Archive for March, 2010

A Touch of the Morbid. (Flash Fiction)

March 31, 2010

“Jessie, I…” Mort’s voice was a scalpel through the room’s silence and it startled him. But Jessie didn’t react. Her sleep was deep lately. And lengthy. She hardly seemed to be out of bed at all.

Mort snuggled close to her and inhaled the damp of her hair and scalp. Beneath that smell, or perhaps above it, he could smell himself. Stale sweat and earth still wept from his pores despite his evening shower.

“Jessie, I saw something today. Something’s going on. With Smith.” Mort draped his arm over her body. She was cold. He pulled the comforter tighter around their bodies and fought to go to sleep. But the smell of earth, of decomposition, pulled his mind back to what he had seen in the yard that afternoon.

Mort had spent the day helping Smith, their neighbor, with some manual labor. Jessie and Mort rented the second floor of Smith’s house, and he often asked for help with odd jobs. Things like mowing and raking. It was good work, and it was the kind of thing that a shut-in like Mort looked forward to.

“Holes. His yard was full of holes. I was helping to fill them in,” Mort sat up in bed. He stretched his arms above his head and yawned, which lead to a fit of coughing. The air in the room was musty, still and almost stifling. There was a slight odor of rot, something that didn’t belong to the piles of unwashed clothes on the bedroom floor. Mort wheezed and rattled, but Jessie didn’t stir.

Catching his breath, he continued: “And there was stuff in those holes, Jessie. Shapes that I know I’ve seen before. And when I asked Smith about it, he just said ‘Neighborhood dogs, Mort. They’re digging up my yard and burying their bones. Probably got half the city’s dead rodents in these holes.’ But Jessie I don’t think dogs dug those holes. They were too round, too straight.

“But I kept shoveling dirt in, even though I thought it funny that some dogs would have left the dirt in such polite piles. The dirt kept falling, but those shapes didn’t go away. They were bones alright. And dead things. But not rodents. Not vermin.” Mort put his hand on Jessie’s shoulder and squeezed. Her skin was clammy and stiff like the wax of an extinguished candle.

“Those things in the holes, they’re people Jessie. Kids, probably, judging from the size of the holes. And I know Smith’s got two kids, but I haven’t seen or heard them running around lately. God. What if he did something? Like murdered them.”

Mort moved his hand from Jessie’s shoulder to her cold neck, and onto the back of her head. He scratched her scalp with his fingers, tugged lightly on her auburn hair, and a clump of hair peeled away into his hand. She didn’t move. And he didn’t notice the blood, just like he didn’t notice her growing reek.

“If Smith… if something happened and Smith is responsible, well I’ll have to say something. I’ll have to call the police. I should have already said something. God, Jessie. We could be living above a murderer.”

Mort slid back under the comforter and pulled himself close to Jessie. He held her tightly, shivering from the cold contact of her body. Jessie’s body remained still. His breath stuttered as he leaned his mouth close to her ear.

“Jesus. Jessie, I’m scared.”

A Barefoot Wedding (Omniscient Narrator)

March 24, 2010

Bart was dubious about attending a barefoot wedding in October.

The wedding of Joe and Silvia Herny was a cute idea on paper.  Outdoors and barefoot, the entire ceremony, and subsequent celebration, was taking place in a series of connected tents.  But nature rarely pays attention to the desires of mankind: it had rained the night before and the Minnesota farm pasture had turned soft.  Tables and chairs sank under the weight of their occupants (both food and guest).  Silvia’s train had grown gray and heavy as it dragged through the muddy grass.  Toes squished and disappeared in the mud during the procession, buffet, and wedding dance.  At one point, the best man (after a few too many sneaked drinks) had rocked back on his chair and found himself with a face full of wet clay.

Given the bad weather, why wasn’t the wedding moved indoors? (Or why, at the very least, didn’t people put their shoes on?) Well, Sylvia’s father had put a large deposit down on the outdoor venue and refused to sacrifice the money for comfort, after all, The Suck had been worse than this and he’d made it out of there ok. And Sylvia wanted everything to be perfect for her ideal wedding, and that meant no one dared put his or her shoes on before desert had been served.

And so Bart sat at his table knowing full well that, through the layers of damp and drying mud, his feet were purple and ivory. But Bart’s mind wasn’t really on his feet. He was more interested in his former love Brisbane O’Neill, her hair was shorter and darker, but it was still his Bris. She was seated on the other side of the buffet tent and had yet to look in Bart’s direction, which he took to mean that she had no idea that he was in attendance.

“They couldn’t have picked a worse day for a barefoot wedding, you know?” It was the young woman to Bart’s right; she had introduced herself as Rebecca but was clearly a Becky or Becks.

Bart half turned and glanced at Becks from the corner of his eye, “Hmm?”

“I asked who’s got your eye on the other side of the room? Don’t you know that’s where all of the taken ladies are sitting? Us lone wolves are all at this table,” Becks wasn’t entirely interested in Bart, but she was tired of being the single friend at weddings.

Bart didn’t hear a thing that she said. Her mouth was moving, but everything in the tent was on mute. He turned more fully in her direction and looked her up and down, from the plunging neckline and deep cleavage to her hair that was pulled back too tightly and the annoying glitter on her cheekbones. He hated that glitter. Bris would wear it sometimes, to annoy him, and it would get all over him and their pillows. Bart smiled and nodded at Becks.

“You even hear what I said?” she placed a hand on his shoulder.

Bart didn’t want her hand, but he didn’t care enough to shrug her off. He was barely even at the wedding, his mind thrown back to that last night with Brisbane in his car: She cried in the passenger seat, curled into herself like a touch-me-not. She wouldn’t talk, wouldn’t explain what she had been doing at that man’s apartment. Bart had asked only if she was ok when she entered the car and then, with a sigh, had started to drive. “Barty?” He clenched his teeth so tight that he feared they would break, but he didn’t look at her. “Barty, I’m ok,” she said through tears, but she wasn’t ok. They weren’t ok. The distance between them was a coiled viper. Brisbane reached a slender arm across the car and placed it on Bart’s shoulder. Her hand was cold through his sweatshirt and he recoiled. But her hand was insistent and it returned to his upper arm. She squeezed lightly, kneading her way into him, silently pleading. Bart wouldn’t let himself speak, and he didn’t know what to say anyway. Except for her quiet sobs, they drove in silence.

It was clear to Becks that Bart was as interested in her as he was in the mousse that wilted on his plate before him, “You’re a lost cause, you know that?” She patted his shoulder in pity and then turned her attention to the other young men at the table.

Bart nodded and stood up from the table. He was taking someone else’s spot, anyway. Sylvia was Brisbane’s friend, not his, and he hadn’t actually been invited to the wedding. But he needed to talk to Bris. He had needed to talk to her since he walked away two years ago, but he hadn’t had the courage to do it until now. He needed to know what had happened that night, whether he had been correct in assuming infidelity or if he should have waited for an explanation.

From across the room, Brisbane watched as Bart stood up. She had seen him saunter into the reception tent, looking awkward and out of place in his ill-fitting wool suit. She hadn’t seen or heard from him in two years, but he looked the same to her: His sad eyes and timid mouth, a face always on the edge of smiling but never fully committing. Brisbane had begged Sylvia to seat her in the couples’ section; she said she couldn’t deal with the prowlers and creepers that come with the singles’ table. But, if she was being honest with herself, the truth was that her heart was still in Bart’s car.

Of course she had called Bart to pick her up that night. Sam had gotten sick at the club and left early. Tiphanie had met some Andrew, but hadn’t wanted to seem too available so she made Brisbane accompany them when they left. Brisbane was drunk, had thought nothing of playing the wingman for Tiph’s guy’s friend, Chuck. But when Tiphanie and Drew got down to business, Chuck had hoped for some of the same. And why shouldn’t he have expected it? Brisbane had played the wingman: she had flirted and touched his arm, called him cute and laughed at his jokes. But the alcohol refused to take no for an answer and Chuck became too forward, almost aggressive. Brisbane wasn’t worried about Tiphanie, she could take care of herself, but Brisbane did not want Chuck. She loved Bart. And she had run from the apartment in fear, had called Bart from the stairwell and had waited outside until Bart’s car pulled up.

She was crying when she got into the car. She barely even heard Bart ask if she was ok. How could she tell him what had happened? She should have known better, and was embarrassed that she had let things get as far as they had. She wanted to explain, to allay Bart’s fear and anger, but she didn’t. She sat and cried. Bart ground his teeth and breathed through his nose, angry and scared and confused. She was just as confused, and was scared of the silence in the car. She reached out to touch him, to close the space between them. Her words of “I’m ok” were spoken out loud, but had the effect of a soliloquy. Bart made the decision to drop Brisbane off at her own apartment, rather than returning them to his. He looked at her as she climbed out of the car, their eyes met sadly but they said nothing. Bart surrendered any of his things that he might have left in her apartment, knowing that he wouldn’t return for them. As his car drove away, Brisbane wished she had spoken up, had cleared the air between them and made clear that he was wrong, he was still hers and hers alone.

The reception dinner was winding down and the cold-footed guests waited for the bride and groom to say something. Knives and spoons were clanked against glasses, prompting Joe and Sylvia to kiss. The only people who stood were the servers who moved to remove empty plates from tables, and Bart. Attention in the room shifted to Bart, people murmured and pointed in his direction. Is he with Sylvia’s family? Maybe he’s one of Joe’s college buddies. He’s getting ready to say something. Who is this guy?

Sylvia recognized Bart a moment to late, thinking Why is he here? What is he doing? He’s going to ruin my day. MY day! No no no no no!

Bart was already approaching the microphone stand that stood before the wedding party’s table. He was making eye contact with Brisbane now, it was clear to him that she knew he was there. Becks watched curiously from her table, growing bored with a young doctor’s descriptions of the emergency room. Brisbane smiled at Bart, but she shook her head at him, she didn’t want him to do what she was afraid he was about to do. She started to rise, dividing the tent’s attention between her and Bart. Bart motioned for her to sit back down and he turned to Sylvia and Joe as he reached the microphone. He offered a conciliatory smile and a shrug. Joe was confused: he had pulled a few to many drinks from his hip flask and couldn’t place Bart’s familiar face. Probably one Sylvia’s friends, he thought.

Bart’s world was silent again, and a sort of tunnel vision had crept over him. Everyone in the tent was blurred except for Brisbane. He smiled at her lovingly. He grabbed the microphone.

“I’d like to propose a toast…”

Percy Fickleweather

March 10, 2010

Percy Fickleweather stopped for gas at the Road Oasis because the service station’s fluorescent glow had cut through the surrounding forest and drawn him in like a bug-zapper. He sat in his car while the attendant pumped his gas; surprised that full service was still available.

The attendant, an old man in saggy coveralls, leaned on Percy’s door while the gas pumped. The man’s skin had an unhealthy green pallor in the bluish lights. “Where’re you going at this time of night?”

“My family’s got a lake house at Wanaka. I’m meeting them there,” Percy thought the man should have been washing his windows.

“Wanaka’s hours from here. You know these forest roads?”

“My family always takes 71, but I was coming from a different direction. I’ve got a map. This way is quicker.”

“The tarmac goes out in about fifty miles. Then there’s no guarantee of road condition. And with the rain we’ve been having, there could be a washout.”

“But the road goes through, right?” Percy thought the old man asked too many questions, that he should just stick to his job and mind his own business.

“And there’re no more service stations until Chesapeake, but by then you’re past Wanaka.”

“The map shows that the road goes through to Wanaka.”

The fuel pump clicked and the nozzle jerked in the attendant’s hand. “I’ll put a little extra in your tank for you.” He smiled weakly at Percy, “Call it twenty five even.”

Percy leaned back and glanced at the pump. The dial read 24.67. “I’ll call it what I actually owe you,” he lifted a hip and slipped out his wallet. He thumbed through the bills in his wallet and extracted two tens and four ones. Then he dug in his coin tray for the exact change. He frowned and shook his head as he counted the money. Some people think they can take advantage of you, just because you’re not local. Some people don’t know what’s coming. “Here’s your money. It’s all there. You watched me count it.”

“I sure did.” The old man held out a withered hand, cracked and dulled with oil and gasoline.

“Thanks,” Percy started the car and put it in drive.

“Be careful. Look son, you can always head west on 34 out of Wheeler. That will put you back on 71.”

“I have a map,” Percy shook his head and drove off into the dark woods.

That was at least four hours ago. The attendant had been right about the tarmac disappearing. The hum of tires on asphalt ended abruptly and had been replaced by a rough churning sound, accompanied by the occasional plink of rocks off the undercarriage. Percy had slowed his speed considerably, from 90 to 65, but he was not worried about losing too much time. A shortcut was a shortcut.

The gravel road was soft and full of ruts and puddles. Percy’s car bounced and bolted through every mile. Percy had turned his music louder to drown out the gravel’s noise, but the bumps had caused the discs to skip and he was forced to turn on the radio. The radio played country music and static. Percy couldn’t believe that people allowed themselves to live like this. It was one thing to have a lake house where you lived for a week or two every year, where you brought in your amenities from the civilized world, but to think that people willingly subjected themselves to this sort of bucolic hell made Percy worry about the fate of humanity.

There were no lights along the road, which made reading the map very hard to do. He passed a house with a large light attached to their windmill and he pulled over to the side of the road. The windmill’s light was strong enough to illuminate the map, but Percy wasn’t exactly sure where he was on the map. There were no signposts or landmarks on the road. Who builds a road with no signs on it? Did the locals divine their way by reading bark patterns on the pine trees? Percy refolded the map and tossed it into the backseat. It was worthless. But he knew he was going the right way. He could feel it.

The car’s fuel light had come on, the red-orange glow caught Percy’s attention immediately. He had never driven the car until it was empty before, but he was sure that the car could get another ten miles. Probably more like twenty. At this point, Wanaka was probably less than twenty miles away. He would be fine. The scenic route had saved him so much time that he’d probably beat his family to the lake house. Finally, his brothers would see that he’s not always the screw-up they think he is.

Despite the less than favorable road conditions, he accelerated. He didn’t want to run out of gas because he was driving to slowly. The road was softer here than it had been and he could feel the tires swerving slightly. He accelerated further, returning to 90 miles per hour, and it felt like his car slid, rather than drove, over the gravel road.

Then his car was sliding, spinning counterclockwise, as it hit a glassy puddle of water that covered the width of the road. Percy stepped hard on the brakes and jerked the wheel to the right, and the whole car came up on its two right tires. He let go of the steering wheel as the car dropped back to all four wheels. His foot remained on the break until the car had stopped spinning. Percy opened his eyes.

His car was still on the road. He was in the middle of the puddle and the car’s headlights on the water made it look like quicksilver. How many revolutions had the car spun? The trees looked the same on either side of the road and Percy had no idea which way was the way he was coming or the way he was going.

He glanced over his shoulder at the discarded map on the seat and tightened his grip on the steering wheel.

He accelerated.

A Third Person POV (with Letter and Monologue)

March 3, 2010

His was a restless and fitful sleep. Dogs, divided into opposing teams, passed a basketball up and down the court. The sidelines and bleachers were filled with canine coaches and players, referees and spectators. All of them barking, almost synchronized, but just off enough for the noise to become a continuous pulse of Awoofwawoofaowaoofoowawoof. No shot missed its mark, and the score climbed higher and higher as dewclaws scratched varnish from the court’s hardwood floor and frustrated spectators scratched behind their ears as if in flea-induced agony. Panting tongues, pink like Easter ham, lolled out of mouths. These teams were too evenly matched. Would their game be eternal? Someone would have to cede to the other, wouldn’t they? Eventually?

He sat up groggy, confused by his place. His scattered thoughts tossed like laundry in a dryer after the door has been opened, finally settling in no semblance of order. His phone was buzzing on the nightstand. Her side of the bed: empty. The pillow untouched since the morning and the sheets and blankets pulled mostly to his side.

His hand pawed the nightstand, grabbing lamp alarm clock water glass and, at last, phone. It buzzed and trembled in his hand, a live animal caught against its will, fearful of its fate. Through sleepy eyes he looked at the screen. Brisbane.

His lips smacked and his tongue stuck in his mouth. Answering, his voice was dry and quiet.

“Barty?” Her voice quavered as though she was unsure of the man who answered the phone, His guard was up almost instantly, if not from the time of the call and her absence in his, their, bed, then from the fact that she rarely called him Barty. Almost never. When was the last time that had happened? He supposed it had been the last time she had something important, but ominous, to tell him.

He would need to lead her into telling him the whole story, or at least the basics. If he ignored the fact that she was calling at two thirty, it would never be brought up again. But her voice, her Barty, begged him both to ask and not ask. Contrition given and taken.

“Did I wake you up?”

“No. Yes. It doesn’t- what’s the matter?”

“I’m sorry.”

“I said it doesn’t matter that you woke me-“

“I’m so sorry.”

“What’s going on then? Are you still at the club?”

“Sam went home. Tiphanie and me” She swallowed audibly. It could have been a hiccup. “We left the club,” Bart held the phone away from his head and rubbed at his eyes. He stood from the bed and put the phone back to his ear, “seemed that they knew each other, but I don’t know. It was a good idea at the time, Tiphanie thought so. I was along for the ride, since I wasn’t going anywhere else and you wouldn’t mind.”

He was already pulling on a shirt. Socks and shoes. “Where are you now?”

The silence poured itself a cup of coffee and sat down with the paper.

“Bris?” He wouldn’t admit that he already knew the answer to his question. He didn’t want to hear the answer.

He grabbed his car keys from the dish by the apartment door. “Just give me the address?” And he closed the door behind him.