Promises, Promises. Make them, but keep them!!!!

A Promise Made

By: S. Scott Bullock

“Just this once, please Jacks? Just this once listen to me and be a rebel.” She smiled that smile at me and I almost gave in. That killer smile. She saved it up for very special occasions and only used it when she felt her back was against the wall. “They can’t fire you, you’re ‘da boss’! Take the damn afternoon off. We can run away. Maybe a picnic or a movie or…”

“Why is today so important to you Jacks?” I asked her using our pet name for each other. For some unknown reason we both found it hysterically funny that we called each other ‘Jacks’ and we rarely called each other anything else. “Are you having one?” I asked.

She just looked at me then. She didn’t have to confirm or deny it. But I knew. She was having one.

I met my stunning wife at a dinner party, eleven years ago. A dinner party full of stuffy, over-privileged people, of which we were both. Well, on second thought, we were over-privileged yes, but stuffy, no. The both of us were rebels. We rebelled against the pomposity, against the entitled attitude of our families. Pissed them off royally in the process too but we didn’t care. We both believed more in the common man than in the money wielders. Our instant attraction for one another that night was palpable. I’m sure we were even giving off some kind of pheromonal scent. To us the other people around the table disappeared into the room, becoming only a shifting pattern on the wall paper and a soft buzz of indiscernible conversation.

When the party was over I had asked her out for an after-dinner drink and she had accepted. Then, during that drink, she told me that she was engaged to a man named John Husted, but that she didn’t really love him and that she felt the engagement wouldn’t last. I had bowed out then. A matter of honor I felt. I have since come to realize that ‘matters of honor’ are relative and mercurial, but back then ‘matters of honor’ were unscalable Berlin Walls. I drove her back to her estate and tried my hardest to forget her. Just one of the many times I have tried to ignore the magical presence that is my Jacks. My obsession with her, and sorrow at her loss, even though we had only spent ONE evening together, was consuming me. I lost concentration in everything. My work suffered, my friendships suffered. My family even suggested professional help. Then, exactly one month after our meeting, I read that her engagement had broken off. I leapt to the phone and called her home. Our families knew of each other and did quite a bit of social intermingling so her number was in our book. She answered the phone herself and the rest is a whirlwind blur. A whirlwind blur that is, except for one thing. During our fourth date Jacks had shown me her gift. Now, before I go on about this ‘gift’, let me just say this. It has never been clinically proven. It has occasionally, albeit rarely, failed. And it comes on her by its own devices. She doesn’t have a conscious control over it. Jacks’s gift is feeling future events. Not seeing them or hearing them or tasting them, but emotionally ‘feeling’ them. She knows when things are going to happen. Not always specific things. As a matter of fact, seldom specific things, but she very often knows when something’s afoot.

On our fourth date, however, Jacks’s prediction was very specific. She took my hand across the table, looked at me and said, ‘Not only are you going to marry me Jacks, but you’re going to father me two gorgeous children. A girl who we will name after my favorite aunt and boy who we will name after you.’

I was rather taken aback, but just smiled at her. I knew I wanted to marry her. But kids? That didn’t really fit into my imagined future. I was struggling to get a foot hold in the business. I had an almost insurmountable row to hoe to get where I wanted to go. And kids, I thought, would just slow me down. How wrong I was and how right she had been on both precognitive counts. We were engaged by June and married that following September, and indeed had two incredible children, a boy and a girl. Sadly Jacks didn’t foresee, and probably for very good reason, the two miscarriages she would suffer or the death of our second infant son, Patrick. Providence had kept that foreknowledge away. I have often wondered if it would have been easier on us if she had seen those tragedies coming. But there are answers to questions we will never know, and things, like Jacks’s gift, that we will never fully understand.

Another example of Jacks’s foresight was during one of the most challenging and difficult times in my professional life, I was struggling with every rung on the ladder of success and as I reached the next to top rung I was overcome with self doubt and fear. She had taken my hand then, just as she had done at the table on our fourth date, she had taken my hand across the dinner table and said to me. ‘You’re going to be ‘da boss’ Jacks. You’re going to be the top man on this particular totem pole, I have no doubt in my mind.’ A feeling of calm and renewed self confidence poured over me then, and again, she had been right. I did become ‘da boss’ and my ‘company’ was full of eager supporters and compatriots.

Jacks became my adviser on all things delicate in my job and she had taken over the showy parts of our professional life that had become so necessary for our success. The dinners, the decorating of our home, the socials and special events. She kept the lions at bay and then embraced and invited in those lambs that could help our cause and causes. Jacks was, and is, my right hand.

“The kids are safe with Sandy, “ she said breaking my reverie “Don’t go to your circus parade today, Jacks. Please. I haven’t felt one this strong in ages and I can’t ignore it. WE can’t ignore it. Please.” Her eyes were tearing.

“My love.” I began, knowing full well that nothing I said would assuage her fear. “Firstly it is not a circus parade. It is VITAL for PR and for fund-raising. I have made a commitment and given my word and I simply cannot back out now. It is way too important.”

“It IS a GODDAMN circus parade. You don’t need the publicity, and you don’t need to raise that much more money and you certainly don’t need to placate these assholes who don’t like us to begin with!” She was shouting and cursing. Jacks didn’t shout or curse. This mattered a lot to her. “And if you go,” she continued, “I’m NOT going with you.”

“What?” I said flummoxed. Jacks had never not stood firmly by my side.

“I’m NOT going with you. And how’s THAT gonna look to everyone watching, huh?”

I sat down then. Not sure of what to say or how to respond. I had to convince her just how important this day really was. She had to understand that I had no choice in the matter. And I also needed to remind her that she wasn’t always right when it came to her ‘messages from beyond’. Just then the hotel room phone rang. We looked at each other, saying without words but with looks that we had learned to read after our years of marriage, ‘who’s gonna answer that?’.

“I’m not answering it.” She said in reply to our silent questioning looks. “I’m not your goddamn secretary.”

I walked to the phone and picked up the receiver.

“What?” I sad flatly. “Yes. In fifteen minutes. Yes. We’ll be ready.” I hung up the phone.

“YOU’LL be ready.” She said.

“Is there anything I can say to change your mind?” I asked her.

“Is there anything I can say to change yours?” She replied.

“No.” I said.

“And that’s my answer too.” She said.

“Well,” I began “I better go get my coat.”

“Jacks,” she said softly, sitting down on the ugly hotel couch. “Please.”

I sat down next to her and took her hand. She was looking at me the same way she had when she told me that we had lost our first baby. I could smell the last hint of the shampoo she had used this morning and I saw the pulse of her heart beating in her neck. Too fast. Her heart was beating too fast.

“I love you more than life itself.” I told her. “I trust you with everything in me. You have given me a love I never thought possible. You have given me two of the greatest gifts I have ever received in our two precious children. You have been my adviser and my confidant and wise advocate. You have made me laugh when the hour was at its darkest, and you have made me cry with joys unimagined. You are everything and all to me.”
“But?” She interrupted.

“But, I have to do this. I have to. It is beyond my own decision or desire now. I have to. And if you do this with me, I promise you… I PROMISE you that I will never go against one of your feelings again.”

“Shit.” she said.

“Please.” Was all I could muster.

“I’ll get my coat.” She said sighing.

Just then the door bell to the suite rang. I opened the door and Don Bradley, the head of my security team, stuck his head in the door.

“Are you ready, Mr. President?” he asked.

“Yes.” I said. “Just waiting for the Mrs. Is everything a go?”

“Yes Sir.” Don said. “Short flight from here to Dallas and you’ll pick up the motorcade there.”

“Great.” I said and turned to Jacks who was coming out of the bedroom. “You ready for the ‘circus parade’ Mrs. Kennedy?”

“Yes.” She said quietly, picking up her hat. “Let’s go.”

Avoid it at all costs!!!!!!! New fiction.

Bad Publicity

By: S. Scott Bullock

Carolyn Trendall opened her eyes and had no idea where she was. She knew she was in some sort of odd room. A living room/dining room/kitchen, combo sort of room. She knew she was seated on an ugly, threadbare, burnt orange chair. She knew she was dressed in a horrible blue faded house dress kind of thing. She knew that she was wide awake and she knew that it was cold. She shifted in the ugly chair and looked behind her. She saw a door and looking around further, realized that she was in some sort of mobile home. A trailer. A double-wide she thought they were called. She looked down at her feet and saw that she was wearing very shabby, brown, faux-leather house slippers and that the carpet beneath those slippers was a burnt orange, brown and mustard, tri-colored 1970’s shag. She suddenly felt an urge to bolt for the door but had no idea why. She actually didn’t know the ‘why’ of anything at that moment.

As she contemplated standing up she heard sounds coming for the very back of the trailer. She assumed the bedroom or bedrooms where back there. Then a voice. Shouting.

“And if you give me any more-a-your crap about it I’ll really hit ya next time. I won’t be pullin’ no punches no more. I mean it Charlene. Next time, I’m takin’ you out. And not for dinner.”

Just then the person that the voice belonged to burst into the room where Carolyn was sitting. Still utterly unable to comprehend her situation she just sat there, mute, as the man came crashing in shouting at her.

“You get your damn panties in a bunch over the damn stupidest things Charlene. And I DID NOT hit you. I pushed your ugly ass away from me and you fell down and if you tell anybody anything different, I’ll bury you. I swear to father God, I’ll freakin’ bury you!”

The man grabbed his coat off a hook by the door and as he put it on he turned and looked at Carolyn. His gaze was terrifying. His eyes were bloodshot and his greasy blond hair stuck to the top and sides of his head. His teeth were bared and Carolyn could see the spaces where two of his teeth were missing. He was unshaven and it looked like he may have bruises on his cheek and neck. He stared at her for what seemed forever and then spoke. Quietly this time. And this quiet speech was far more terrifying than the yelling.

“I am two loads away from being done with you, Charlene.” He hissed. “I’m goin’ to Carl’s now. I’m gonna get drunk. Then I’m gonna come home and you know what I’m gonna expect. And you better be ready. You better be wearing that see-through thing I like and you better have a cold beer and my smokes on the table. You better be smilin’ and you better be hot for me. Or I swear to father God, I am gettin’ my shotgun and I’m unloadin’ both barrels into your eyeballs. One barrel in each eye. You get me?”

Carolyn stared.

“But I’m not…” She whimpered.

“YOU GET ME!?!?” He screamed at her.

She nodded her head, yes.

“Good.” He said in the scary quiet voice and walked out of the trailer slamming the door behind him.

Carolyn sat. Terrified. Her mind was reeling. What was happening? What the hell was happening to her. Was this a nightmare? Was she asleep? Had she lost her mind?

She slowly stood up, unsteady on her feet. Pain shot up her back into her neck. She looked at her arms and saw bruises and scrapes. Her desperate need for a bathroom was the only thing keeping her from bolting out the door and running. ‘Running WHERE?’ she thought. She walked toward the

back of the trailer, winching from pain and the desperate need to urinate. She found the bathroom and quickly lifted the ugly house dress. She saw that she wasn’t wearing any panties and that fact made her stomach roll over. She sat down hard on the toilet in a semi-collapse. She thought she was going to vomit but then the relief of peeing took over her whole body. She peed for what seemed like an hour and the relief was sublime. Her body shivered as the last drops of urine fell into the filth-splattered toilet bowl. She cleaned herself with the remains of a roll of sandpaper toilet-tissue that was sitting on top of the sink counter and stood up. She thought of washing her hands but again realized the danger she was in. She needed to flee. Quickly. That beast was going to come back, but from what he said, she knew she had some time before he did.

She left the bathroom and found the bedroom. She went to the closet and looked inside. She found what she was looking for. Clothes. They were really ugly, but they looked the right size. Carolyn grabbed a denim blouse and a pair of faded 501 jeans. She pulled them on quickly and they indeed fit her. The jeans were a little snug around the waist but this was NOT the time to worry about exact fit. She saw a pair of woman’s cowboy boots on the shelf above the clothes rack and grabbed them. She went to the beat up early American dresser and frantically pulled open the drawers. She found a pair of socks and grabbed those. She thought for a moment of getting a pair of panties out of the same drawer, because her naked skin was already feeling troubled by the tight denim pants, but then thought better of it. The last thing she wanted was this monster’s wife’s intimate apparel that close to her own privates. If she was his wife. Probably not. Probably some pitiful girlfriend, beaten down spiritually and physically by that sub-human animal. He was insane. Obviously insane and had somehow confused her with his girlfriend. But how had SHE gotten there in the first place, wearing a hideous house dress and torn slippers?

She sat on the unmade bed and felt a mattress spring dig into her thigh, she pulled on the socks, then the boots. She was not surprised when they fit. It seems that Neanderthal’s wife or girlfriend or whatever, was Carolyn’s size. Out of shear habit she assessed herself in the mirror above the dresser. She looked surprisingly stylish for what she threw on in sheer desperation. She had a brief thought that she was, after all, a fashion model and she could make anything look stylish. This miserable and horribly frightening situation proved that fact. Looking at her face in the mirror she also saw a prominent bruise at her left jaw line and a black eye beginning under her left eye. She had no idea how she got the bruises or black eye. No recollection at all. That thought scared her to her core. What was going on? Where was her memory?

She heard a noise outside the bedroom window and was yanked from her reverie. She spun around and headed for the bedroom door and in the process knocked over the bedside table. A half-filled water glass, an alarm clock and a stack of paperback books flew to the floor. The glass shattered and water covered the splayed stack of books. Carolyn saw that they were romance novels, all by the same author. She made the quick mental assertion that romance novels would be perfectly appropriate for the battered female occupant of a double-wide trailer. She flew to the front door, threw it open and ran into the cold night.

She ran out of the trailer park and onto a street. It looked like a main thoroughfare. Lots of traffic going in both directions. She contemplated hitching a ride then quickly dismissed the notion. She was not about to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire. She flipped a mental coin and decided to turn right and head, what appeared to be, north. She took her first step in that direction and her right foot slipped out from under her. She ass-planted on the side of the highway and realized she had slipped on a huge pile of dog crap. Even through the pain of the fall she managed to chuckle at the absurdity of the situation. Here she was, Carolyn Andrea Trendall, one of the highest paid fashion models in the world, sitting splay-legged on the side of a rural highway, boot-heel deep in dog shit and having NO idea how she came to be there.

Out of reflex she reached for her cell phone. It wasn’t in her pocket. Because the pocket, like the pants, didn’t belong to her. She stood up painfully and began to walk. Where she was going, she hadn’t a clue, but she figured she’d know when she got there.

What seemed to Carolyn to be about an hour later she saw a town a short distance ahead of her. She picked up her pace and felt, for the first time since she opened her eyes in that hellish trailer, a struggling glimmer of hope. If she could just get to a phone she’d be able to get help. She needed to call Barbara. Her best friend, her mentor, Barbara Payton always knew what to do. But Carolyn knew that even Barbara was going to have a challenge with THIS situation. Still she felt confident that Barb would know what to do. How many hundreds of scrapes had Barb gotten Carolyn out of? Too damn many to even consider. Barbara was a miracle worker and could turn tragedy to triumph with a simple sentence.

As Carolyn got closer to what she thought was a town, she realized that it was actually just a strip mall, a diner and a gas station. All the shops in the mall were closed but the station and diner were open. She looked at the lighted diner sign with big city judgment. Even in this cesspool of fear and confusion she could still muster that condescending, privileged attitude.

DUMPLIN’S DINER

Best Chicken & Dumplin’s in Alabama

Carolyn’s upper class posture suddenly slumped away. It was replaced with astonishment and terror. She shivered and spoke aloud to the chilling air and the diner sign.

“Alabama.” She said quietly. “I live in New York. How the hell did I get to Alabama?”

The ‘ding-ding’ sound of the bell at the gas station brought her back to reality. A rusted blue pickup had pulled in for gas and the driver, an old man who looked remarkably like Santa Claus, was singing along with the radio. She only heard a little of it but knew right away what it was. It was a hymn. A favorite of her father’s mother. A retched woman who used the bible and God as a weapon. Sometimes literally, as Carolyn remembered. Her paternal grandmother, Nunna they called her, hit her once on the back of the head with her treasured, gigantic, King James version of the good book. And she had struck her only because Carolyn had confided in her the unrequited love she felt for a class mate. Carolyn had seen stars whirling around in front of her after that assault and made a silent vow to never more accept her Nunna nor religion as viable resources for solace.

“Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to thee,” The Santa Claus man belted out. “How great thou art,” then with a huge finish, “HOW GREAT THOU ART!

The Santa Claus man looked over at Carolyn and saw her staring.

“Praise the Lord!” He shouted to her.

Carolyn nodded to him then turned toward the diner. Her head swam again. ‘The bible belt.’ She thought. ‘Alabama and the bible belt.’ She couldn’t be more out of place. She was a jet-setter for heaven’s sake. She’d had dinner with Brad and Angelina. She had met Saudi Arabia’s crown prince.

She was the face of Donella cosmetics. Her over-made-up, photoshopped visage graced billboards and magazine ads.

“This cannot be happening.” She whispered to herself as she opened the door to Dumplin’s Diner.

“Sit anywhere you want honey.” A woman in her 50’s, skinny as a chain-link fence post, and wearing a waitress uniform straight out of a really bad ‘B’ movie, called out to her from behind the counter. “We’re dead in here tonight so the whole place is yours.”

“I don’t want…” Carolyn stopped short as the waitress went through the swinging door into the kitchen. She walked over to the counter and took the stool nearest the kitchen door. The diner smelled of old bacon grease and pine-sol and the florescent lighting gave a greenish tint to everything in the place. Then the swinging door flew open and the bone-thin waitress came over to Carolyn.

“You want a menu honey, or do you know what you want?” She said smiling and baring tobacco stained teeth.

“I just need a phone.” Carolyn said, and as she did tears began to burn her eyes. She swallowed them back and said, “Do you have a phone I could use. I need to make a very important call. It’s an emergency and I’ve lost my cell. I’ll pay any charges.”

“Oh shoot honey.” The waitress began. “That storm, night before last… could you BELIVE that storm?! … That storm, night before last, took out the phones. It took out the power too, but they got that back on this morning.”

“But I just…” Carolyn lost it then. Tears began to flood from her eyes. She dropped her head and sobbed.

“Oh shoot honey. What is it darlin’? What is it?” The waitress came around from behind the counter and put her hand on Carolyn’s shoulder. “I have a cell phone, darlin’. You want me to call someone?”

Carolyn looked up and into the waitress’s eyes. The waitress saw the bruises and black eye then.

“Oh shoot honey. You’re hurt. Who did that to you? You want me to call the sheriff darlin’?”

“NO.” Carolyn said a little too loud and strong. “No. I can’t have the pub… I can’t…”

Carolyn saw the waitress’s mouth moving but what she was hearing didn’t come from it. She was hearing Barbara Payton’s voice in her head. She was hearing Barbara laying down one her edicts. She was hearing Barbara say, ‘Avoid bad publicity at ALL cost. Never talk to the press outside of an interview. Never involve the police and I repeat, AVOID BAD PUBLICITY.’

“… I’ll just go fetch it.” The waitress finished.

Carolyn had no idea what she was going to fetch, but she was hoping it would be a phone. The waitress came hurrying back in talking a mile a minute.

“Mine was dead, honey, but Dumplin’s has a little juice left in the battery.”

Just then an enormous woman squeezed herself through the swinging door. Her skin was blue-black, like anthracite coal. She was wearing a filthy, cover-all apron and conservatively weighed four-hundred pounds. But she had the face of an angel. Even with the worried expression she was currently wearing, her’s was just about the most beautiful face that Carolyn had ever seen.

“This is Dumplin’, honey. She owns the diner.” The waitress said pointing to the large lady. “Here’s her cell.” She handed the ancient flip-phone to Carolyn. The waitress turned to Dumplin’ and said, “I gotta step out for a smoke, Dumplin’… all this has got me riled up. I’ll be back in a couple minutes.”

“Those damn cancer sticks are gonna be the death of you, Sissy-Ann.” Dumplin’ said, wagging a sausage-sized finger at the waitress.

Carolyn opened the flip-phone and stared at the keypad. Her mind was a blank. Technology reared its ravenous maw just then and bit her on the ass.

“I don’t know the number.” She said wiping the last tears from her face. “All the numbers I call are stored on my phone. I just press the person’s name I want to call. I don’t know any of them by heart.” She looked up at Dumplin’.

“Call 411.” Dumplin’ said scrutinizing Carolyn’s face. Then, “Do I know you, sweetie? Don’t you live around here?”

Carolyn’s mind swam then began to race. Dumplin’ must have seen her magazine ads. She MUST NOT be recognized. Avoid bad publicity at all cost.

“No.” She said firmly. “No. I’m from New York.” She stood up and turned away from Dumplin’. “I’ll call information. I’ll call 411.” As she pressed the three numbers on the grimy old flip-phone, Sissy-Ann the waitress came back into the diner.

“Colder than a witch’s…”

“Sissy-Ann!” Dumplin’ stopped the waitress mid sentence. “Not when we have a customer.”

Carolyn stood with her back to the two women and talked quietly into the phone.

“Can I have the number of Barbara Payton, New York, New York, please?”

As Carolyn waited for the number, Sissy-Ann and Dumplin’ began their own surreptitious conversation.

“She look familiar to you?” Dumplin’ whispered to the waitress.

“I thought so too, when she first came in.” the waitress whispered back.

“Has she been in before?” Dumplin’ asked.

“I don’t recall that.” the waitress said while taking a quick glance at Carolyn’s turned back. “I think I’d remember her if she came in. But she could have come in during the day shift. That’s why she’d look more familiar to you than me.”

“I wonder who hit her?” Dumplin’ said.

“Some back country asshole.” the waitress said.

“Sissy-Ann!” Dumplin’ chided. “Your mouth is ugly. You got a ugly mouth.”

Carolyn closed the flip-phone and turned around.

“She’s not listed.” She said quietly. “My friend is not listed. Just her publisher’s number. And they’ve got to be closed. It’s late.”

“Her what?” Sissy-Ann asked.

“Nothing.” Carolyn said handing the phone to Dumplin’. “Thank you for the phone. I owe you a dollar for the 411 call, but I don’t have my purse.”

“Don’t you go worryin’ bout no dollar now little girl.” Dumplin’ said smiling. “You come over to the counter and sit yourself down and I’ll get you a hot coffee. You hungry?”

Carolyn was surprised to find that she was, indeed, hungry. After all the shit she had been through it wasn’t hard for her to believe that her very well trained appetite was feeling a little out of control.

“I’m starving.” She said sheepishly. “But my wallet.”

“Don’t you worry bout no wallet.” Dumplin’ said leading Carolyn to the counter. “Sissy-Ann get this little girl some coffee and a menu.” Then to Carolyn. “It’s your lucky night sweetie. Anything off the menu is free tonight. Special Dumplin’s Deal.”

Carolyn remembered what she had thought when she first saw the Dumplin’s Diner sign and a wash of guilt flowed over her. Nobody in New York would care for her like this under these circumstances. Not in New York.

“I’ll just have some eggs if you have them.” She said. “Scrambled?”

“Scrambled it is. You like bacon, sweetie?” Dumplin’ asked her through a beautiful smile.

“Yes, I do. Yes, please.” Carolyn said smiling back despite her situation.

“And some hash browns. Would you like some of Dumplin’s Diner’s world famous hash browns?”

“Carbs.” Carolyn said reflexively.

“What sweetie? Cars?” Dumplin’ asked, her brow furrowing a little.

“Carbohy… oh forget it…. yes please I would LOVE some world famous hash browns.”

“White, wheat, sourdough, bagel or English muffin?” Sissy-Ann chimed in reflexively.

“Bagel please.” Carolyn was now grinning from ear to ear. “With loads of butter and even more cream cheese, please!”

“I’ll get all that started.” Dumplin’ said heading to the kitchen. “Sissy-Ann, you sit down next to … hey sweetie, we don’t know your name.

“Carolyn.” Carolyn said.

“Well that’s Sissy-Ann and I’m Doneetra but please call me Dumplin’. Sissy-Ann, you sit next to Carolyn and find out how we can help her out.” Dumplin’s huge frame swirled around and squeezed itself through the door to the kitchen.

Sissy-Ann motioned for Carolyn to get up.

“Let’s go over to a booth, honey. These stools are murder on the derriere.” She pronounced it Dairy-urr.

They moved to a booth toward the back of the diner and slid in. Carolyn’s mind was racing again. Should she tell them who she was and what had happened, WAS happening to her? Could she trust them not to talk about it. NOT to call the police or the press. Carolyn smelled the unmistakable aroma of frying bacon and knew right then and there that she should trust them. These were good people. They’d help her.

Carolyn began to speak and the words poured from her completely out of her control. She told Sissy-Ann her name and who she was. She spoke of waking up in the trailer and the abusive monster who threatened her and called her Charlene. She told Sissy-Ann of her escape from the trailer, her long walk to the diner and all the events leading up to the present. Carolyn barely paused to breathe and was so relieved by finally telling her story that tears were rolling down her cheeks and wetting the table between her hands. When she finished she looked intently at Sissy-Ann and spoke her last, most important words.

“So I have to contact Barbara, my friend Barbara Payton, she’ll know what to do, she always knows what to do.”

At that moment the kitchen door swung open and Dumplin’ came in with three plates of food. They were piled high with eggs, bacon, sausages, bagels, hash-brown potatoes and breakfast steak. Dumplin’ skillfully juggled the plates over to the booth and set them down in front of Carolyn.

“Here sweetie.” She said. “You eat all of this. Your butt is too skinny. I brought you a big breakfast steak too. You eat that all up now. I’ll get you some flat ware and a proper steak knife. Eat.”

Dumplin’ looked at Sissy-Ann.

“So. How do we help our new friend here?” She asked.

Carolyn started to recount the story for Dumplin’, but Sissy-Ann stopped her.

“You eat.” Sissy-Ann said to Carolyn. “I’ll tell the story.” Sissy-Ann turned to Dumplin’ as Dumplin’ put the flat wear and napkins in front of Carolyn. She spoke solemnly. “This here girl”, She began, “is a famous fashion model.”

By the time Sissy-Ann had finished telling Carolyn’s story, Carolyn had finished over half the food on her plates. She put her fork down and looked at Dumplin’.

“Thank you so much for your kindness.” She said. “I promise I’ll repay it. I promise…”

The door to the diner flew open and the monster from the trailer stormed in, followed closely behind by the hymn singing Santa Claus. The monster walked to the middle of the diner, spotted Carolyn sitting at the booth and snarled over his shoulder.

“Yep, that’s her. Thanks Bucky. That’s her.” He stepped closer to the booth. “Charlene,” He growled. “You get your skinny, white ass in the truck. You get in now or I swear to father God, I’ll pick you up and tie you to the hood. NOW!” He stepped closer to the table and Carolyn’s hand brushed against the steak knife Dumplin’ had brought her earlier.

Barbara Payton sat at her writing desk in her beautiful upstate New York Gothic mansion and took a sip of her tea. The IBM Selectric typewriter hummed and blended with the sound of Mozart coming from the stereo. Barbara wrote everything on that old Selectric. She refused to go computer. She had written her first book on that thing and she vowed that she would write her last on it too. She sipped the remains of her tea as her assistant knocked quietly on the door.

“Come in.” Barbara called out. “I’m at a stopping point right now.”

Barbara’s assistant, Lea Drake, came into the room. She wore an old fashioned business suit and looked like central casting’s version of an executive secretary. She carried a teapot in one hand and an electric tablet in the other.

“I’m stuck. I’ve written myself into a corner.” Barbara said.

“Have you been online at all this morning?” Lea asked grinning.

“No.” Barbara said. “Why?”

“May I read you something?” Lea said.

“Yeah. Why are you grinning?”

“Just listen.” Lea said putting the teapot down and opening up a page on the tablet.

“A rural Alabama woman fatally stabbed her common law

husband Friday night in a Grove Field, Alabama diner.

Charlene DeLance stabbed Macon Brunard in the heart

with a steak knife after a brief altercation in Dumplin’s Diner

in Grove Field. Brunard died at the scene.”

“Well that’s lovely.” Barbara interrupted. “But just why should this interest me?”

“Hang on.” Lea said. “The good part’s coming.”

“When police and paramedics arrived on the scene

they were met, one officer reported, by an

unbalanced and ranting woman. She was, according to

officer Donald Teak, ‘Screaming like a banshee and

running amok.’ When police finally restrained the

woman she was asked her name and to explain the

circumstances. She told them….”

“You ready for this?” Lea interrupted herself.

“Yes.” Barbara said. Then sarcastically. “The suspense is killing me.”

“When police finally restrained the woman she was

asked her name and to explain the circumstances. She

told them her name was Carolyn Trendall and that she

was a famous model from New York. She said she had

no idea who Macon Brunard was or why he was after

her. She told police she had felt threatened by him

and subsequently stabbed him.

Carolyn Trendall is a character from a series of

Romance/Mystery novels written by Pulitzer Prize

winning author Barbara Payton.

DeLance was taken to a nearby hospital for

mental evaluation and disposition.”

“How ’bout that?” Lea said grinning. “You were just YESTERDAY saying we needed a little publicity!”

“Fantastic.” Barbara said. “That crazy broad just gave me the best gift EVER. And unlike good old Carolyn Trendall who says we should AVOID bad publicity at all cost…. Barbara Payton says, there is NO SUCH THING as bad publicity. Now. Go do something secretarial. I think I found the next twist for my book.

Homeless. But helping the hopeless. New Fiction from yours truly!

Homeless

By: S. Scott Bullock

The man sat cross-legged in the shade of a billboard advertising the latest Mercedes ‘S’ Class. His clothes were caked in filth and his face and hands grimy. It was August in Los Angeles which translates to hotter-than-hell, yet the man was wearing a tattered sweater over a shirt and knitted vest. He was sweating profusely and would occasionally wipe his brow with crumpled pages of a newspaper he had at his side. The newsprint left black streaks on his forehead, cheeks and hands, multiplying his look of addled destitution. He sat on the sidewalk in front of a used furniture store on San Vicente Boulevard. The blanket he sat on was printed with fading images of Sponge Bob Squarepants which once, no doubt, covered a child in warmth and happiness. Now it simply gave his bony-butt some respite from the unforgiving concrete.

He held no sign. No ‘Will Work For Food’ or ‘Homeless Vet Can You Help’. He simply sat. His head down and staring at his dirt-washed hands as they rested in his lap. Sometimes, the most wondrous of times, someone would give him something as they passed by. Sometimes food. Sometimes money. It gave him hope. That kindness from others gave him hope for mankind. Especially because he never asked for help. He never begged. And he would reward that kindness. He would. He made sure he would reward it.

“I told you to get the frig from outta the front of my store!” A fat woman in a too-tight caftan said to him from the doorway of the furniture shop. “You don’t move and I get my baseball bat you homeless piece of filth!”

The man didn’t look up. He simple rolled off his Sponge Bob blanket, picked it up along with the newspaper, shoved them both into his big black trash bag, and walked away from the store and the cruel fat lady who had yelled at him. He was okay with moving on though. Nobody who walked by had given him anything for a couple hours so he had nobody to reward. It was time for a new location. Maybe his luck would change in a new place.

He turned the corner and moved up a small side street. He turned another corner, walked around an old Hollywood style bungalow apartment, and was back on San Vicente, about a quarter mile further up. It was a residential section of the very long street and he knew he had to walk a good ways to find a suitable spot among some businesses. As he stepped into the street to cross to the other side he saw a flash of red in his peripheral vision. He heard the roar of a car engine. A sports car. Then an excruciating pain. Then the sky. Then blackness.

The conference room was ice cold and Kimberly sat quietly trying not to shiver. Her nerves, chilled by this over zealous A/C, were making it nearly impossible to sit still. She rubber her arms up and down, hugging herself in the process, as the conference room door opened. Alan Masley, a short, round man with a comic book comb-over came to the table, pulled out a chair and sat down.

“It’s warm in here.” He said. “Caroline, is it?”

“Kimberly.” She said pulling her hands away from her arms.

“Oh. Sorry. Kimberly.” Masley opened a file folder. “I’m Alan Masley. Do you prefer Kim?”

“No.” She said a little too sharply.

Masley looked up startled.

“Sorry. No. I really hate ‘Kim’. Don’t know why. Maybe because my brother used to make fun of me all the time. He’d say ‘Kim, Kim her brain is dim!’ And stuff like that. You know how brothers are? Do you have a brother Mr. Masley?” She was rambling from nerves.

“Alan.” Masley said looking back down at the file.

“Your brother is Alan?” Kimberly asked.

“What?” Masley said looking up at her again.

“Your brother?”

“I don’t have a brother.” Masley said confused.

“Who’s Alan?” Kimberly said genuinely confused herself.

“I’m Alan.” Masley said closing the file folder. “You called me Mr. Masley. We use first names around here. Equal playing field and all that other tree-hugging B.S.”

“Oh.” Kimberly said through a chuckle. “I thought you had a brother named Alan. That was almost like ‘Who’s On First’ !”

Masley stared at her.

“The routine? Abbott and Costello? Who’s on…. Aren’t I supposed to meet with Mr. Rusk?” She finished, feeling increasingly uncomfortable. She was also beginning to perspire despite the sub-zero temperature in the room.

“Andrew.” Masley said flately. “He prefers you call him by his first name.”

“Okay. Aren’t I supposed to meet Andrew?” She asked, shifting in her seat.

Masley stood up and walked over to the credenza. He picked up the coffee pot from the maker and held it up to Kimberly.

“Coffee?” He asked her.

“Yes, please, black. And hot! It’s freezing in here.” She chuckled again.

Masley poured two cups of coffee. He opened six packets of sugar and poured them in his cup then three creamer cups. He stirred his coffee and brought both cups back to the table. He set her cup in front of her.

“The thing is Kim, is that Andrew has sort of disappeared.” Masley brought his cup to his mouth as the conference room door swung open. A woman in her fifties, brown bobbed hair, tailored suit, and business high heels stormed into the room.

“You’re kidding, Alan? Right? You’re kidding?” She spat the words at him.

“What?” He said to her putting his coffee cup down.

She pointed at Kimberly.

“You’re telling a total stranger that we can’t find our CEO?”

“Listening at keyholes, Trish?” He said smiling a humorless smile at her.

“Who needs keyholes with your big mouth?” She said lowering her own volume. “I could hear you halfway down the hall.” She turned to Kimberly. “I’m sorry… Miss?”

“Parton” Kimberly answered holding out her hand. Trish ignored it.

“Miss Parton. Andrew, Mr. Rusk, is unavailable for your meeting today as he is across town taking care of some last minute business. Ask Wayne at the front desk to reschedule you for next week. Okay? Nice meeting you. Have a great day now.” She moved toward Kimberly and pulled her out of her chair.

“But we didn’t really meet.” Kimberly said standing up.

“No we didn’t.” Trish said pushing Kimberly through the conference room door. “Front desk.” She said and turned back toward Masley.

“You’re freakin’ certifiable, Trish.” Masley said sipping some coffee. “Sir-Tee-Fiable.”

“Listen to me you fat-fart.” She said stepping toward him.

“WHOA!” Masley said sitting forward. “You watch yourself Missy or I’ll have you over my knee!”

“In your dreams, you sickening bag of bile.” She went to the credenza and poured herself some coffee. “We’re in deep, Alan, and he isn’t here to bail us out.”

“Would you fill me in on what we know, please. I just got back. Remember?” He got up and refilled his coffee.

She reflexively moved away from him as he approached.

“I won’t bite, Trish.” He grinned at her. “Unless you want me to.”

“You out-repulsive repulsive. You know that?” She said moving to the conference table. She sat down and pulled the file folder Masley had brought in closer to her. “Kimberly Parton.” She said reading. “Another one of his ‘hopefuls’? I wonder if she’s any relation to Dolly.”

“She certainly bore two great resemblances.” Masley said sneering and cupping his hands in front of his chest. “If you get my drift.”

“Your drift smells as bad as your breath, Alan.”

“So sweet. You’re so very, very sweet, Trish. Now. Fill me in.” Masley sat across from her at the table.

“He was doing his weekend long, end of the month, charity, slash, philanthropy, slash, giving back bullshit.” Trish began.

“Also known as throwing away perfectly good money.” Masley finished off his coffee and got up to get more. “More coffee?” He asked, holding the pot up toward Trish.

“No. So he goes off on his weekend ‘giving’ spree and he disappears. One-hundred-fifty grand in ‘charity’ cash, one and a half million dollar, fire-engine-red Ferrari and all.”

The nurse’s station was small, under-equipped and understaffed. Working at ‘County’, as the hospital was nick-named, was a thankless and difficult proposition. Nurses here were dedicated to helping people. So dedicated in fact that the horrible working conditions were only an annoyance and not a deterrent. Two nurses, on the midnight to noon shift, sat at the meager station sipping tea between rounds.

“Bed one is iffy.” The white-bread, blonde nurse said to the African-American nurse. “He came in this afternoon. Poor guy was crossing San Vicente and some lunatic in a bright red sports car slammed into him, threw him ten feet into the air and just kept on going. He’s got major head trauma, severe facial injuries and a broken left tibia. Surgery patched him up but we need to keep a close eye on him.”

“That’s sick.” The African-American nurse said. “Running him down and then splitting. That’s really sick.”

“The fortunate are never held accountable, Tina.” The blonde nurse said and blew on her tea. “The cop told me that a witness said the car did stop and check the guy. But get this, this poor homeless guy had a black trash bag with him and the guy in the sports-car took it and THEN drove off!”

“A trophy maybe?” Tina said.

“A what?” The blonde nurse asked.

“I saw this movie on Netflix last Wednesday.” Tina began. “No wait. It was Thursday. No wait, Tuesday. Oh. Anyway. It doesn’t matter. Must have been Wednesday, though. This serial killer named Donner Butterman kills homeless people for fun. Like hunting. Like a sport, ya know?”

The blonde nurse leaned away. “Ewww.” She said and sipped the last of her tea.

“Yeah.” Tina said. “Gross. He was played by a really cute actor though. I can’t remember his name. Ethan somebody or Justin. Or Frank. Nobody real famous. Willy? I don’t remember. But he was really cute so it was really hard to hate him for killing all those homeless people. Cute and creepy.”

“Like so many of my boyfriends.” The blonde said chucking.

“Yeah!” Tina guffawed. “So this Butterman guy kills the homeless people and then takes something of theirs and then glues the stuff he took from them all over the walls of his basement.”

“Yuck.” The blonde said picking up a clip board and standing. “Gotta go check on our charges.” She said and walked away from the station.

“I’ll start at the other end.” Tina said getting up.

A month later the homeless man was discharged from the hospital. He had no memory of what had happened to him. As a matter of fact he had no memory at all. The man in the red sports-car not only took his black trash bag, he also stole the homeless man’s memory. The head trauma had been severe enough to erase the poor soul’s past. And the reconstruction from the facial trauma was so extreme that when he looked into the mirror, he saw a deformed stranger gazing back at him. A lost stranger. He didn’t know his name or where he was from. He didn’t know what led him to this life. He didn’t know anything.

The county placed him in a downtown Los Angeles homeless shelter where he worked to pay for room and board. He served meals and cleaned the kitchen. He did laundry and cleaned up the puke in the bathrooms. He more than earned his keep, in puke-cleanup alone, but he didn’t mind any of the chores. He was grateful. He found himself feeling grateful all the time. Even on the ugliest days when his leg was hurting him or some new bum showed up and puked on his shoes.

He had taken the name a nurse had given him in the hospital. She had told him that she didn’t like calling patients ‘John Doe’. It was too impersonal. So she had named him ‘Sam’. ‘Sam Vincent’. Because that’s where he came from. San Vicinte Boulevard. He liked that name very much. And he had fallen a bit in love with that particular nurse.

Sam had been at the shelter for three weeks and he had already made it his home. Or like the people who place and adopt animals call it, his ‘forever home’. He had made good friends of the other live-ins and staff. He had no idea or memory of his past home or homes, but he had a strong idea of where his current home was. And he felt that he truly belonged there. No one made fun of his misshapen face. No one joked about his odd voice. His vocal cords had been permanently damaged when the hospital intubated him incorrectly and now he could only speak in a hoarse, distorted whisper. No one cared about those things. They only cared about him. The inside him. And he was once again grateful.

Every seat at the twelve-seat conference table was taken but one. The head of the table. The seat that belonged to Andrew Rusk. President, Founder and CEO of Rusk Properties. And current missing person.

Trish Bermudez stood up. Her chair was next to the bosses unoccupied one.

“Okay, gentlemen, let’s get this wake started.” She began and picked up a file folder in front of her. “Here is how it stands. He has been incommunicado nearly two months. The longest time he has ever done this. The last was three weeks in 2014 when he decided that the Maoris in New Zealand needed funding for a National Indigenous Peoples Services Center and he went down there with six and half million to help build it. The time before that was two weeks in 2012 when he went to Arkansas to end child hunger and spent four million on the Southern States Food Bank.”

“Tree-hugging B.S.” Alan Masley chimed in. He sat on the opposite side of the boss’s empty chair.

“Alan.” Trish said, with a tone that one uses to address an unruly child. “Tree-huggers are obsessed with preserving and protecting the environment. Not people. Andrew Rusk is obsessed with helping people. And please hold your outbursts till the end of the meeting. Thank you.”

“Blow it out your ass, Trish.” Masley said and several men at the table chuckled.

“Ah, Alan. Ever the eloquent wordsmith.” Trish said and the others at the table laughed. “All that aside, gentlemen, we are in deep shit. Andrew is supposed to meet face to face with Hiroshi Kagoshima of Nippon Shore International one week from today. As most of you, if not all of you, know, Kagoshima only deals face to face. He does not do email, snail-mail, Skype or Google Hangout. He doesn’t use the phone and he doesn’t text. Face to face. That meeting is set for one week from today. In this very room. This deal has 2.26 billion in the balance. And as of today, the upcoming face to face meeting is minus one face. Our face, gentlemen and ladies. Andrew Rusk.”

“When’s the last time anybody saw him?” A young man in an expensive Italian blue suit asked.

“As the briefing papers we gave you two days ago say.” Trish looked at the young man and raised an accusatory eyebrow. “He was last seen on Friday the 5th of August leaving here in his Ferrari. His nephew was with him. He had one-hundred-fifty thousand dollars in paper-banded stacks of ten thousand each. Petty cash for him. And… well… for lack of a better word. He vanished.”

“They found the car though.” Alan chimed in again.

“Yes.” Trish said scowling at him. “I was getting to all that, Alan.”

“Get to it faster Trish, our asses are growing roots.” Alan sneered at her.

“Police found the Ferrari just south of the Canadian border. It had front end damage and it was left in an unattended parking garage. We reported it as stolen so we didn’t get them or the press involved in this. We can’t afford to have this information out in the world right now. Mr. Kagoshima could very well kibosh the deal if he knew how unstable things are right now.”

“The nephew?” An older man in a well-worn gray three piece suit said.

“You didn’t read the brief either, James?” Trish said scowling. “Why the hell did I bother printing out all the copies?”

“Remind me, Trish. I forget things. I’m old. And I drink.” The older man said.

“Andrew’s twenty-one year old nephew, Malcolm Andrew Rusk, is MIA as well.” She said flatly.

“The punk.” Masley said and got up from the table. He went to the counter and picked up a bagel. He buttered it and slathered it with cream cheese.

“Yes, Alan. Your normal hyperbolic, verbal-flatulence happens to be right on target this time. The punk.”

Sam Vincent opened his eyes and squinted at the light coming through the open-curtained window. It was 6:30am, but he didn’t need a clock to tell him that, he knew by the quality of the light. He loved this time of day. It was an hour and a half before he had to go to work and it gave him time for coffee, extra sugar and no cream, and time to read the paper and think. He was a blank slate and he knew it. He could write on that slate anything he wanted. He was free to create his life, and the very idea of that thrilled him to his core. His life was a world of possibilities.

He sat up in his cot, stretched, leaned to one side and farted.

“Shit. Man.” One of his five roommates, Darnell Plimpton, said. “Why you always got to be doin’ that every goddamn morning?”

“Because, Darnell my man.” Sam said in his odd voice. “The Lord sayeth… ‘Better out than in’.” Sam laughed, stood up, farted again and began making up his cot.

“You stink like last weeks cat box.” Darnell said burying his face in his pillow. “Why you got to be get-in’ up so damn early anyways. Your shift don’t start till eight.”

“I can’t hear what you’re saying when you’re bitin’ the pillow, Darnell.” Sam said bending down and pinching Darnell’s butt through his blanket.

Darnell spun around and violently slapped at Sam’s hand.

“Keep yo fuckin’ hands to ya self.” He said. “Fuckin’ homo.”

“I’m afraid you’re wrong on that one, Darnell. I don’t remember much, but I do remember my love of the ladies.” Sam said walking to the bathroom. “I’ll be off to my morning ablutions now, my good man. Tah.”

“You a fuckin’ nutjob, dude.” Darnell said.

Sam stopped in his tracks bent forward, pulled down his pajama bottoms and flashed his bare butt at Darnell. There was a tattoo of Winnie-The-Pooh on his left buttcheck.

“Give Winnie a kiss.” Sam said.

Darnell rolled back onto his stomach. “If he ain’t a homo, he should be.” He said into his pillow.

Half an hour later Sam walked into the industrial kitchen of the shelter. It was already in full breakfast-preparation mode. The room smelled of fresh-brewed coffee and bacon and was spotlessly clean.

“Coffee’s poured. It’s on the counter.” A beautiful, old African-American woman said. She moved from one side of the kitchen to the other like a dancer. Her movements belied her age. “Extra sugar, Sugar.” She said and winked at Sam.

“I’m desperately in love with you Gracie and I want you to run away with me to the Bahamas!” Sam said picking up his coffee mug.

“I’m eighty-six years old, Sugar. I don’t run. To the Bahamas or no place else.” Gracie said pulling a huge fry pan from a metal rack of pots and pans. “You want some eggs before you start up?”

“Nope.” Sam said, sipping his coffee.

“Bacon?” She asked him.

“Nope.” He replied.

“Hash browns?”

“Nope.”

“Pancakes?”

“Nope.”

“How are you gonna work as hard as you work on a empty stomach?” She said setting the fry pan on the industrial stove top.

“Shear will and a big helping of your love, Gracie.” He said grinning at her.

“Don’t shit a shitter, Sugar.” She said returning the grin. “The newspaper’s in the bathroom. Edward was readin’ it on the crapper. You might wanna put on some latex gloves if you wanna read it now.” Gracie went to the huge refrigerator and pulled out five dozen eggs. “You know Edward.” She said.

“All too well.” Sam said pinching his nose shut. “Did you read it this morning, Gracie?”

“Did indeed.” She said cracking eggs into a huge bowl.

“Anything worth knowing?” Sam asked her, getting up to refill his coffee.

“Looks like we got a bit of a reprieve.” She said, still cracking eggs.

“How so?” He asked her.

“That fella who owns all this property ’round here turned up missin’” She opened a second carton of eggs and begin cracking those into the bowl. “Japanese fella don’t wanna buy it now, so we are gonna have some more time to help the hopeless.” She looked up into Sam’s eyes. “I asked Jesus and he answered.” She said wiping some egg off her hand.

“Did Jesus tell you how long we have?” Sam said sitting back down.

“Don’t be fresh.” Gracie said moving to the refrigerator.

“I’m not being fresh.” Sam began. “I’m serious. Did you get a feeling from the article in the paper or from your convo with Jesus how long we have before this place is sold out from under us?”

“The paper said that the Japanese man backed out and there’s no plans at this time for a sale. It also said that the company wasn’t doin’ nothin’ till they find their head honcho.”

“You talking about Andrew Rusk?” Sam said putting sugar in his coffee.

“Yeah. Him.” Gracie said and poured some milk into the egg bowl. “You want some eggs?” She asked him again.

“NO THANK YOU!” Sam shouted with a grin. He stood up and brought his mug over to one of the massive sinks. He rinsed it out. “Gracie, my love. We are going to figure out a way to keep our home safe. We are going to figure it out.” He went to Gracie. She turned her cheek up to him and he kissed it. “We’ll figure it out.”

Alan Masley stood in the doorway of Trish’s corner office. He was chomping on four sticks of Juicy Fruit gum.

“Are you just going to stand there and chew your cud or have you got something to say?” Trish said looking over her reading glasses.

“It’s been six and half months.” Masley said chomping.

“Newsflash.” She began. “I am very well aware.” She pushed her glasses up her nose and pulled open a desk drawer. “Unless you’ve got something important to say, I’ve got several important things to do.”

“Clients are jumping ship.” He said rubbing his back against the doorjamb. “Damn my back is itchy.”

“Try showering.” She said.

“Wanna join me?” He sneered. “I’ll wash your back and you can wash mine.”

“I’d rather shower with Norman Bates.” She said opening a file folder.

“Who?” Masley asked.

“WHAT do you want, Alan?” She slammed the file shut, pulled her glasses off and looked up at him.

“Rusk Properties owns eight square blocks of downtown L.A.” He began. “The Japs pulled out four months ago.”

“You’re repulsive, Alan. Go away.” She said putting her glasses back on.

“Wait.” He said stepping into Trish’s office and sitting down on her sofa. “The Japs pulled out and now that asshole homeless advocate is setting the wheels in motion to get the building they are in declared a Historical Landmark. He can do it too. The building is over a hundred and fifty years old.”

“I know all this, Alan.” Trish said leafing through her file. “What do you want?”

“We need to…” Masley began. “We can turn this around, Trish.”

Trish closed the file again, took off her glasses and set them down on her desk. She sat back in her chair, crossed her arms over her chest and looked at Masley straight in the eye.

“How?” She asked

“We develop it ourselves.” He said. “We diversify. We no longer just buy and sell real estate, we develop real estate.” He stopped. He inhaled. “Well?” He asked finally.

“That’s it?” Trish asked him raising her eyebrow.

“Whether or not you like it. Whether or not anybody likes it, knows it or admits it, you and I are running Rusk Properties now. We are co-vice presidents that have become co-CEO’s. And until Rusk comes out of hiding or comes back from the dead or comes back from what-the-fuck-ever, we are in charge and we have got to keep this place above the water line.”

“By developing?” Trish asked flatly.

“Yes!” Masley said standing up. He walked over to her desk and leaned down. “Give me your trash can.” He said.

“What?” Trish asked confused.

“Give me your trash can.” Masley repeated.

Trish reached down under her desk and pulled out the brass metal trash can. She handed it to him. Masley spat out the huge wad of chewed gum.

“Oh, Jesus, Alan.” She said recoiling. “Can you get ANY more disgusting.”

“I’m too excited to chew and talk at the same time.” He said handing her the trash can back.

“Thank god you don’t have to walk too.” She said and put the can back under her desk.

Masely sat back down on the couch and leaned forward with excitement.

“First we get this homeless bullshit and that deformed hoarse-whispering freak off our back.” He began.

“And how do you suppose we do that?” She said rocking back in her chair.

“We donate that portion of the properties.”

“What?” Trish shouted.

“Wait.” Masely said calmly. “We donate the little southeast corner of the properties that the homeless shit-hole shelter occupies. We donate it to the City of Los Angeles with a proviso.”

“Do tell.” Trish said rocking back again.

“That the building IS declared a Historical Landmark AND that it becomes not JUST a homeless shelter, but also an ultra-hip rehabilitation facility. I’m thinking ‘The Andrew Rusk Center For Human Advocacy’ or some such other tree-hugging bullshit.”

“Who pays for that?” Trish asked with mounting interest.

“We do.” Masley said leaning further forward. “We sell Catalina shore. It’s a piece of crap for us anyway. Drop…say…. eight million of the profits into the shelter. Build the sucker into a facility that not only takes in the crap-pantsed homeless but also the rich and famous heroine addicts. They live together. Build there lives back up together. All kumbaya and shit.”

“And what exactly do we gain?” Trish asked.

“First of all, the freakin’ write off will be amazing. I already crunched some numbers and we would actually MAKE money off this deal because of the current codes. Second the damn publicity will be like God himself sent a letter of appreciation and recommendation to us. The Rusk Foundation will be synonymous with Mother Teresa. Then, once that dump is revamped, we can develop the properties around it. We can make the area ultra-hip chic. Lofts and artsy shit. Rent them out to rich hipsters for a butt-load of money.” ”

“Wow.” Trish said.

“RIGHT? Isn’t this an incredible idea? Masely asked excitedly.

“I wasn’t ‘wowing’ at your idea, I was ‘wowing’ at the fact that you know what synonymous means.” Trish said leaning forward. “However.” Trish put the stem of her glasses to her lips. “This idea’s got legs.”

“You bet your pretty Mexican ass it does.” Masely said leering.

“My ass, as the rest of me, is Puerto Rican. You racist idiot.” She said picking up her office phone. “I need to make some calls. This could be big.”

Sam Vincent sat in the newly renovated kitchen of ‘The Andrew Rusk Self-Actualization Center’. He sat at one of the new kitchen counters on one of the new kitchen stools. He had his coffee, (no cream, extra sugar), in front of him in the same mug that he had been using for the past two years. The very mug that Gracie Washington had handed him his first cup of coffee in when he arrived at the run down homeless shelter. He loved that mug. It represented so much to him.

“You want some eggs?” Gracie asked him as she pulled a brand new giant fry pan from the brand new pots and pans rack.

“Gracie my love.” He began. “You have been asking me that same question for over two years. Don’t you know the answer by now?”

“I’m hoping one day you’ll wise up.” She said moving to the refrigerator for eggs. “Your skinny white ass just keeps gettin’ skinnier. You work too hard and eat too little.”

“I love you, Gracie. Will you marry me?” He said taking his mug to the brand new sink.

“Sugar.” She said putting eight dozen eggs on the counter. “I’m eighty-eight years old and you look to be about forty-five.”

“If I die, I die.” Sam said laughing.

“That’s a terrible old joke.” Gracie said. “Much like yourself.” She picked up an egg, looked at it for a moment then put it back in the crate. She walked over to Sam who had returned to his stool.

“You saved our home, Sugar.” She said taking his calloused hands into her tissue-paper-skin ones. “You and those fancy ACLU boys got that company to pay out and do the right thing. You saved our home. I love you for that, Sugar. I’ll love you for that till the day I die.”

“I didn’t do it alone.” He said looking deeply into her brown-black eyes. “Lots of people helped and the Rusk company decided to help us on their own.”

“For the taxes.” She said wrinkling her already well-wrinkled nose. “Not from the goodness of their hearts. I can tell you that much. But then. The end results the same. We live in a fancy mansion now and we still get to help the hopeless. That’s what matters most. Helpin’ the hopeless.” She let go of his hands and went back to her eggs.

Malcolm Andrew Rusk, his middle name given to him by his late parents in honor of his father’s brother, sat in a quiet corner of The Highwayman Pub, in Abbotsford Canada. Seated with him was Jason Miller, a somewhat seedy musician slash criminal with long black, greasy hair and a tattoo on his neck that read ‘Pussy Lover’. They both were on their third pint.

“It’s been over two years, dude. You MUST have killed him.” Jason Miller said.

“It was never in the paper. They just say he’s missing. But I’m still not going back. The Beaner and the Jew are running the company now and I don’t stand a chance with them. Anyway, he said he was gonna cut me loose on my twenty-first birthday.” Malcolm said picking up his beer mug.

“Maybe they never found out it was him.” Jason said lighting his hand rolled cigarette.

“Is that weed?!?” Malcolm asked looking around.

“No.” Jason said laughing. “Home rolled. Cheaper and better. Want one?”

“I don’t smoke.” Malcolm said leaning away from Jason. “It kills you.”

“Gotta die of something.” Jason said taking a deep drag off his cigarette. “Is that possible though? That they never figured out it was him? Didn’t you say he was in a Halloween costume or something?”

“Not Halloween.” Malcolm said and downed the last of his beer. “My uncle was batshit. He was charity happy and ‘give money to the needy’ happy. So get this. He dresses up as a homeless guy. He puts on filthy clothes and rubs mud into his long hair. Let’s his beard get all scraggly and he tells me that we are going to give money to the helpers. He called people who help other people helpers.”

“Clever.” Jason said sarcastically.

“So we go out in his Ferrari with a bag full of money… like over a hundred grand and he’s gonna give it away to anybody that makes an effort to help him out. He’s gonna sit on the sidewalk like a homeless dude and if somebody helps him out he’s gonna give them like ten grand!”

“Fuck.” Jason said and took a deep drag off his cigarette. “I woulda just kicked him.”

“Yeah.” Malcolm began. “Me too. Anyway, I was supposed to follow him around at a safe distance in the Ferrari and keep half of the money in the trunk till he needed it. He had half in that trash bag he was carrying. I freaked. I mean come on. The dude is gonna piss away over a hundred grand. I needed the money more than some shit on the street. So I revved up the Ferrari and plowed into him. You shoulda seen it. He flew like twenty feet into the air, man. It was hilarious. I grabbed the bag and split. You know the rest. You found me in this very bar, my man.”

“I did indeed, my dude.” Jason said snuffing out his cigarette. “And now this new deal is gonna make us even richer than your Uncle the perv.”

“Perv?” Malcolm asked.

“Didn’t he like flash you or some such pervy stuff?” Jason lit another cigarette.

“Oh.” Malcolm laughed. “No. He did that to everybody. If you said something he didn’t like he’d B-A you. You know, moon you. He had this tattoo of Winnie-The-Pooh on his ass and he’d turn around, drop his pants and say, ‘Give Winnie a kiss’.”

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.