celeste’s face to her. “What? Why are you crying?”

“I’m so old.” She said pulling tissues from a box on the table. “I’m so damn old and ugly and it’s just a matter of time before I start forgetting.”

“Forgetting what?” Natalie said taking Celeste’s hand.

“Everything.” Celeste answered. “Everything. My lines. My life. Everything.”

“Well, that’s enough of that.” Natalie said taking the tissues from Celeste and dabbing at her cheeks. “Enough of that. You are not ugly and your memory is just fine. And yes, you ARE old, but as they say, considering the alternative, old is okay.”

“I met Charlie Chaplin once.” Celeste said picking up her makeup sponge. She dabbed at the the tear tracks. “He was old and frail. His daughter told me that he was starting to forget things. The three of us were having tea at her house in Bel Aire. Geraldine. Her name is Geraldine. Charlie wanted to meet me after seeing me in ‘A Doll’s House’. I remember that day so clearly. It was pouring down rain and everything smelled of that lovely wet-rain smell. Fresh cut flowers were everywhere around her house. Beautiful huge bouquets. They made the inside smell like the outside garden. Geraldine had made tea cakes and piled them high on a four tear cake plate. And we had tea. Earl Grey. With lemon and honey. And Charlie just sat there. He would start a sentence and then just stop. Midway. He’d look out the window at the pouring rain, and then at his cup, and then at his daughter. Searching. I will never forget that look on his face. That look of being lost. He looked so lost. And frightened. I never want to feel that. Or look that way.” She stared down at the brush in her hand..

“Don’t get morbid on me. ‘Forgetting’ is not inevitable. And pick up the pace. Time’s a wastin’” Natalie said moving back to the chaise.

“It’s not morbid. It’s life. And life can really, really fall onto the skids sometimes.”

“Like, you have to tell ME?” Natalie said smiling.

“Why do you insist on wearing white on opening night?” Celeste said pointing a finger at Natalie’s reflection. “It’s not becoming.”

“Why do you always criticize my fashion sense.” Natalie said adjusting the tuck of her blouse.

“Well that’s just it. Fashion sense. I fear you lack it. And I say that with love.” Celeste began fishing through the bag. She pulled out an eyebrow pencil worn to a stub. “I suppose I should keep my mouth shut about it. I’ve never had that particular gift, though, being able to keep my mouth shut. That’s what Rebecca always said to me. ‘Mom, sometimes you just need to keep your mouth shut.’ But I never learned how to do that.”
“Really?” Natalie said grinning a Cheshire cat grin.

“Don’t be fresh.” Celeste began lining her eyes with the pencil stub. “Did Rebecca pick up at ‘Will Call’?”

“Yes.” Natalie said fussing with her blouse collar.

“All three?” Celeste said lowering her eyebrow pencil and staring hard at Natalie’s reflected face.

“Three?” Natalie said staring back.

“Rebecca’s new ‘friend’ and Cameron are supposed to come tonight.” Celeste pulled another brush from her bag. “I’m not at all interested in meeting her new ‘friend’ but I haven’t seen my grandson since he was eleven. How much time till curtain?”

“Ten minutes. Do your lips.” Natalie reached into the bag, pulled out a lipstick tube and handed it to Celeste. “Here. Coral Fantasy. Because we all need a little fantasy.”

“That’s the last thing I need. Theater is too damn much fantasy.” Celeste took the tube, pulled off the cap and rolled the stick upward. “Why do you stay with me?” She spoke with her lips stretched over her teeth applying the lipstick. It made the vowels and consonants sound distorted and comical. “I certainly don’t pay you enough, so I seriously doubt it’s an issue of money. So why then? Why do you stay with me?”

“I…” Was all Natalie got out.

“I used to ask Malcolm that all the time.” Celeste rolled the lipstick down, put the cap on and slid the tube back into her makeup bag. She looked up and into the eyes of her own reflection. “I never could understand why he stayed with me. I was always rehearsing or performing or going on tour. All that time for myself with none left over for him. And when I asked him he’d always say the same thing. ‘Because I love you.’ He’d say. ‘Because I love you.’ Isn’t that lovely, Natalie?”

“Yes. It is lovely.” Natalie said with just a hint of sorrow.

“Do you love me too, Natalie?” Celeste said smiling. “Is that why you stay too? Because you Loooooooove me?”

“Not like Malcolm did.” Natalie grinned. “That’s for damn sure. But I do love you, Seal. You are very special to me.”

“I’m not paying you any more for that.” Celeste grinned putting a little more blush on her cheeks.

“Not too much blush, Seal.” Natalie stood up and leaned into the mirror for a better look. “You’re not playing a hooker.”

“Don’t be uncouth.” Celeste said and put down the makeup brush.

“I have plenty of couth and you’ve got five minutes. Get a jiggle on.”

“Five minutes? But the boy hasn’t come by and called five minutes yet?” Celeste turned toward the door. “The boy hasn’t come by. Has he Natalie? Has the boy come by calling five minutes?”

“If he did, I didn’t hear him either, but I have a watch, Seal, and you’ve got five more minutes.”

“I don’t trust watches. Especially yours. Go ask the boy.” Celeste turned back toward the mirror. “I’m done here. The doctor has done all she can for this patient. But I’m afraid it’s terminal. Terminal oldness. With a neck like a pissed off turkey.”

“Oh my.” Natalie clutched imaginary pearls. “You’ve said a naughty word! What’s come over you, Celeste Montgomery!??!”

“Smart ass.” Celeste dropped her brush into the bag. “Go ask the boy.”

“My watch is correct. But I’ll get the boy.” Natalie patted Celeste’s shoulder. “You are a royal pain.” She said and opened the door.

Celeste regarded her reflection again.

“You’re going to forget your lines. You’re going to forget where you are and you’re going to go out there and make an ass of yourself.” She said to her reflection.

The door opened and Natalie walked in followed by a young man in his twenties.

“Celeste.” Natalie said seriously. “Donald has something to say to you.” She motioned toward the young man. “Donald.”

“Three minutes till places, ma’am.” Donald said. He nodded to Natalie and walked out of the room.

“Thanks, Donny.” Celeste called after him, staring at Natalie. “I told you your watch was wrong. It wasn’t five minutes till places it was three.”

“You asked me two minutes ago!” Natalie said laughing. “That would make it five minutes till places.”

“I still don’t trust your watch. Now help me with my wig.”

“No wig in the first act, Seal.”

“Oh. Yes. Sorry.” Celeste stood up and adjusted her skirt. “Costume okay?”

“Perfect.” Natalie said smiling.

“Mrs. Claymore, Mr. Deloreo, so nice of you all to come.” Celeste said with a grand hand gesture.

“Huh?” Natalie asked.

“My first line.” Celeste said smiling. “I always say my first line out loud before curtain. Just so I won’t forget. “Mrs. Claymore, Mr. Deloreo, so nice of you all to come.”

Natalie picked the makeup bag from the table and placed it back on the shelf.

“You ready to head to the stage?” Natalie asked taking Celeste’s arm.

“As ready as I’ll ever be.” Celeste grinned and walked arm in arm with Natalie toward the door. “When I was six years old my father gave me a bracelet.” Celeste said, “It was silver and had imitation rubies all around it. I told him that it was the prettiest thing I had ever seen and he told me that the only thing prettier than that bracelet was me.”

They walked together down a long carpeted hallway. Beige walls lined with bad oil paintings met a ceiling hung with florescent fixtures. As they walked, Celeste talked.

“He told me that he loved me more than life itself and that if I ever felt scared or alone that all I had to do was put on my bracelet and he would be near me, loving me and holding me and making me safe. And it always worked. Even after Daddy died, whenever I needed him I just put on my bracelet and he was there.”

“That’s very sweet.” Natalie said.

“I need it now.” Celeste said quietly. “I need that bracelet now.”

They stopped in front of a set of swinging double doors.

“Ready?” Natalie asked.

“I don’t ever want to forget that story.” Celeste said looking up into Natalie’s eyes. “I never want to forget about my bracelet and my Daddy.”

Natalie opened one of the doors and walked ahead into the large dining hall. She turned back toward Celeste.

“It’s okay, sweetie. Come on in.”

Celeste stepped in. Natalie took Celeste’s arm and led her to a long table. All the seats but one were taken by the elderly and ancient.

“Here you go, Seal. Here’s your seat, sweetheart.” Natalie pulled out the chair. She straightened the blouse front of her nurse’s uniform and pushed the seat in after Celeste sat. “I’m going to go take care of some things while you eat, Seal. I’ll be back in a bit. Eat everything on your plate and talk to all your friends here.”

Celeste looked around the table smiling.

“Mrs. Claymore, Mr. Deloreo, so nice of you all to come.” She said.

More of my writings. I really hope you read and enjoy … If you’re so inclined.

It’s very important to tie up loose ends.  Just ask Dallas.

Fiction:

Closure

By: S. Scott Bullock

“Nope.” Dallas said to his five-year old son. “I’ve never met her or even seen her.

“Are you sad for that, Daddy.” Michael said sitting on the floor in front of Dallas, building his Lego submarine.

“Sometimes.” Dallas said, looking over at his wife. She sat in the chair opposite him watching with that expression that says, ‘walk carefully here, Dal.’ “Most times I’m just real curious to find out what she looks like and what kind of lady she is. If she’s even still alive.”

With that last sentence, Carrie stood up and walked to their son.

“Enough for now, Mike-Man.” She said to him. “Let’s pick up those Legos and head to the bathtub. You smell like..” She started.

“A PLAYDOUGH POOP FACTORY!” Michael shouted, laughing and holding up his arms, field-goal fashion.

Dallas put his hand to his mouth to hide the grin and did his best not to bust out laughing.

“Nice language.” She said to her son while looking square at her husband. “I just can’t imagine where you learned it.”

Michael began gathering up his Legos and placing them in a big plastic bin.

“Hey, Daddy, do you have another daddy like you have another mommy?” Michael said reaching under the chair for a wayward Lego brick.

Carrie cautioned Dallas with another glance.

“I sure do.” Dallas said a little too happily. “But I’ve never met him either.”

“To the tub.” Carrie said picking up the plastic bin full of Legos.

An hour later Carrie walked back into the their small living room.

“Clean, fed and in bed.” She said and plopped down onto the couch next to Dallas. “I’m pooped.”

“Like a Play-dough Poop Factory?” He said to her grinning.

“Did you teach him that?” She said, sitting forward and turning to face him.

“I am NOT guilty of that one, Kerosene” He said through a chuckle. “I thought you had.”

“I doubt your dubious sincerity, Dalrumple.” She said and laid back against him. “It’s time for some ‘I Love Lucy’. The DVD is still in the player.

“I need closure.” Dallas tentatively began, anticipating the violent storm this next conversation was going to invoke.

“Oh. Shit.” Carrie said sitting up and away from him.

“I’ve got to find her and put this to bed in my head.”

“Dallas.” She began. “Every freakin’ year this comes up. And always the day after Michael’s birthday. Do you SEE the pattern, Dallas. Do you GET the psychology behind this overwhelming desire to find your BIRTH mother?”

“I just feel like I didn’t give it a good enough try before.” Dallas said, head down, looking at his hands.

“Two years, Dal? Two years wasn’t a good enough try?” Carrie put her hand under his chin and gently raised it so they were eye to eye.

“The first two years of our marriage took a backseat to your quest. Two years, Dal. I nearly left you toward the end of those two years. I never stopped loving you, but I nearly left you. And if I hadn’t gotten pregnant, I may have.” She moved her hand from under his chin and put it on his knee. “I can’t live through that again, Dal. I can’t see you banging your head against that brick wall over and over and over again. It kills me inside to see you struggling and failing over and over. Every Goddamn clue another dead end and crushing disappointment. I can’t stand seeing you hurting so deeply. Especially when I can’t do anything to help you.”

“I’m hurting now.” He said softly. “I’m hurting now and you can help me now.”

Carrie inhaled for a count of five and exhaled to a count of ten.

“Low blow.” She said, and stood up.

“Don’t go.” He said grabbing her hand.

“I’m just going to get us some coffee.” She said turning away. “Then we can finish this.”

Ten minutes later she came back into the room carrying a half -full bottle of wine and two glasses. Soft rain from an early Fall storm had begun to fall and Dallas was staring out the window at the rivulets rolling down the glass panes.

“Screw coffee.” Carrie said. “This topic requires wine. Why don’t you light us a fire?”

“Huh?” Dallas said, lost in his reverie.

“Fire. Fireplace. Fire, good.” Carrie said ala The Frankenstein Monster. “We drink wine. Smoke cigar. Talk mama searching.” She set the glasses on the coffee table and filled them to the very top with the crimson-red Cabernet. She set the empty bottle on the table. “We need to buy some bigger glasses.” She said handing a glass to Dallas.

“Thank you.” He said taking the glass. “I’m sorry to be putting this on you again.”

“For better or worse.” She said lifting the glass toward him in a ‘cheers’ and then taking a long swallow of wine. “Ahhhh. Good month. August.”

“So, you’re okay with it?” He asked putting his glass down on the table.

“With the wine?” She asked, stone faced.

“You know what I mean. Are you okay with me searching again?”

“I love you.” She said before downing her huge glass of wine. “That is why I DON’T want you to do this, at the very same time I DO want you to do this. Are you gonna drink that?” She said pointing to his untouched wine.

“Don’t even think about bogarting my wine.” He said picking up the glass. “I was letting it breathe.”

“Five dollar wine doesn’t need to breathe.” She said. “It’s already oxygen deprived and brain dead. So. How will this version of ‘the grand search for mama’ begin?”

“Jane’s brother is a detective who specializes in impossible missing person cases. She said he can find anyone on the planet who is still alive.”

“Jane?” Carrie said, involuntarily raising an eyebrow.

“Mark’s cousin.” Dallas said.

“Mark?” She asked. “Mark Dennis?!”

“Yeah.” He said and looked away.

“Oh. So. Your barber’s cousin knows a man who knows a man?”

“Something like that.” He said looking down at his hands again.

“If you give me your wine, I’ll say ‘go for it’.” She said holding out her hand.

“Here.” He said smiling and handing her his glass. “Drink up. And I love you.”

The next year the leaves began to fall from Micheal’s ‘treehouse tree’ in the backyard, signaling the fall of another Fall. Dallas sat at his makeshift desk in the den of their cozy Craftsman style house writing a check. Carrie came into the room with wine and glasses.

“Who the hell writes checks anymore, Dalrumple?”

“It’s for Jake.” Dallas said tearing the perforated check from the book. “He’s old school. I’m thinking this may be the last one. I don’t know if I can deal with this anymore.”

Carrie poured a glass of wine and brought it to Dallas.

“Here.” She said, handing him the glass. “Listen to these words because I will only say them once. And quite frankly I can’t believe I am saying them at all. You WILL NOT quit again. You will continue this quest until you have a definitive answer. You will continue to pay this ‘finder-of-lost souls’ until our account is emptied. You will NOT quit again.”

“It’s been a year, Carrie.”

“Yeah? So?” She poured herself some wine and took a gulp.

“You drink too fast. And too much.” He said to her.

“A direct result of being married to you.”

“Where’s Michael?” Dallas said and sipped his wine.

“He’s in his tree-house with Kevin and don’t change the subject.”

“I’m not changing the…” He began and his cell phone rang. He pulled it from his pocket and looked at the incoming number. “Speak of the devil.” He said to Carrie then pressed the ‘accept call’ button. “Hey Jake, what’s up…….. Yeah, I am……… You’re kidding?…… You kidding?…….. Where?…… All of them?….. Okay…… Yes…… Okay…….. I’m home…… Yes, I will…… No…… Oh, shit…..No…..Okay Jake…… yeah ….. Okay, bye Jake. And thank you.” He pressed the phone off and looked at Carrie with tears welling in his eyes.

“WHAT!?!?” She shouted at him.

“He found her.” Dallas said just above a whisper.

Carrie lept to her feet and ran to him. She dropped to her knees and pulled him into a bear hug.

“Oh my god!” She screamed. “Oh my god! I can’t believe it! Who is she?! What’s her name? Where does she live?! Does she want to meet you?!” She pulled back and looked at him. He was totally still and staring out the window. “Dal?”

“She’s dead. She died shortly after she had me.”

“Oh, shit.” Carrie sighed, taking his hand. “I’m so, so sorry, Dal.

“MOM!!!” Michael shouted opening the back door. “MOOOOOOOM!”

“Not now Michael!” Carrie shouted back.

“BUT MOM! CAN KEVIN SPEND THE NIGHT AND EAT DINNER WITH US TONIGHT?!”

“NOT NOW MICHAEL!” Carrie exploded back.

“Let him.” Dallas said picking up his wine glass and downing it all at once. “Let him.”

“But, Dal…”

“Let him.” He said quietly and then yelled “YES, MIKE-MAN. TELL KEVIN TO ASK HIS MOM AND THEN HE CAN STAY!”

“THANKS DAD! I LOVE YOU!” Michael shouted and slammed the back door shut.

“He loves me.” Dallas said smiling up at Carrie.

“I do too.” She said and kissed his cheek.

The next morning there was a loud knock at the front door. Michael ran to it and pulled it open, just as Carrie came out of the kitchen.

“DAMMIT, Michael.” She said heading to the door. “I told you not to open the door unless you know who it ….” She stopped when she saw who was standing on their porch.

“Hi, Carrie.” Jake, ‘The Finder-Of-Lost-Souls’ said smiling his ‘never-to-be-trusted’ smile. “Dallas here?” He asked stepping into the house.

“Wait here.” She said a little too strongly. “I’ll get him.”

A moment later Dallas stepped into the entry hall.

“Hey, Jake.” He said puzzled. “What’s up?”

“Can I come in for a bit?” Jake said raising his hands palm up and shrugging.

“Oh, shit. Yeah. Sorry. Come on in.” Dallas motioned toward the living room. “You want some coffee or something?” He asked sitting down and pointing at the chair across from him. “Sit, please. You want anything?”

“You got any scotch?” Jake asked, sitting down. “Doesn’t have to be top shelf or anything.”

“Sure.” Dallas said. “Hey, Kerosene!” He shouted toward the kitchen. “Could you bring us the Scotch and a couple of glasses.”

“And ice.” Jake said.

“And ice!” Dallas called out. He looked over at Jake. “She’ll be here in a… why are you here Jake?”

“Well. I think I can help you a little more with this whole mother thing.” Jake said pulling out a cigarette. “S’ok if I smoke?”

“I’d prefer you didn’t. ” Dallas said.

“Oh.” Jake said putting the cigarette carefully back into the pack. “Excuuuuuuse me.”

“Jake, why are you here? I got your email with her information. Who she was and all the other stuff.” Dallas said.

“Here’s your booze boys.” Carrie said walking into the room with a bottle, two glasses and a small bag of ice. She put the bottle and glasses on the table and tossed the bag of ice onto Dallas’s lap. “And your ice.” She said curtsying “May I get you anything from the hot menu?”

“Thank you, toots.” Jake said grinning. “How about some buffalo wings.”

“Thanks, Carrie.” Dallas said

Jake picked up a glass and held it toward Dallas.

“Fill’er up, amigo.” Jake said grinning.

Dallas poured a generous glassful of scotch, took some ice from the bag in his lap and dropped it in.

“Thank ya sir.” Jake said taking a swig. “Oh. Cheap stuff.” He said through a laugh.

“Did you want your last payment, Jake? Because I mailed the check yesterday.”

“How’d ya like to meet your birth mom’s sister and mother?” Jake said before downing his scotch and holding his glass out for a refill.

“I’d like that very much, Jake.” Dallas poured more scotch into Jake’s glass.

“Here.” Jake said pulling a pocket sized spiral notebook from his pocket. He flipped open the notebook and leafed through the pages. “Here.” He said again and tore out a page. “This is the phone number and the address.

Dallas took the page.

“How’d you find this?” He asked staring at the names and numbers.

“We got lucky with those flooded out files from the hospital basement. Two boxes partially survived and one of them had your birth file in it. What was left of it anyway.” Jake downed his second glass.

“More?” Dallas asked holding up the bottle.

“Nope. Two’s the limit before five. But after five…. well…. just stand back.” He let out a huge laugh and then belched. “’Scuse me. Anyway, I wrote down all the stuff I could get from the file and this was in it. Look’s like your mama came from money. Maybe you could work something out with the family. If you know what I mean.” Jake winked at Dallas. “Oh, hell.” He said picking up his glass. “Fill’er up. This is a celebration after all.”

Carrie and Dallas sat in bed, propped up against the padded headboard. She held a glass of wine, he the note page Jake had given him.

“What can I gain?” Dallas said.

“What can you lose?” Carrie countered and finished the last of her wine. She put the glass on the night table and scooted down in bed. She moved closer to Dallas and snuggled against him. “That closure thing, remember?”

Dallas put the note page on his night table and picked up the remote control. Carrie put her hand on top of it.

“Really?” She said grinning. “TV? Now?”

Dallas put down the remote and rolled on top of her. Then, from Michael’s room.

“MOOOOOOM!” Michael yelled. “Kevin puked!”

Dallas stood at the bottom of the long driveway. He had parked his rental on the street. He felt that driving up to the door might be perceived as pushy. He didn’t want to appear pushy. Or over-eager or rude or uncouth or….

“Jesus.” He said aloud and began the long walk to the front door.

The house was at the top of a hill, in an old San Francisco neighborhood. All the houses were Victorian style and this one, the one he was headed toward, was the biggest on the block. It could easily be qualified as a mansion. As he got closer he saw that it wasn’t aging well. The elaborate, multicolored, paint job was chipped and faded and many of the shutters hung at odd angles. The yard and gardens were neglected and overgrown. Dallas heard a line from an old movie echo in his head. ‘Ruined finery’ it said. He reached the carved front double door and grasped the lion’s head knocker. He suddenly felt like he was stepping into some kind of black and white horror movie. The thought made a little chill run up his spine and made the hairs on his neck stand up and tingle. He slammed the knocker three times and stood back from the door.

“Coming!” A very delicate and sweet voice came seconds later. “Hold on please. Coming.”

The door swung open and a beautiful, elegant woman in her fifties stood in front of Dallas. She wore a lavender sweater on top of a deep purple blouse, her skirt was diaphanous in tones of blues and purples. Dallas could smell her light orchid perfume and noted immediately that her eyes were as lavender as her sweater. She held a photo album in her hand. She looked into Dallas’s eyes and dropped the album to the ground.

“Oh my god.” She said quietly. “Oh my dear, loving god. You look EXACTLY like him. Exactly like him!” She said and moved toward Dallas.

Dallas moved in to pick up the photo album but she stopped him with her forward movement.

“I’m Dallas Alexander.” He said lifting his hand to shake hers. She moved in and embraced him in a bear hug of warmth and affection.

“I know who you are!” She said laughing and holding him tighter. “You’re my nephew. That’s who you are. You’re my precious late sister’s baby boy. I’m your Aunty Margaret and you’re my nephew and I am so happy to meet you and hug you!” She held on so long that Dallas began to feel a little uncomfortable. He had already released his half of the hug, then re-hugged because she hadn’t let go yet, then released again and she was still holding tight. He was about to re-hug again when she let him go.

“Oh. I’m sorry.” She said laughing and releasing him from her embrace. “I’ve been accused several times of being overly emotional. But I can’t help myself, here. I’m just so darned happy to meet you. Now come inside. You’ve got to meet Mama! Your Grandmama!”

Dallas bent down and picked up the photo album. He held it out to his new found Aunty but she was already leading the way into the house.

“Close the door, sweetie and follow me.” She said over her shoulder.

He obliged.

It was difficult to keep up with her as she flew through the house heading who-knows-where. She was a purple blur with silver hair. She disappeared into a doorway and Dallas followed. He entered a cozy room with walls covered in hung tapestries. The furniture and furnishings all looked antique and expensive. The room had a large bay window and the light filtering in bathed everything in the warm glow of an aging dusk.

“Come in!” Margaret said standing next to a huge wing-backed chair in the middle of the room. Seated in the chair was a movie version of the typical patrician lady. She looked to be in her seventies but was in fact well into her eighties. She wore an elegant burgundy and gold caftan with a high collar and tapered cuffs. Her feet were barely visible but Dallas could see that they were covered in golden house slippers. Her demurely coiffed, snow-white hair, and her perfect, seated posture added to the effect that one was being presented to aristocratic royalty. Dallas felt an almost irresistible urge to bow.

“Come meet your Grandmama, Dallas!” Margaret said. “Come over here so she can see you!”

Dallas stepped into the room and handed the photo album to Margaret. He stepped closer to the seated woman. He held out his hand and she recoiled.

“Bradley Tranger!” She shouted at him. “How dare you show your…”

“No Mama!” Margaret said taking her mother’s clinched fist into her hands. “This is Dallas. This is Marie’s boy. Remember. We’ve talked about Marie’s boy.”

The old woman sat statue still, her arm raised in a fisted salute. Margaret released her hand and it fell to her lap and relaxed.

“Marie’s boy.” The old woman said with a deep, age old sorrow in her voice.

“Yes, Mama. You remember. We talked about Marie’s boy finding us and coming to visit.

“Dallas.” Margaret began. “This is your Grandmama. Her name is Amanda. Mama, this is your Grandson, Dallas.”

“It’s my real pleasure to meet you, ma’am.” Dallas said and held out his hand.

“Call her Grandmama, Dallas!” Margaret said.

“Grandmama.” Dallas said feeling a bit uncomfortable. But with another feeling also. A feeling of belonging. A very unfamiliar feeling of belonging.

“You look just like him.” Amanda said staring deeply into Dallas’s eyes. “So much like him.” She raised her age spotted hand and gently touched his face. “So much.”

“Who do I look like?” Dallas asked looking back and forth between his brand new relatives.

“Let me show you.” Margaret said opening the photo album. “Sit over here on the window seat. The light is still good. Sit down over here and take a looky-look at this!”

Dallas sat on the window seat and Margaret laid the book on his lap. It was open to a page of Polaroid color pictures of teenagers. Most were group pictures but three of them were close-ups of a teenage boy. Dallas stared at the face in the pictures and felt the world waver and slip away from him for a moment.

“It’s me.” He said, feeling as if he had moved up and away from the room.

“It’s your daddy.” Margaret said and touched Dallas’s shoulder.

“You look just like him.” Amanda said looking out the window. A hard rain began then. The kind of rain that can happen in San Francisco in an instant. “Rain’s started.” She said from a far away place in her mind.

Dallas turned the page of the album.

“Are there more pictures of him?” He asked. “And what about my mom? Are there pictures of my mom?”

“Lots.” Margaret said. “But let’s have some coffee and talk first, okay? Then I’ll get out all the other pictures and memorabilia and stuff.”

“Oh. Yeah. Sure. Sorry. I’m just really excited about all this.” Dallas closed the album and set it beside him on the window seat.

“Mama?” Margaret said, moving to her mother and taking her hand. “You want some coffee? You want to have coffee with Dallas and me?”

“Just like him.” Amanda said, still far away.

“Coffee, Mama?” Margaret repeated, touching Amanda’s shoulder.

“Coffee? Oh, yes. I’d love some coffee. And don’t you dare short me on the cream and sugar. Don’t you dare do that, Maggie.” Amanda said and smiled one of the most dazzling smiles that Dallas had ever seen. “I’m old.” She said to Dallas. “Cream and sugar won’t hurt me.” She kept a frozen gaze at Dallas and her eyes lit with a starlight sparkle. They were the same astounding shade of lavender as her daughter’s and Dallas wondered if his own mother had had eyes that color. “I’m sorry, young man.” She said to him. “I get confused sometimes. It doesn’t last. But it is one of the many crosses I bear. You are my Marie’s child, and as such, you are my grandchild, and as more such, I love you and will care for you always. Would you come over and give your ancient Grandmama a hug and kiss?”

Dallas rose and walked to Amanda. He knelt by her chair and she embraced him with the same warmth and affection that Margaret had done at the door. He felt that odd feeling rise up in him again. Belonging. Home. Comfort. No more longing.

“Coffee and cake in the kitchen!” Margaret shouted from down the hall.

Amanda released Dallas from her hug and rose from the chair.

“If I may take your arm,” She said putting her arm through his. “I’ll show you to the kitchen.”

“Are you okay if I call you Amanda?” He said putting his hand on hers. “Grandmama is a little tough on the tongue right now.”

Amanda let out a guffaw.

“Thank Christ!” She said still laughing. “You’re normal! That made me a little uncomfortable too. Margaret tends toward the over emotional. Yes, please call me Amanda. Or even ‘Hey, Old Lady’. The kitchen is through here.”

Amanda led Dallas into the huge kitchen. It looked more like a restaurant kitchen than a residential one. Industrial stainless steel appliances dominated the room and an enormous stainless steel counter with four, deep sinks dominated one entire wall. Off to the corner was what best would be called a breakfast nook. A banquette upholstered in red leather surrounded a teak-wood table. A banquette and table that could easily accommodate fifteen people.

“Sit, sit, sit!” Margaret called out from the table. “Looky-look at what we’ve got for you, Dallas.”

“Calm down, Maggie.” Amanda said sitting down and sliding into the banquette. “You’ll bust a corset stay. Slide in Dallas. There’s enough room for all of us. And thirty or forty more of our nearest and dearest friends.”

“Looky-look, Dallas and Mama!” Margaret stood up and waved her arm above the table like Vanna White displaying the grand prize. “Three kinds of cake! Pastries! Two pies and cupcakes!”

“Wow!” Dallas said sliding in.

“Mother of God, Maggie!” Amanda said. “Are you feeding all of San Francisco?”

“It’s a VERY special occasion, Mother!” Margaret said and picked up a platter of cupcakes. “Take one, Dallas. Take some of everything and I’ll get the coffee.” She put the platter down in front of Dallas and moved to the over-sized stove top where an old style coffee percolator bubbled away.

“As you may have gathered.” Amanda began. “Margaret is excitable but decidedly sane. I, on the other hand, have a sandy grip on sanity but am not excitable in the least. I am also blessed with a keen ability to read people and what I read from you, dear grandson, is a need for information. A need that exceeds your need for lemon-meringue spice cake. Am I near to being correct?”

Dallas smiled. He felt so close to this amazing woman at that moment. Alien feelings. So many alien feelings in so short a time.

“Very close to being correct.” He said smiling at her.

“Maggie.” Amanda ordered. “Pour the coffee. Set it in front of us. Speak not, unless I ask you for assistance. Don’t serve cakes or pies or pastries yet. Please just sit and be quiet while I fill our dear relative here, in on the sordid and sad goings on that led him to us so late in life.”

“Fine, Mama.” Margaret pouted. “You don’t have to be so mean.”

“Life is mean, dear daughter. Life is meaner than I could ever be.” Amanda turned to Dallas. “This isn’t pretty, dear one. But it is the truth, and as the old saying goes, ‘the truth shall set you free’.”

Dallas took the coffee mug from Margaret who stood behind him.

“Cream or sugar?” She asked quietly.

“Maaaaaaaggie.” Amanda drew out her name in a warning.

“Well! Maybe he wants cream or sugar?” Margaret whined.

“I’m fine.” Dallas said. “Black. I take it black.”

“Put our coffees down and sit, Maggie.”

Margaret did as she was instructed with the coffees then slid into the banquette next to her mother.

“Your mama’s name was Marie Helena Sinclair. She was the oldest of my three children. Margaret here is my youngest.”
Margaret raised her hand and did a little wave toward Dallas. Amanda shot her a glance and she put her hand in her lap.

“My middle child, Alan, died in Vietnam.”

“Oh wow.” Dallas said. “I’m sorry. That’s awful. I’m so sorry.”

“It’s one of the many crosses I bear, dear one. One of the many. Your mother was an angel on this earth and made it her short life’s work to help anyone and everyone who crossed her sainted path. And I say ‘sainted’ without any exaggeration or ignorance. I am an angry, lapsed Catholic and I came to understand the bullshit concept the church has of what makes a saint. Christoper and Paul have nothing on Marie.”

“Mama!” Margaret yelped. “Language!”

“He’s a big boy, Maggie. Now be still.” She shifted in her seat and turned more toward Dallas. “When Marie was sixteen she met a boy from….. a boy from….” Amanda stopped and looked toward the kitchen door. “Did you call Alan?” She said. “Maggie, did you call Alan?”

“Mama.” Margaret said and turned her mother’s face to her. “Mama, it’s a wrong thought. You’re having a wrong thought.

Amanda looked deeply into her daughter’s face. Dallas saw the strong, sassy, confident woman melt away. Her face looked like a terrified child, lost in a forest filled with unspeakable demons at that moment. Dallas’s heart sank and the sense of belonging that he felt so strongly before transformed into one of fear and concern. He wanted to leave just then. Something inside of him was screaming for him to run. Leave this craziness and go home to Carrie and Michael. How much more did he need to know? How much more?

“Oh.” Amanda said after what seemed an eternity. She sipped her coffee. “You’ve cheated me on the cream and sugar again, Maggie.”

“I’ll get you some more, Mama.” Margaret said and slid out of the banquette.

“I do that sometimes, Dallas.” She said to him, looking like her old sassy self again. “I get confused sometimes. It doesn’t last. But it is one of the many crosses I bear.”

Dallas felt the new concerns float away and warmth return to his heart.

“We all have our crosses.” He said and put his hand on top of hers. She took her other hand and placed it on his.

“You are very dear. I can tell that already.” She smiled at him. “Like your mama, I’d say. Just like your mama, so very dear. But sadly you look just like him.”

“Sadly?” Dallas asked.

“Bradley Tranger was your daddy. And Bradley Tranger was a son-of-a-bitch.” She pulled her hands away from Dallas and placed them palms down on the table.

“MAMA!” Margaret chided, bringing over the cream pitcher and sugar bowl. “Language!”

“Margaret.” She chided back. “You know full well that the only way to describe Bradley Tranger is that he was a well and true, died-in-the-wool, son-of-a-bitch!” She took up the cream pitcher and poured in half a cup full of cream then spooned four spoons full of sugar in the nearly over-flowing cup. “Son of a BITCH.” She said slamming the spoon down on the silver tray.

“What’d he do?” Dallas asked, looking back and forth between the two women.

“He..” Margaret began.

“Shush!” Amanda hissed. “I’ll tell it. I’ll tell it all.” She shifted her position again and was once more facing Dallas. “When your mama was sixteen, she met Bradley Tranger. He was a transfer from another school and we didn’t find out until much later that he had been expelled from that noteworthy establishment and sent here to Andrew O’Brien High School as a last resort. He was seventeen and a senior. Well, in what would be the first of three horribly bad decisions in your mama’s young life, she allowed Mr. Tranger to take her to a movie one fateful Saturday evening and then promptly fell head-over-heels in love with him.”

“He was so handsome.” Margaret said, peeling the paper cup from a cupcake. “Like you, Dallas. So handsome.”

“Maggie.” Amanda turned and stared daggers at her daughter.

“Sorry.” Margaret said.

“Your mama allowed him to take her innocence. Horrible decision number two. And you were conceived. Which, I suppose, shows that good can come from bad. You are very dear.” She patted his hand and lifted a finger to his cheek. “So very dear. Being good Catholics, abortion was not to be considered and so we sent Marie to a Catholic shelter for unwed mother’s. You were born and whisked away. When Marie came home, the only thing she wanted was to see Bradley Tranger. But the son-of-a-bitch had moved on. He moved away after being expelled yet again. She wrote him and called his family home for days and days with no answer. Several weeks later she got a letter from him. It was mailed from San Diego. That’s way down south, San Diego. It was as beautiful, embossed envelope with a card on the inside that had a picture of the ocean and seagulls soaring above it at sunset. He had written only three words on the inside of the beautiful card. He had written, ‘fuck-off bitch’. And ‘bitch’ was misspelled. My beautiful daughter, my Marie, took one of her Daddy’s many pistols from the display case on the wall in her Daddy’s den and blew a hole into her head.” Amanda paused and looked at her hands resting in front of her on the lacquered wooden table. “Bad decision number three.” She said.

“I don’t even know….” Dallas began. “I can’t say what…”

“It’s alright, dear one. Words fail at times. Life fails at times too.” She looked to her daughter. “Margaret, will you please help me to the bathroom and while I’m gone pour me some more coffee and get Dallas whatever he may want or need?”

Dallas slid out of the banquette and helped Amanda stand up.

“Thank you, dear one.” She said and took Margaret’s arm.

“Where’s your cane, Mama?” Margaret asked as the headed to the doorway.

“In the bedroom. I’ll get after I tee-tee.” Amanda said in loud whisper.

Dallas’s cellphone began to ring as Margaret came back into the kitchen. She was precariously balancing six or seven over-sized photo albums. Dallas rushed over to help her.

“No, no, no.” She said. “I’ve got these. You answer your mobile.” She said plopping the books down on the over-sized counter. “Looky-look at all these memories we get to share.”

Dallas pressed ‘Accept’ on his phone.

“Hi Kerosene” He said with a new found, genuine happiness in his voice.

The first bullet caught him in the right rotator cuff. It blew his arm backward and his phone went flying. The phone struck Margaret in the head with so much force that she fell to her knees stunned and bleeding. The second and third bullets pierced Dallas’s throat and chest, just to the left of his heart. He fell backwards into the banquette. Amanda walked into the room from her position in the doorway and moved to the banquette. She had her wolf’s head cane in one hand and one her late husband’s pistols in the other.

“Bradley Tranger, you filthy son-of-a-bitch.” She hissed. “You killed my Marie and now I’m gonna kill you.” She pointed the gun directly at his forehead and pulled the trigger.

More of my written words. Tonight…. “Working Girl”.

Here’s a little piece about a feisty little lady.

FICTION:

WORKING GIRL

By: S. Scott Bullock

Willa Himmel stood at the opening of the pedestrian overpass with the same trepidation she felt every time she was forced to traverse it. She hated this damn bridge and she hated the fact that she had to use it every time she wanted to cross the damn freeway to get to her bus stop. The thing was really long and very narrow. It crossed, thirty feet above, eight lanes of traffic and a meridian. It was covered with a chain link canopy but Willa was still terrified of falling off the thing onto the ridiculously busy 101 freeway and getting gang-banged by car after car after truck after truck after van after van after motorcycle after motorcycle, reducing her 92 year old body to a complex colored stain on the west-bound fast lane. But she had to cross it. She was a working girl. She had work to do.

The San Fernando Valley in August is somewhat akin to the surface of the sun. The temperatures routinely climb into the high 90’s and often push, passive-aggressively, into the 100’s. The heat is mummy-dust dry and devoid of kindness. It will tear the air from your lungs when you pass into it from an air-conditioned building and leave you gasping in the parking lot while searching for your car. And this particular August the heat was a major news maker. It was only 7:00am, and the digital sign above the Bank Of America building on Ventura boulevard was already reading “97 degrees”.

Willa stood at the opening of the pedestrian overpass in 97 degree heat, wearing her pill box hat and tweed overcoat, not feeling the heat, instead feeling only the terror of her imminent crossing. She was five years younger than the current temperature but because of her status in the ‘Old Farts Of America’ club she was immune to the heat. No matter the ambient temperature, old people are always cold, and Willa was no exception.

“Get your ass across there, girl.” She said to herself aloud. “Get your sorry, scaredy-cat ass across there now.” Her voice was old. It was husky and laid raw from the millions of words she had spoken in her 92 years. It still had a hint of the German accent her first 10 years of life in the old country had impressed upon it, but it still had power, even though it was old.

“Now.” She said. “Go!”

Willa took her first step (the journey of a thousand miles she thought) and clutched her over-sized carpet-bag purse to her side. She walked, not looking down at the freeway, until she reached the half way point. There she forced herself to stop and turn toward the oncoming traffic. Hundreds of cars speed beneath her at 75 miles an hour or more. She took hold of the chain link with her gnarled, arthritic fingers, her tissue-paper skin tearing in tiny spots on the hardened metal.

“I am stronger than you.” She said aloud. “I am stronger than you will ever be.” She turned and let go of the fence. She began to walk again and that’s when the exhaust from all the internal combustion engines flying along below, hit her full force. Breathing it was like sucking oxygen through a gas pump hose. She began to swoon and once again grabbed hold of the chain link. Fresh pain from a combination of her arthritis and the sharp nubs of the fencing bit into her hand.

“I won’t do this.” She said to the polluted air swirling around her. “Wilhelmina Himmel you will not pass out and die on this God-Forsaken bridge.”

She pulled in two lungfuls of exhaust laden air and held her breath. She stared at the distant bridge exit and set off.

‘Why the hell am I STILL doing this?’ She thought. ‘Why the HELL am I still working?’

‘Because you can’t stop. You can never stop until you die, and IF you stop you WILL die’ Her inner-voice answered.

Willa’s inner-voice was as strong, perhaps even stronger, than her outer one. She had more conversations with herself in her 90 plus years than she ever had with any other people in her life. Those ‘inner conversations’ began when she was just a little girl, living in a tiny village in West Germany. Willa was an only child and her village was devoid of kids her age. For whatever cruel reason, providence had placed her in a village with the only other children at least 8 years older than her and placed her in a home with no siblings. Willa had truly been alone her first 10 years in Germany and she had manufactured in herself a friend, a confidant and an adviser. And that adviser was just about screaming at her now.

‘Just GET across!’ It shouted. ‘Just get over this damn bridge and do your job.’

“I will.” She said aloud to her self-friend. “Stop shouting.” Willa sucked in another fume filled breath and stepped up her pace. ‘A damn cleaning woman.’ she thought. ‘A damn cleaning woman and you’re 92 damn years old.’

But Willa had not always been 92 years old. At one time in the long-distant past she had been 18. Looking like a cross between Ingrid Bergman and Lauren Bacall, she had been a gorgeous, 18 year old, unemployed German immigrant looking for work in her new home country. And she had found it fast. Or rather it had found her.

Willa met her first true love, Vincenzo Sicario, in the summer of 1941. And that summer became her very own personal “Summer Of Love”. World War II would begin for the U.S. in December of that year and would rage for another four years, but that had little to no effect on Willa and her ‘Vinnie’. A German girl and an Italian young man had nothing to fear in America then. After Pearl Harbor, only Japanese Americans were targeted. Even though all three countries were actively at war with the U.S., only the Japanese were forced into internment camps, their lives all but destroyed by that tyranny. But German Willa and Italian Vinnie were free to roam around New York, unencumbered. Free to discover the city, themselves and the depth of their love.

Vinnie, at 20 years old, had been determined 4F by the local draft board because of a bad limp. He had broken his leg, not once, but three different times as a kid and the bones mended so badly that he walked with a pronounced gimp. He had also suffered two broken arms as a little boy which caused him to switch his dominant hand and utilize his left more than his right. This caused a slight mis-coordination to his hand movements. Nothing severe, but noticeable if one looked closely. Willa never questioned him as to how his young bones were broken so many times, but suspected it had to do with a drunken, abusive father and a long set of hardwood basement stairs. None of this was confirmed nor denied and none of it seemed to challenge Vinnie’s love for his father. And none of it diminished Willa’s passion for her somewhat physically challenged amour either. To Willa, Vincenzo Sicario was perfection personified and she adored him with a passion that she never had believed possible. And Vinnie’s love for his father and his father’s business is what gifted Willa with a profession that lasted 74 years. A profession she was STILL employed in.

Vinnie’s dad, Giancarlo Sicario, was in charge of a family owned cleaning business and was always looking for new cleaners. When Vinnie suggested Willa as a possible candidate, Gio, as he was called, initially balked.

“A German teenager girl?” He had said through this thick Italian accent. “What kind of a cleaner could she be?”

“A great one, papa.” Vinnie had replied. “She is smart and fast and beautiful.”

“Beautiful, she is.” Gio had said grinning.

So, with a little more convincing from Vinnie, Gio hired Willa. Gio trained her personally in all things cleaning.

“It’s not a pretty job.” Gio had said to her. “Cleaning up other people’s messes is not a pretty thing. But you gonna do it. And you gonna do it the best ever anyone ever did it.” He had smiled at her then and Willa saw where her Vinnie had gotten his smile from.

Gio, in a matter of a few short weeks, had created one of the best cleaning women that New York had ever seen. She became part of the family business. An integral part. And after a short time, the other family members even forgot that she wasn’t Italian. She was Willa, the cleaner. Part of the family. La Famiglia.

In 1943, when Willa was 20, Vinnie proposed marriage. Willa accepted without a moments hesitation. Her joy was unbounded. She had a great job. A loving Italian family. And now, she was to have a husband. They set the date for Saturday, June 12th and on Friday, June 11th Vinnie was killed while crossing the street on his way to the Italian deli. The driver of the car never stopped but instead sped away, fleeing the scene and the consequences. Vinnie died, broken and bleeding in the street, and still clutching a list of the groceries he was to pick up for dinner.

Willa woke from her reverie and found herself still on the damn bridge. How many more feet did she have to go? Twenty feet? Thirty? She sucked in another polluted breath and forged on. The deeply inhaled exhaust had now given her a full-on migraine. Her head pounded with it and she once again, for the four hundredth time that morning, cursed the overpass bridge. Her mind drifted between images of her laying dead on the freeway and Vinnie laying dead in the middle of Canal Street in front of Tomaggio’s Italian Deli. A tear welled and fell from her eye. ‘Seventy-two years’ she thought, ‘Seventy-two years and it still hurts so much.’

Willa never married. And after Vinnie, she rarely even dated. She was always too busy with work or with the family. When Gio told her that some of the extended family was moving west and taking some of the family business to California, including a cleaning service, Willa jumped at the chance to go.

“They’re going to need cleaning women out west too, right Gio?” She had said. “Maybe I could run it? Maybe I could even train new cleaners?”

Gio had thought long and hard on the idea and eventually conceded that Willa’s idea was a good one. The business needed a strong starter and Willa was the best they had. So with Gio’s blessing, Willa was off to Los Angeles. Her life’s journey taking her right up to this moment, walking on a pedestrian overpass above the Ventura freeway, headed to yet another cleaning job.

“You’re honoring Vinnie and Gio and the family by continuing” She spoke aloud to herself. “You may be ninety-two, but you are still strong, you are still smart and you can still clean up other people’s messes better the best of them!” She lifted her hand and rubbed at her throbbing temple and then with a small gasp, realized that she had come to the end of the overpass. She stepped with joy onto the platform that led down to Ventura boulevard, and held tight to the railing as she descended the steps no longer feeling her headache.

Willa pulled out the piece of paper that held the address of her next job. She always used paper. Always had, always would. She was NOT going to become one of those phone-zombies, addicted to technology and never raising a glance above their chest-level hands. Nope. Paper and pencil served her well and would continue to do so till she died.

The address was a house ‘South Of The Boulevard’. That was San Fernando Valley speak for ‘upper class’ neighborhood. She hopped on the #8 bus heading west and got off six stops later on Canoga Avenue. It would only be a three block walk up to the house and even though the temperature had climbed to 102, Willa still didn’t feel the heat. Her headache was forgotten and her step was lively as she anticipated another job well done in a career of jobs well done. The satisfaction that her work brought her had never waned in all the years she had been doing it and cleaning up other people’s messes was not a lowly contemptible job, but a high calling for Willa.

She walked up the last cul-du-sac and found the address. It was the second house on the right. A huge gray beast of a thing. Two stories of nondescript, late 20th Century boredom. She approached the front door and saw, off to her left, a rope swing tied to an old growth oak. The woman who hired her for this job said nothing of children, and if she found that a child or children lived there she would turn on her heels and leave. She didn’t clean up with children about. She walked to the door and rang the bell. She smelled a strong odor of chlorine and figured that there was probably an obscenely large sized swimming pool in the back yard.

The door creaked open and a balding man of about 50 stuck his head out the partially opened door.

“You better not be selling something or asking if I’ve found Jesus.” He said.

“I’m here to clean.” Willa said. “Are you Mr. Walker? Mr. Brendan Walker?”

“Yeah. Who are you?”

“I’m your cleaning lady. Willa.”

“You got the wrong house.” He said closing the door.

“Annabelle hired me.” Willa said to the business side of the closing door.

The door stopped closing, opened a bit and Mr. Walker stuck his head back out the opening.

“Annabelle?” he asked.

“She hired me to clean for the month that she’s away.” Willa said. “Once a week, four times total.”

“I don’t need you.” He said and began to close the door again.

“You’ll lose your deposit, Mr. Walker.” Willa said.

The door opened a little again.

“What deposit?” He asked.

“The two hundred dollars your wife gave me as a deposit for the four hundred it will cost for four visits.”

“Jesus ever loving Christ.” He said and opened the door. “Can I talk you into giving me the deposit back? I’ll give you fifty bucks.”

“I’ll be going now.” Willa said turning away.

“No. Wait. Come in. Do your thing. Just don’t bother me, okay?”

“I was hired to clean, Mr. Walker, not to bother.” Willa said coming into the foyer.

“What are you, like a hundred and five? How the hell are you going to clean this big house?”

“I was ninety-two last May, Mr. Walker and I’ve been cleaning up other people’s messes for seventy-four of those ninety-two years. Your house will not pose any unique problem.”

“Whatever.” He said. “The kitchen is through the dining room there. You should probably start in there. I tried to make French toast for myself this morning and it didn’t end well. I’ll be watching the game so don’t bug me.”

“I don’t bug, Mr. Walker. I clean.” Willa said as she moved toward the dining room.

Brendan Walker sat down hard on his lazy boy recliner and pulled the lever that raised the footrest. He took the remote from the side table and powered on the Sanyo big screen TV.

“Do you bring beers to people too?” He shouted toward the dining room.

“NO!” Willa shouted back, placing her over-sized carpet-bag on the dining room table. “I only clean. I only clean up other people’s messes.”

“Great.” He muttered to himself and found the ESPN channel showing his baseball game. The announcer was going on about some pre-game, uniform nonsense and Walker soon fell into the sport induced coma so familiar to the American wives of sports obsessed American husbands.

Willa opened her bag and removed her favorite and most effective cleaning tool. She quietly walked back towards the living room and stealthily crept up behind the Lazy Boy recliner. She put the barrel of the silenced Luger one inch from the back of Walker’s head and pulled the trigger twice. Walker slump forward and died. Willa rubbed her arthritic trigger finger and chuckled. She always found the sound of a silenced shot funny. Probably because of the spy movies on TV and the big screen. The ‘pechew pechew’ of a silenced shot in the movies was so phony and stupid. The real silenced gunshot sounded more like a fire cracker wrapped in a pillow. A quieted bang. But none of that really mattered now. Now she just needed to wipe up her prints and leave. Mrs. Annabelle Walker was now free to go about her business, unencumbered by her controlling, abusive and potentially blackmailing husband. She was free now. For twenty-five thousand dollars Willa had seen to that. Willa had cleaned up Annabelle’s mess for her.

Tomorrow was to bring yet another cleaning job. And Willa was so tired. But, as Gio had always said to her, ‘there is no rest for the wicked’. So tomorrow it was off to San Diego to take care of Paul Deamotta. At least the family would supply a limo to get her there. No more of this damn bus riding.

But in the end, none of this really mattered at all. Thoughts of Vinnie, Gio, work. NONE of it mattered as much as this fact. This fact. The fact that in order to get home, she was going to have to cross that damn bridge again. She was going to have to cross that damn bridge over the Ventura freeway.