The Death of Clara Strickland (The End?)

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Clara and Amy watched as Matt looked at the photo through a microscope.  He couldn’t remember where it came from, and both women wondered how in the hell you wind up with something like that and not know you got it. But they exchanged looks and that was all.

“I can’t see anything other than the outline of his face,” Matt said, but I can tell he sees me. I don’t think he knows what’s going on.

“Who does?” sighed Clara, and she realized that Sammy might be trapped forever.

 

They made trips back and forth to the library and tried to find something, anything, even a hint, for some remedy but there was nothing. There wasn’t a scrap of truth to anything they read, and nothing about their everyday lives as ghosts. Finally, towards the end of November, Clara announced, “I’m going to haunt the Thanksgiving Dinner. Anyone wanting to come along can help, but I’m going to fuck with these people.” No one else offered to join her and Clara didn’t blame them. The fear of cameras now was a very real thing.

 

 

As Clara was getting ready to go, she wanted to make sure she looked the part of a murdered wife, Amy walked through the wall and into the room.

“You know how we feel about you doing this,” Amy told her, “you’re going to endanger us all.”

“So?” Clara said, “So what? What you going to do? Hide here until one by one you disappear with no clue as to why? I say we all hit the damn road. We spy, we steal, we get a van and only move around at night, and we go dancing all the damn time. We can visit different places and try to find other ghosts.”

“And get fired by the sun?” Matt asked. He had drifted up from the floor.

“We don’t know that’s a thing.” Clara said, “And yes, I do realize Sammy didn’t believe the camera thing.

“We’re here to help you with the haunting.” Matt said. “Do you have a plan?”

“Yes.”

 

Most of her family had never met many of her party friends, Clara knew that, and so passing Matt and Amy off as close friends that her family didn’t know would be easy. Bridgett, the blonde with the tattoo, didn’t know anyone, so she would be happy to have someone to talk to that was close to her age. The problem was getting them past George. Of course, George was looking to cement Clara’s family accepting his story about her will and life insurance, so he wouldn’t be looking for a fight. If Matt and Amy were old friends from the High School church club, George might think that’s why he never met them. But Matt was the one who suggested they get both George and Bridgett so stoned they couldn’t make it through the meal anyway.

 

 

“This is George’s ‘Medicine Cabinet’”, Clara told Amy as they manifested in the closet of the bedroom of her house. George was pounding away at Bridgett, so they knew they wouldn’t be noticed, even if those two were just a few feet away. “I think these blue pills are LSD,” Clara told Amy.

“They are,” Amy replied, “I’ve tried it before, but I didn’t inhale.”

“Smartass!”

 

Amy and Matt arrived right after Clara’s parents. Bridgett was hopelessly inept when it came to matters in the kitchen, and Barbara, Clara’s mother, waded in to rescue her. Tim, Clara’s father, took the proffered drink and suggested the men retreat to watch football. Having Amy assure everyone she had baked many a turkey helped dispel any misgivings about letting her and Matt in. Clara had to admit Amy looked good in church clothes and Matt cut a handsome figure as well. They looked as if they were alive, and no one questioned why they had come in through the backdoor of the garage. George hated to have the blinds open so they were safe from sunlight  from that source as well.

Clara manifested just long enough to drop the LSD into George’s beer, two hits of the stuff,  and the other doses in Bridgett’s wine. She could be in and out of view in less than a second, and she wished she had more time to get better at being a ghost. The acid would really start kicking in about the time Thanksgiving Dinner was served. Clara was surprised at how well Amy and Matt blended into the religious talk neither of them have ever exhibited before. Clara never believed in a god, or disbelieved in a god, she had never really thought about it that deeply. Did religious people automatically assume she didn’t want to hear it? She didn’t, religious stuff bored her to tears, but if there was some old white guy in a bathrobe and an epic beard, what part did he play in her being a ghost? Clara grinned at the amount of alcohol Bridgett and George was knocking down. She knew they had hit some weed to calm them down, but the acid would be cranking very soon.

“The candles,” Bridgett breathed, “have you ever noticed how the fire seems to be floating above the candle, like a star?” And Clara knew it was on.

Both Amy and Matt were good, really good, at manifesting in and out of reality. More than once Amy would totally disappear while only Bridgett could see her, and Bridgett was beginning to lose control. Matt walked right through George in the kitchen and George just about lost it. He dropped his beer and the glass broke everywhere. He couldn’t very well say anything about what he saw, and Clara laughed at how red his face was getting. Tim was expressing doubts as to if George ought to have another beer but Bridgett was pouring a hefty glass of wine.

 

“Tell them about the insurance policies,” Clara whispered behind George while he was in the bathroom and he peed all over himself. George let out a yelp as he whizzed an arc across the floor. But Clara was gone.

“You’re stealing from them, George,” Clara said from right behind him in the hallway and she let George see her, for just an instant, before she disappeared.

George shrieked. He fairly ran back into the dining room where everyone was staring at him.

“She’s, uh, your, uh, I uh,” George fought against the drug coursing through his veins and knew he was losing it, “I saw a spider.”

But Bridgett laughed hard and everyone turned to look at her. Both Amy and Matt were appearing and disappearing when no one else was looking and Bridgett thought it was hysterical. She finally sat on the floor with her wine and giggled.

“Is your friend okay?” Tim said and everyone heard the term “friend” being used in a way that suggested it was too soon for George to have a girlfriend.

“Why don’t you cut the turkey, George?” Matt suggested, right on cue, and Amy grinned. George took the two pronged fork and gentled entered the turkey’s flesh, as if he were expecting it to explode. That went well, it was a start, and George pointed the knife at the turkey’s breast and pressed down with the tip of the knife.

Clara’s face came out of the turkey as she flowed, seemingly, from the cut, and pointed at George as he fell back screaming at the top of his lungs, “You murdered me, George, you killed me,” Clara stepped up on the table, “and now you’re hiding my will from my family, and trying to steal the life insurance money from them. I will have my vengeance!” Clara yelled the last sentence and George’s bowels released as he ran from the house howling.

 

“So now what?” Amy asked when they finally stopped laughing. George had ran down the street in full panic, with Bridgett on the floor in a puddle of tears. Tim had called the cops while Amy and Matt had said their goodbyes and left before the police got there. They had giggled as George was brought back to the house shouting about ghost and how he had not killed his wife. The ghosts were all hiding in the attic, but Clara had never felt more alive.

“It’s time to go, Amy,” Clara said simply.

 

 

 

 

“Can you hear me, Sammy?” Clara asked.

“Barely, but yeah.” Sammy replied.

“Ready?” Clara took her clothes off and sat in the lounge chair near the edge of the pool.

“Yeah, but barely,” Sammy replied. “Beats the photo life.”

“You know, I know technically speaking, you’re older than I am, but you’re the first person I ever met that made me want to have a kid. I wish I had a son like you.” Clara said and she realized the truth of her own words, and she bit her lip trying not to cry but couldn’t help it. “You’re a good kid,” she added.

“That was unexpected,” Sammy said, “but hey, thanks, that’s the nicest thing anyone ever said to me, living or dead.”

“I wish I had known you when I was alive,” Clara said. She looked at the night sky and it was fading to light.

“So what happened with George?” Sammy asked.

“The plan worked,” Clara said, “he was so freaked out over being accused of murder he confessed to the insurance theft by hiding my will. Bridgett threw him under the bus trying to keep from getting a murder rap. The cops used them both against each other trying to find out if I had been murdered, but they’re convinced I wasn’t now. I wouldn’t want George to do time for killing me. But he’s going to have to share the money with my family. And explain his drug stash. I’m nearly sorry about that.”

“No you aren’t.” Sammy laughed.

 

Clara watched the sky lighten and heard Amy call out, “You don’t have to do this, Clara.” And she nodded. “Sammy deserves better than to be stuck like this, and I’m, well, I want to see if there is anything else. Death has made me much better as a person than I was alive. I owe Sammy this.”

“We’re going to hit the road tomorrow, like you said, get a van and get serious window tint, and travel. We’ll look for other ghosts, and we’ll try to find out what happens, when, when someone does what you’re doing.” Amy was sobbing.

“Come back and haunt us if you can, Clara.” Matt said simply. “Tell Sammy I love him.”

“Did you hear that?” Clara asked.

“Yes,” replied Sammy. “Tell them both.”

“Sammy and I love you both, he wanted you to know, I want you to know.” And Clara stopped speaking. There was nothing left to be said.

The sun brightened the sky and the stars blinked out, one by one. The first ray of sunlight streaked the sky and Clara watched as her left leg began to dissolve and float away like dust. “I’m fading away!” she called but no one spoke. “Sammy?”

“Yeah, I can feel it, too,” Sammy said, “it doesn’t hurt.”

Her legs dissolved into stardust and blew away and Clara felt her last tear streak down her cheek as the sun slipped above the horizon, “Sammy?” she asked but no one was there. Clara felt her last tear fall but she was gone before it hit the ground.

 

End

The Death of Clara Strickland (Parts Three and Four)

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Clara watched George as he chopped a line of coke on a small mirror on the nightstand. She was sitting next to him, but George couldn’t see her or hear her. Sammy sat on the bed, cross-legged, and Ted was sitting next to him. Amy and Matt were standing against the wall making fun of the way George looked. Clara had these same thoughts; George was putting on weight, even at twenty-five, and his hair was thinning. His moustache did resemble a mouse that had crawled under his nose and died. But they had some good time, back when she was alive. He was a damn good dancer, or had been, but… Clara remembered a contest they had won, had it been three years ago already? They had been the very best dancers on the floor and the whole club knew it.

 

“How long you two married, Clare?” Sammy asked.

“Clara,” she corrected him, and instantly regretted her tone, “right out of High School, five years ago. Just short of it. He had a head full of hair, was lean and mean and he was hot.” Clara didn’t mean it sarcastically but everyone laughed.

George picked up the phone off the nightstand and dialed a number, “Yeah, come on over,” he said, “cops got it all cleaned up. No, there isn’t a smell. I’ll change the sheets before you get here.”

Bastard. Clara was seething. This was how much he missed her.

“Let it go, girl,” Amy said. “You do not want to haunt your old life this damn soon.”

“We are still watching aren’t we?” asked Matt. “If it’s the blonde with the tattoo on her ass, I’m watching.”

“You people,” Clara sighed. “Is there anyone here whose hobbies don’t include watching me have sex?”

“Well,” Ted said as he raised his hand, “not since you died.”

 

The woman was the blonde, with the tattoo, and Clara had never realized how awkward sex looked when it wasn’t one of those cheap porn tapes or in the movies. Clothes never came off seamlessly, and George was hopelessly inept when it came to bras. The woman looked around the room, as if she could sense she was being watched, and Clara was sure the woman was faking pleasure just for the cocaine. “You should know,” Clara told herself she walked through the wall and out of the room.

Being dead was a little difficult. During the day, the living had to plan for food, water, bathroom breaks, shopping, and sleep. Time simply passed without interruption for the dead, which sped it up and slowed it down, at the same time. It was dark outside and Clara was tempted to take a walk, but felt a little strange being alone. She went back into the bedroom and found the other four ghosts listening to the after-sex conversation. Amy motioned for her to come closer, and grinned.

“…I knew as soon as they cops called me,” George was saying, “that sneaky bitch had found my stash. She was good for that sort of thing, but it’s her own damn fault. She’s lucky she didn’t kill that moron she was screwing, too.”

“So, Georgie,” the blonde nearly purred, and Clara made puking noises, “did you have any insurance on her?”

“That greedy little bitch!” Amy screamed with laughter.

“You go girl, get that gold!” Sammy laughed, too.

“Yeah, more than she realized,” George said. “Her family knows about one of the policies and I’ll split that with them, but there’s another half a million they don’t know about. She left everything to them, can you believe she had a will? I’ll have to get it out of the box at the bank, but they don’t have to know about that either. I’m going to invite them all over for Thanksgiving and we’re going to have a memorial. Why don’t you come? We can tell them that you and Clara worked together or something like that.”

“And have sex in the bathroom while they’re all watching TV?” the blonde giggled.

“Definitely.”

 

“You’re mad about how George is reacting to your death?” Ted asked. They were in the tub at Matt’s house. Clara wasn’t sure how she felt about sex in her old bed anymore, even though she wasn’t going to move out, if that was what it was called.

“Yeah, I am, but it’s not just that,” Clara replied in almost a whisper. “I feel sorry for him now. I feel bad about the way we lived our lives. I feel a sense of loss now, that I didn’t live when I could have. The first thing I thought when I met Sammy was it would have been great to have a kid like that. George and I partied like there was no end to any of it. He’s going to keep going, and I don’t blame him, really, but it’s still sad.”

“Once you’re free of your body you are also free of the chemicals that you put into it. Your mind becomes more clear. Your heart is unburdened with the anxiety of day to day living. Oddly, when you become a ghost you become more human,” Ted told her. “That’s why sex is so much better. There aren’t any distractions of clothes or morals or anything. You like someone and you’re attracted and you can just go for it.”

They sat in the tub for a while, and Clara wondered why life would be like had she known was death was going to be like. She sat up to ask Ted if he thought he might have lived his life any differently but Ted was gone.

 

“Gone?” Amy asked.

“What do you mean gone?” Matt said as he walked through a wall to join them.

“It really happened?” Sammy stood up and cussed aloud. “Dammit, he was only thirty something, wasn’t he?”

“Yeah, one minute we were in the tub talking and then he was just gone.” Clara felt like crying but didn’t know if she could.

“Were you screwing?” Amy asked.

“Yeah, did he come and go?” Matt said and Amy cut her eyes at him.

“No, we had finished, and he was more exciting than you’d think, but we were sitting there talking and he was just…gone.” Clara let herself drift down to the next floor and hoped no one would join her. But what if she just kept going? Was that the answer? Did all ghosts simply drift too high or sink too low to escape the finality of death? But what happened next? Clara found she wondered about that almost constantly.

 

End three

 

“So where’s the nearest, uh, place with books, what are they called again?” Clara asked.

“Library?” Sammy offered. “You seriously couldn’t remember what a library was called?”

“I went to a private school,” Clara said, and again, she regretted her tone of voice with Sammy, “my parents paid for me to be there and the school wasn’t about to toss me as long as Daddy was donating money to them. I drank, did coke and the quarterback.”

“So what was George?” Sammy asked.

“His parents had money, too.” Clara said. “I’m betting he forged my signature on those insurance policies. His daddy owns a couple of insurance companies.”

“George had money and you two wound up in this neighborhood?” Sammy laughed. “No offense, but this isn’t exactly Beverly Hills, here.”

“Sammy’s right,” Matt said, “it would seem if the two of you had any sort of money this wouldn’t be where you moved into.”

“You dead people don’t read the same newspapers as the living,” Clara said but she laughed to ease it in, “or you would know this neighborhood is a gold mine. You’re just a few blocks from Womack, which is quickly becoming very pricey. George was going to start buying houses here and then tearing them down, and building more expensive places. You’ll notice we tore down that shack behind our place to build the pool.”

“Yeah, my mama used to live there until she couldn’t afford it anymore, and she had to move,” Sammy said.

“Oh God, I am so sorry, Sammy,” Clara was horrified.

“Just kidding,” Sammy laughed with the others, “that place was a dump. I have no idea who lived there.”

“So what do you want with the library?” Amy asked. “You want to research ghosts, don’t you?” and Amy squealed with delight.

“So where is it?” Clara asked and no one knew.

The yellow pages had several listed and Clara was amazed. They all looked like really nice places even if they did have books in them. The closest was over a mile away and Sammy suggested they walk, and slip in after midnight. There would be less of a chance with a camera or a living person.

“Why don’t we just drive?” suggested Clara and everyone just looked at her.

“What?” she asked. “You can use a sex toy but not a stick shift?”

 

Not only had no one driven since their death, no one had ever really left the neighborhood, except Amy, who had to walk, hide in trucks, and even hitchhike back.

“But you did ride in a truck? You did travel inside a vehicle? This isn’t rocket science I’m trying to explain to you is it?” Clara couldn’t believe it. No one had left the neighborhood in years.

“I think it’s in our nature to stay close to where we died,” Amy said.

“You died in Lubbock Texas!” Clara said loudly. “You were in a car wreck a thousand miles from here.”

“I think it’s in our nature to stay close to where we lived.” Matt said. “Most people do that in life.”

“Screw that,” Clara said, “I’m going to the library. Who’s with me?”

 

“Not one book in that damn place that gave us a damn thing,” Sammy was the first to speak when they returned. “It’s like nothing anybody ever wrote ever addressed who we ghosts are or what we do other than scare the living and wear sheets. It’s like we’re the damn Klan.”

“On the upside we know better than to drive again,” Amy said and looked sharply at Clara when she did.

“I wasn’t going that damn fast,” Clara said, “and that late at night who gets a damn ticket for speeding?”

“You!” said the others in unison.

“Okay, Okay, but it’s not like he was going to take me in,” Clara knew that was a lie, and hoped no one  would call her on it.

“We should have known they would run her license if we got pulled over,” Matt said, “but I had no idea they knew she was dead this soon.”

“Well, we’re all lucky I’m quick on my feet!” Clara tried to sound like it was all over and everyone would move on to another subject.

“We’re lucky you’re quick on your knees, girl,” Sammy said, “but I have to admit you did get us out there.”

“Why is there no information on being a ghost?” Matt asked. “I mean, everything we went through for the last six hours was fiction or close to it. No one has ever written anything about us that’s true. Sammy’s right. It’s like we don’t exist.”

“What if no one who is a ghost ever lives long enough to pass any real information on?” Amy said quietly. “What if none of us ever really get enough time to find out anything? You’ve all read the newspapers every day; where is everyone? Why isn’t there more of us? I know half a dozen people from around here who has died, and the most we’ve ever had with us was five, and now four. I went from Texas to SoCal and met two. What if it doesn’t happen often enough for anyone to give a fuck?”

“All we have can cover a page and a half and not one word of any of what we know to be true is in any book that we’ve read.” Matt said.

“How’s this true?” Sammy leaped up. “How is it that we are the only four ghosts and we’re all from this neighborhood. I’m not looking to be hired by NASA anytime soon, but doesn’t that just seem pretty damn remote? All four ghosts in the western US can be found in Shady Acres subdivision off Presidio? Bullshit!”

“I got an idea,” Sammy continued, “go get your Polaroid, Clara, and let’s see if this shit about cameras is true. I’m betting it’s as fake as everything else. If we can’t find out what’s true then let’s weed out what isn’t.”

 

Clara aimed the camera at Sammy, Amy, and Matt, and asked them to smile, she started to push the button and stopped, “What if it is true? Maybe we should just try it on someone first, maybe?”

Sammy stepped away from the group, “You may fire when ready!”

“Aye aye!” said Clare and she pressed the button. The flash exploded in bright white light and Sammy disappeared.

“He’s messing with us,” Amy said and the camera whined as the picture was expelled.

“Sammy!” Matt yelled, “this isn’t funny.” Matt looked around. “Did you hear something?”

“Look!” Clara held the photo out and they could all see a vague image of someone that might have been Sammy, but at the same time they heard a tiny voice screaming.

“Oh no,” Matt said, “that part was true! Tear that photo! Release him!”

Clara tore a tiny piece off of one edge and the screaming got louder. They heard Sammy yell, “Stop! Stop! Don’t tear the photo! IT HURTS!”

 

End of part four

The Halloween Ghost Story. The Death of Clara Strickland (Part One)

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Good evening, and welcome to the Annual Firesmith Halloween Ghost Story. It’s not always about ghosts, but this year, it is, actually. We will do one part every night until Halloween Night, and it will end there. This year, the story is rated R for content, but not necessarily violence or murders, as per usual. Enjoy. I bring you the Death of Clara Strickland.

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George had gotten clever in his attempts to catch her at cheating, Clara had to admit that, and because he was trying to catch her, Clara knew George already suspected. How long he had known, or thought he knew, before he started acting on those thoughts, made Clara think about what she was doing and how she was going to keep doing it, because she certainly wasn’t going to stop. Brad was a much better dancer than George, much better looking, a thousand times better in bed. And George had not given much thought to the new man being more of a man than he. George thought that moving his weight set into the garage meant there wasn’t enough room for another car.  And George knew the nosey neighbors would rat Clara out if there was a strange car parked in the driveway overnight. Clara smiled. Brad had that weight set moved in just a few minutes while George had taken an hour or so. But Brad had incentives that George had lost. Clara smiled. Brad was getting breakfast in bed and… Clara reached for a frying pan and it slipped out of her grasp. No, it was stuck in place, she couldn’t pull it out of its place in the drawer. No, wait. Clara reached for the pan, put her fingers around the handle and they slipped right through the steel handle. Clara looked at her hand. She flexed her fingers and tried again.

“Uh, hate to tell you this girl, but you’re dead,” said a woman standing in the corner of the kitchen.

“What?” Clara was stunned. “What do you mean I’m dead? Who the hell are you? How did you get in my house? Get out or I’ll call…”

“The cops?” The woman laughed. “Excuse me Mr. Po-lease Man but there’s a ghost in my house and I’m a ghost, too.”

“You’re a ghost?” Clara tried to pick up a knife and couldn’t. She couldn’t turn the water on in the sink or pick up a glass. Nothing was working.

“I’m Amy Waterman,” Amy said, “your neighbor, Jackie Watts, I was her lover. I got killed in a car wreck about twenty years ago. Took forty forevers to make it all the way back to SoCal from Texas. But I learned a lot about ghosts on the way. First rule: Direct sunlight will dissolve you. Any hit from the sun and you are gone.”

“I thought that was vampires.” Clara said.

“Yeah, life is funny that way,” Amy said, “but death is funnier. No sunlight.”

“So,” Clara paused, “what happens if I get in the sun? I’m already dead. What happens next?”

“Get used to the idea of a vast wealth of ignorance from your fellow ghosts.” Amy said with a sigh. “The most common answer you’ll get from me is ‘I have no damn idea and no one else does either.’”

“I can’t pick things up but I can stand on the floor,” Clara said, “that doesn’t make sense.”

“You can’t pick things because you haven’t learned to manifest.” Clara said. “Watch!” She reached over and picked up the knife. “You can scare the hell out of the living if you want to, but I’d advise against it. Once they learn there’s a ghost in a house they start telling everybody who will listen. If you ever get caught on camera you’re through. Cameras can trap you inside of them and you’ll be stuck on paper until the sun gets you. Movie cameras are different. I have no damn idea why.”

“Can you teach me how to pick things up and stuff?” Clara asked.

“Yeah, but you have to have sex with me,” Amy said with a leer. “It’s hard as hell to get a date when you’re dead, and sex is one of the few things we can do that’s a hell of a lot better when you’re no longer alive. It’s more spiritual, but damn, the orgasms…”

“I, uh, I’ve never really done it with a woman before.” Clara wondered why she wasn’t blushing. “I mean, yeah, once or twice, okay, more than that, actually, but…”

“You’ve done incredible feats of sex with a half dozen different guys since I’ve been here,” Amy laughed, “and you’ve done two guys at the same time, at least twice. Oh, it’s time you asked.”

“Asked?” Clara stopped and thought. “How did I die?”

“Cocaine overdose,” Amy told her. “That stuff that George thought he hid so well that you found was pure coke, and it was laced with some very strong stuff. I heard George talking to his girlfriend about it. He was going to get her stoned as hell this weekend while you were off banging Brad at the river.”

“Why are you here?” Amy asked.

“One, I like to check on Jackie. I still love her, but I wouldn’t just show up and freak her out. So I hang around. The way I figure it, we ghosts are living on borrowed time, so to speak. Ghosts just disappear after a while, perfectly safe inside, and suddenly they’re gone. I’ve never met anyone older than a century or so.”

“There’s other ghosts?” Clara asked. “Did all of you just sit around my bedroom watching me have sex?”

“You’re the best show, by a long shot,” Amy laughed, “and there’s only four of us now, five counting you. We’re the only two chicks, by the way. Anytime George booked a flight we’d hope you bring something home rather than dining out, if you know what I mean.” And Amy winked at her. “I can’t wait. This is like going on a date with someone you’ve always wanted but never got a chance to speak to.”

Clara had to admit Amy was cute as hell. It had been a while she had been with a woman. And Amy knew a lot of things that were useful. Why the hell not? After all, Clara had to admit, being dead felt a lot freer than she thought it would. Did ghosts get to do cocaine? Clara licked her lips and Amy smiled back at her.

“Well,” Clara ventured, “not that it ever stopped me before, but I guess I’m no longer married, death til we part and all.”

There was a scream from the bedroom as Brad discovered Clara was dead.

“I hope he didn’t roll over on top of you and…” Amy began.

There was more screaming and suddenly Brad ran out of the bedroom, trying to get his clothes on and looking like, well, looking scared.

 

“Oh my god, he did,” Amy said.

“Yep.” Clara replied. “I used to love that about him. He knew how to wake a woman up.”

“But not how to wake the dead!”  Amy laughed.

“You are not funny,” Clara said but she had to smile.

“Follow me, please,” Amy said as she started to leave.

“Wait!” Clara said, “Where are you going?”

“Cops to a death scene, cameras, open windows, open doors, sunlight, flashes going off, I rather not stick around. So very few places to stay safe.” Amy said.

“Okay, take me with you,” Clara replied, “just go slow, I just died.”

“I can do that,” Amy laughed. “We’ve got some time.”

 

End one.

 

Ghost Story

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The idea of ghosts who die natural deaths after being ghosts is one that is new to me. I’m writing a story about a woman who dies of a drug overdose and she becomes a ghost. Once in the world of the dead, she finds herself one of only five ghosts around. Collectively, they try to make some sort of guide for new ghosts but none of them really know anything. They wind up with a very depressing page and a half worth of useful information to anyone who has just died. It’s 1978, Disco and cocaine is all the rage, and Clara Strickland has died at the age of twenty-three. The oldest ghost in her group, a man named Matt Truman, tells her that he’s been dead for thirty-two years and has never felt better. But one day Matt is gone, and none of the other four know what’s happened to him or why.

 

The remaining ghosts question their collectively knowledge. What do they really know about being dead and how did they find out about it? Amy, who died in a car wreck twenty years ago is now the oldest ghost. She confesses that everything she knows was told to her by a ghost, but she has no idea if it is really true. For instance, Amy has always believed that direct sunlight would kill her, and other ghosts, and she’s always hidden from it, and told others to hide from it, but she’s never actually seen direct sunlight and a ghost interact. Amy has always been told that cameras capture a ghost’s spirit, and trap in in the photograph until the photo is destroyed or exposed to direct sunlight, but none of the other ghosts have ever heard of his, except from Amy, and none of them know if anything they have heard is true or not.

 

Sammy, the youngest person who died, at age sixteen, and the next oldest ghost at eleven years, has an idea. Ghost can, once they get the hang of it, physically manifest. They’ll get a camera, one of them will take a photo of another, and then they’ll see if the ghost is trapped or not. They’ll use an instant camera, one that spits out the photo, and tear it up to release the trapped ghost if it goes awry. This seems to be a really great idea, and Sammy volunteers to be the subject of the photograph. Amy takes his photo and sure enough, Sammy is trapped. They can see his photo, vaguely and out of focus, and they can hear him, barely, but as Amy tears a piece of the photo to release Sammy, he screams. They discover that Sammy’s spirit cannot be released by tearing the photo, but it can be destroyed if the photo is damaged. Sammy is trapped!

 

Down to three ghosts, the remaining trio realize there has to be some source of knowledge but now they’re, uh, spooked, by what’s happened. Where did Matt go? How to help Sammy? They’re feel frightened and confused by what’s happened and they wonder if being a ghost is a temporary thing, like being alive, but what comes next?

 

In the meanwhile, Clara discovers her husband, who according to the death do us part clause in the vows, she is no longer married to, doesn’t miss her at all. That’s not unexpected; Clara died while doing cocaine with her boyfriend. But Clara discovers that George took out a lot of insurance on her, and now she wonders if the cocaine that killed her wasn’t hidden in a place she might find it. Of course, as much as Clara haunts George, there’s no real evidence he actively sought to kill her, but still. She’s pissed off. And now she thinks that she might be dead on borrowed time as well.

 

Amy and Ted are against it, but Clara wants to do something to screw up George’s life. He has a new girlfriend but he’s keeping her hid until all the legal wrangling over Clara’s death is over. Clara figures out George is lying to her family about how much insurance money is out there, and he’s hidden her will. She and the other ghosts plot to reveal everything at Thanksgiving, and also reveal that George’s new girlfriend, who he is passing off as one of Clara’s friends, is pregnant. None of it is true, of course, but Clara realizes that the sight of her ghost will be enough to convince everyone to examine Georgie’s claims more closely. Unexpectedly, George is arrested for Clara’s murder after her family demands an investigation.

 

After Thanksgiving, Amy and Clara discover that Ted is gone. He’s left to go find the truth about ghosts, if he can, but he’s done with haunting. Sammy, still trapped in the photo, demands that he be left out in the sunlight. Maybe it will free him, maybe it will kill him, but he has to have some sort of relief. Clara sits down in her old home, watching her husband, out on bail, weep for the girlfriend who has just broken up with him, and she realizes that she not a better person for being dead. Worse, she realizes that she likely won’t get a chance to change who she is or who she was. Clara dislikes the idea of waiting to die, in some mysterious and untimely fashion, and she asks Sammy if he’s serious about leaving.

 

The story end with Clara out beside the pool, with Sammy’s photo propped up beside her. She’s watching the sun come up, and Amy is watching from the attic. This will be the first real proof of whether or not sunlight kills ghosts and if it might also kill a trapped ghost. Sammy is ready, he tells Clara, because he never wanted to be a ghost, and never really liked it. Clara asks him if he believes they’ll both wind up somewhere else and Sammy is hoping for someplace with better weather.

 

Clara watched the first streak of light in the sky and then sees the first sign if orange looking over the horizon. Amy watches from the attic as Clara disappears and Sammy goes silent.

 

End

The Bunker

 

Bunker_RESIZED

The war was long since over, and everyone knew it. We sat in the bunker listening to the Captain’s speeches about holding on and holding out and how every day we stood and fought was another day the enemy was weakened but we didn’t believe it anymore. There was nothing to believe anymore. Once we got replacement soldiers, food, water, a medical officer, and letters from home. Now, we got the speeches from the Captain, and nothing else. We had lost the island and we knew it.  The bunker was all that we had left and all that remained of the army that once held the island. A dozen soldiers, seven of them too sick, too wounded, too far gone, too starved, too exhausted, or too weak to stand up lay in a row at the back of the bunker. There was no more water unless it rained, and five of those men would die in the next two days unless they were killed by the shelling.

 

A rifle shot ricocheted off the walls and we counted the number of times it bounced around the inside of the bunker. Twice only, this time, which meant the sniper was further away. He was toying with us, keeping us awake and afraid, but it no longer worked. What was there to fear, unless it was the fact that we were able to recite the Captain’s speeches word for word with him, like a prayer to a god we knew no longer existed.

 

We had to get permission to go outside now, and the Captain usually went with anyone who had to relieve themselves. But there was no water, and no food, so the body had little to release. The oldest man in the bunker was twenty-three yet we all moved as if we were ancient. Finally, in the middle of a speech about grinding the enemy down so the homeland could produce some new weapon that would win the war, I simply stood up, and walked out of the doors that swung back into the bunker, and I went outside alone.

 

A bullet cracked into the face of the stone cliff a few feet away and I knew then I was already dead. I didn’t flinch. I didn’t move. I was vaguely disappointed that he had missed, and I was slightly amused that he was likely surprised at the sight of his mortal enemy; a man who had lost twenty-five pounds since the first time he had stepped onto the island. It took a while and most of my energy but I finally was able to get on top of the bunker, and feel the sun on my body for the first time in weeks.

 

The sun. It was hot, enormous, and bright unlike I could remember. I slipped off my excuse for a shirt and stood there waiting for my eyes to adjust, waiting for the bullet, and finally, after what seemed to be hours, I could see again. There were ships, many ships, in the harbor, just barely within my sight, and closer to where the bunker overlooked a primitive road that once was the main connection between one part of the island and another, there were two or three ships ploughing through the blue ocean water. Our position had been fought for and men had died, then suddenly they didn’t need the road anymore. It was too narrow and twisted too many times for their trucks. Now they simply landed in one place or another, while we rotted away in places men had died trying to keep.

 

The next bullet whined by my ear and I stood taller, trying to give him a better target. The next shot came closer, but the wind was blowing harder here than where he was shooting from, I could tell, and I wondered if there was some way of letting him know. In unison, smoke billowed from the three ships and I knew what it meant. They were shelling the bunker now, and they meant to end us.

 

The first salvo hit before I was inside, and I felt emotion, fear, for the first time in longer than I could remember. We got the iron doors closed as the second salvo hit, and it occurred to me that both sets of shells had missed. They were firing too high. The next and the next and the next set of rounds hit, and I realized they were trying to miss the bunker. They were shelling the rock cliff behind us. They were expending more artillery than I had seen on our side in months just to toy with us. They were trying to bury us alive not kill us. They were trying to make us die even more slowly than we could on our own. We deserved their hatred, we had earned it, and we shared it. We had done worse things to them, and they now did what they could to us.

 

Dust and noise filled the bunker as a landslide took us. They shelled the bunker next, now trying to make sure we were dead, and I lay on the floor, made of cold concrete and old vows, and waited for the shell that would hit a port, and fill the bunker with hot, sharp, and merciful metal. My mind stopped. All thought and feeling stopped. All sound and sight, stopped, and I thought to myself that it was very strange that I could know that I had died, but if I knew that I had died, I could not be dead, could I? Did death work like that? I had seen so much death, I had killed men, I had seen men killed, I had done things to make men die, and I had seen things done to men I knew so they would die. But to each man, death is like his own breath; it’s personal and no one can feel it for him. I hid my face from the overwhelming dust and the world turned black.

 

There was a bird. It was a tiny bird, grey and black, and it had a twig in its beak. It flitting away and was gone. The air was a haze of dust, and I coughed hard. I heard someone else cough, and I knew at least some of us had survived. The Captain was sitting near the body of a man, and there was a knife sticking out of the man’s chest. The Captain was ending it all, for everyone, and I knew he would come for me. I found a rifle, checked to see if there was still a bullet left, and I shot the Captain in the head as he sat and watched me. He sat there, his face dirty and bloody, and he knew what I was doing but didn’t move. There was a small opening that showed daylight were the landslide had busted the doors in. There was nothing left to do but to try to not die in the bunker.

 

I clawed and kicked my way through the rubble and once slid all the way back down into the darkness, the death, and the tomb of many men. I wanted to die facing the sky, looking up into the sun, and so like a turtle stuck on his back, a tried and tried and tried. I took flight. I soared into the sky and I realized that two men, two men in uniform, the enemy, had taken me by either arm and lifted me up. I struggled enough to lift my head and looked into the face of a boy, not old enough to shave, with his helmet skewed to one side, and his eyes looked at me, not in terror or hate, but compassion.

 

They dragged me down the rubble where there were more soldiers, and some of them, I knew, were no longer boys, who even if they did not shave, they had seen things that we had done, and what would happen to me would be a lesson to be learned for those who did not know. So many of them, so very many, and I wondered how they all got here so quickly, and one of them sat on the ground nearby, looked up at me with boredom and contempt, and went back reading a book he was holding.

 

A book. I once worked in a library, for I never wanted to be a soldier. I wanted to live and die among books, shelves and rows of books, hundreds of them in the small library in the small town where I lived, but I wanted to work in a real library, with hundreds of thousands of books. I told them, tried to tell them, that I didn’t want to be a soldier, that I wanted a library, not a bunker, but I knew they couldn’t understand. They sat me down and one offered me a can with a liquid in it. Water! Until you have waited an entire day for a half a cup of water out of a rancid bucket you will never know how water really tastes when it is clean. They fed me small cooked cakes that were thin and crispy, but as I sat there I looked around and saw the detritus of war, the helmets on the ground, the torn uniforms that lay bunched and blooded, the spent shells, the broken gear, and the smell of death everywhere, and I knew this kindness might end suddenly, and with a bullet, if I was very lucky.

 

A woman came into the library, and she smiled at me, and told me she thought I was lucky to work in a library, and how special it must feel to be alone among all those books. I was too shy to ask her name, and she was too shy to offer it. They came the next day and took me away, and in two months I was in the bunker. Now, I was here, and drinking water, and eating the enemy’s strange food, and a man walked up to the group and barked orders at them. This was it. This was their Captain, their man who would give speeches to them, and one of them one kill me, and I would never know her name and I would never die in a library, but here, in the filth of war, and far away from home.

 

But four men came, two could have done it, for four was too many, but they loaded me onto a stretcher, and another soldier came up and he spoke to me in a terrible accent, and I could hardly understand him, “War over. War finished. Peace now. You understand? You understand?” And I did, but I did not. How could it end? How could there be a world without it? How could I have lived? How could I sit in a room filled with books and not still be stuck in the bunker, waiting to die?

“What book is he reading?” I asked, but I slipped into darkness before I ever knew.

 

End.

Not Dreams

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I don’t remember all of my dreams but I do remember a lot of them. Some of them are unformed, not really defined as events or people, but they’re just thoughts or ideas that were pulled out of the oven too soon. I’ve woken up feeling afraid, or sad, or elated, and the remnants of a dream be just out of memory’s reach, like a lover who gets out of the bed, and your hand misses hers by an inch. I dozed off and was jerked awake by something that was nearly a dream, somewhere in my mind, but it’s gone now, and asking me to describe it would be like asking me to tell you who was driving the car that just passed in front of the house, a third of a mile away. I can only tell you I think I heard a car go by, and nothing else.

Budlore was sick last night, into the early part of the morning, and I stayed up with him, cleaning puke up off the floor. I dozed a couple of times, and saw images, at least twice of charcoal drawings, of faces, contorted as if someone sketched out Pompeii’s last moments.  Where did this come from? I didn’t recognize the faces. They were just human forms yet not entirely finished, like the dreams that aren’t quite there yet.

 

Bud is usually energetic and exuberant. To see him down and out is disconcerting. This is the first time he’s been sick since he arrived and it’s disheartening. I can only sit with him and clean up the puke, and wait for this to pass.

 

I drift off to sleep and the dreams are fragmented and disconnected. It’s like trying to read the pages of a book as they are spewed out the end of a wood chipper. The scene and people change quickly, erratically, and there is no transition. The faces in the drawing are back, and I can tell gender, but that’s all. They seem to be colored in black, as if in shadow or night, and they all seem to be in some anguish.

 

I get up because Bud is hacking again, but he seems to be less sick. I sit on a blanket on the floor and hold Bud, and this might be the first time in his life someone had held him when he’s been sick. I lie down with him and he sleeps. I drift again, and the dreams do not come, but stay just out of reach, like someone speaking on the other side of a restaurant.

There’s a story here, where a person sees faces that have been drawn and that person doesn’t know why. Let’s start out with a female lead character, a very young woman, who isn’t an artist at all, and she’s trying to figure out what these visions she has means. They begin one night after she’s been drinking, and she wonders if she has a problem.

The woman’s name is Tory and she works for a lawyer. She has to serve an eviction notice one day and the man about to be dispossessed is an artist living in a terribly shabby and totally dark apartment; he’s blind. Sure enough, when she’s inside she see one of his drawings and it’s one of the faces she’s seen, she thinks, but she cannot be sure. The next day she tries to find him but he’s gone. The dreams become more vivid, the faces more clear, and Tory is convinced the man drew one of them, and perhaps more. She finds him by accident, near the river, about to jump. She looks at his drawings and realizes that they are the faces she’s seen.

She lets him stay at her place and he draws. The energy between them sharpens the dreams, and his drawings. At work, her employer is working on a missing person case, and setting up a substantial reward. The photo of the missing girl looks exactly like one of the faces in the dream, and one of the drawings.

 

They sit and wonder what the connection is between the two of them, and the people in the drawings. Is the girl alive or has she been murdered? Tory looks at the drawing and realizes the girl looks as if she is still alive, and she asks the artist, Archer, if he will try to draw the missing girl again.

 

Tory asks her employer about the girl, and he tells her that he was contacted by the girl’s mother, who believes her ex-husband has taken their daughter, but she doesn’t know where he is. Tory goes in search of the woman, but finds her dead. She returns to her home to find that Archer has drawn the woman’s face.

 

They both are at a loss as to how this is happening or why. They do not understand why he draws what she sees in her dreams. They make love on the floor, passionately, nearly accidentally, for they both fear the passion they’ve kept secret. Unleashed in this is a melding, where she can speak to him of her visions, and he understand now how to draw them. They sit on the floor, an invisible steam rising from their bodies from the heat, and they speak in whispers, seeking the girl, seeking her fate, looking for a connection, and finally there is a building, a home, where she might be held, and the woman had seen this house before. She asks Archer to draw a face, the face of a man, and she closes her eyes and allows her vision to take her, and she sees the girl chained to a bed, and she knows the man is near, he is coming down the steps, and he means to use her for his gain, for ransom, and his evil is plain and finally, Archer tells Tory to look up and he had drawn the face of her employer, and they realize what he is.

 

Take Care,

Mike

Who Killed Lacey Warren?

Unknown

It’s been dozens of years since I ever heard the name, and there was no reason for me to hear it. Even in a very small town and a very small county, there are people you’ve got so little in common with that spending twelve years in the public school system means you discover there not only is nothing in common but likely never will be. His name was Van, which was short for some family name, and to me, family names are just a lack of imagination. Family names once meant something with titles or things like that, but seriously, I think names ought to be legally binding for five years and then everyone ought to have the option of changing. His name, though might have sounded Dutch, he said it was from a family from the English moors. I had to look it up, to find out what a moor was.

 

The schism occurs somewhere around the seventh or eighth grade, maybe earlier, but there were those of us who destined to drink, and smoke pot, and do those things they had tried to indoctrinate us against, and there were those who were not going to do those things. I was the standard bearer of the drinkers, the smokers, and those who were going to try the things that terrified the others. Van was on the other side, soundly, and definitively. While I was going shots of tequila on top of the school on a Saturday night he was a youth counselor for a local church.  If I kept a bag with the words he and I exchanged in it I wouldn’t be able to make out a decent grocery list of the contents. After High School he joined the military, I cannot remember which branch, and I never thought I would see him again.

 

I started seeing a woman, named Kerri, who was a nurse, and she worked some in Hospice, and one day she asked me, tell me where did you go to High School again? What was the name of that little town? What year did you graduate? I was nearly fifty years old and those questions slowly faded away from conversation decades ago. “There’s a man in Hospice, dying of cancer, and he told me today that he went to your school, and graduated the same year.” Kerri looked at me with a very odd expression on her face, “He asked me to ask you if you remembered Lacey Warren.”

 

We went to see Van the next day and I wasn’t sure it was the same person. Over thirty years had passed and the disease that raged inside of him had changed his facial expression as surely as three decades had changed his body. He was always tall and thin, but now he was a Death Camp prisoner, inside his own body, and it was not long at all before his execution. The tubes had been removed. All attempts to keep life in shell were abandoned and only pain medications were being given.

“I retired here,” Van said without bothering with introduction, “and I spent my entire life trying to become the person you never thought about being.” He laughed and started coughing. “But now, after getting morphine and OxyContin, I wonder if you weren’t right. I understand the draw now. It’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it? You can be alive and not feel pain. I had no idea such a thing was possible.

When Lacey disappeared, I prayed that I would be the one who found her. I wanted to be the hero. I wanted to be the one who carried her to her parents. I thought it would be something that proved that God meant for me to good things, and that people would see it in me.” Van coughed hard, and then closed his eyes. Briefly, I thought he might have died.

“You were there,” Van opened his eyes and they were filled with hate, “and you were going to ruin it for me. How could someone like you be part of God’s Plan? I spent my night in prayer and reading the Bible and you stole all the baseball equipment the day before the playoffs. We forfeited that game. I know you did it. Everyone knew you did it. But it all reappeared the day after. I have to know, how did you do it?” He coughed again, and once again, I thought he was dead. His eyes opened again. “Tell me,” he rasped.

“I used a bench as a ladder, and I hid it on top of the ceiling tiles,” I told him. “It was hanging over their heads the entire time they were looking for it. They wouldn’t let me play, so I decided not to let them play.”

“That’s defined your mindset,” Van tried to sneer at me, “you were a vengeful and demonic young man.”

“What happened to Lacey?” I asked.

“I found her,” Van said. “There was an old shed, you remember the old shed don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“You and those potheads you led around like zombies where right there, and I found here, but I knew you and the others would claim you helped find her so I didn’t say anything. Your selfishness infected me. I didn’t want you to have anything to do with the rescue. I thought she was sleeping so I didn’t say anything.” Van coughed hard and tears came out of his eyes. “I went back. It was no more than an hour later, and Lacey was gone.”

“Van, it’s the morphine,” I told him, “Lacey was found miles away from that area, I remember that, she was found in Seminole County, it was an hour away. A six year old isn’t walking that far.”

“She was left in that shed, and it was there she was murdered,” Van said. “Our Pastor, Billy Womack did it. He moved the body. You remembered he killed himself? When we left the shed that day I told him we didn’t find her, and I saw something in his eyes, I didn’t know what it was, but he lingered around where we parked. I left and came back and he was gone. Lacey was, too. I went through the shed, and the woods, and I thought it was my fault she was dead. The next day I sought out the Pastor to tell him what had happened, and he thought I came to confront him. He confessed to me and then shot himself.” Van was shaking with tears and a sound came from his soul, the sound of a dying man whose pain could not be slacked anymore. “You’ve never feared Hell, have you?”

“No, it doesn’t exist.” I said.

“I have discovered the solace of drugs and atheism,” Van laughed, “in the final moment of my life. Tell Lacey’s parents to forgive me.” And he his eyes remained open, fixed, but his breathing had stopped.

 

 

 

“Are you going to tell her parents,” Kerri asked me as we drank. She told me she never drank after a death, but in this case she would make an exception.

“I’m not sure,” I replied.

“Why?”

“Van was telling the truth when he said that I was there, at that shed, and I remember him saying there wasn’t anything inside of it,” I told her, “and we tracked north, towards the river to look for her. But Womack didn’t stick around after we searched that area.” I told her.

“Are you certain?” Kerri asked.

“Yep,” I replied. “Womack was a closet pot head and I was his connection. He gave me a ride home that day, and we took the scenic route to burn a joint or three. Van was lying about Womack moving the body, and I think he was lying about everything else, too.”

“You think Van killed her?”

“I think Van killed her, and then hid the body in Seminole County.” I said. “And he went to Womack for spiritual guidance and whatever Womack told Van it was bad enough for Van to kill him.”

“Damn.” Kerri took a hit off the bottle and handed it to me.

“Yeah.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Woman

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Dear Woman,

It was odd seeing you naked, and I shouldn’t have looked, but I did, and perhaps it’s an inner failing of mine I never regretted looking, yet now it’s too late to ask you if you wanted me to, and if that’s why it happened. You left the door partially open, just enough for me to see, but not enough for me to think it was intentional, except for these years later. I remember watching you getting ready to get dressed, for longer than I should have, your back to me, your face hidden as you searched a drawer for something or you pretended to, and the mirror reflecting your breasts. After three kids your body was still young, still taut, still firm and only a slight spread at the hips hinted at motherhood. I wish I had not look, not seen, and not begun the desire.

It was easy to stay away from you. Yet there were times I would come by, always when your kids or husband was home, and later you told me you realized what I was doing, and how I was doing it, and it was so subtle that you often wondered if this was your fantasy alone, if you were imagining this for your own entertainment. I wish I had never been as close to your husband as I was, and I wish that he had been a better father to your kids, and a better partner for your life, and I wish that he had not started down the road of addiction and abuse. I wish that I could have stayed at the periphery of your life, and the lives of your kids, forever.

We both knew what we were doing when we met for lunch after you left him. We were both far too nervous for it to have been anything but a meeting to explore the possibility of an affair, and it would be an affair even after the divorce because we both knew we should have never started something that couldn’t have ended well. We both knew that. We both could have agreed on it before we ordered, before we got our iced tea and napkins, before we both made small talk about the waitress being nice and the aquarium being fascinating, and the candle on the table, we could have simply said, “This will end poorly,” and left.

You had been over at my house dozens of times, but never alone, and we finally dragged it out into the light, opened the door, and I remember the look on your face. You looked terrified, the divorce wasn’t final, my house was too close to someone you knew, there was no way to park your car in my driveway, and then we got down to business of how we would begin and where. Let’s meet out of town, leave my car in the parking lot of a store, you pick me up… You had already thought about it. You had a plan. I was more than a little aroused at the idea you were thinking about it, too.

I saw you in the store before you saw me. Years ago, I had watched you dress, or pretend to, and now you were pretending to shop. I had the key to the room in my pocket, I had already gone in, set flowers for you, made sure the room was clean, and now, I approached you, startled you, and for a minute, maybe more, we hesitated, talked about something you had just found, then I remember saying, “Are you ready to go?” and my voice sounded odd, even to me, and you smiled, and say, “Okay”.

There’s a difference, very subtle difference, between “okay” and “yes”. Okay means you are willing to go along with something, you’ll acquiesce to it, agree, but there’s some hesitancy, some sort of near reluctance, and more than a little fear. We got out of the truck, and walked quickly to the door, it opened without drama, and suddenly, we were alone, together, in private, for the first time in our lives.

You brought tequila. You hated the stuff, couldn’t stand the smell of it, but you liked doing shots of it. You pulled it out of your purse, and two shot glasses, and your hands shook as you poured. We stood close together, my hand on your hip, and you made a toast, “Salute!” and we both downed our shots. You put the shot glass down, deliberately, without hesitation and asked me, “What are we doing?” and that question covered so much territory, so many things, so many thoughts. We kissed. You let my hands wander your body, and I could feel the fire beginning in us both. You let me push you down on the bed, and you wiggled away and said, “I have to pee” and got up. Longer than it should have taken you came out, wearing nothing but a towel, and you got into bed, and told me to cut the lights off, to make sure the door was locked, and I did.

Gone were all questions or reluctance. Gone were the moral or ethical issues. Gone were our clothes and our thoughts of stopping this, or slowing down, or trying to figure out what it was. There was a mad fire, an insanity fueled by so many emotions we couldn’t have discerned which one drove us harder. Then, the aftermath, the breathing hard, the sweat, the mutual heart pounding receding and you said, “Well, we’re sexually compatible” and I agreed.

The clock drove us to “one more time” at the end, and afterwards, you told me, “This is the first time I’ve had sex in three years, almost.” And I could tell you instantly regretted saying it, because there were so many questions to ask as to why. And we rode in silence and finally I asked, “When are we going to see one another again?” and we made plans.

The basic were there, but there was so much you had never tried, never been asked to try, and I was surprised at how much I took for granted that you had only heard of before. “He’s pretty much one position, on the bed, and two minutes later,” you told me, and I knew you hated yourself as soon as you said it. There were a lot of things we both said that we regretted, yet at the same time, you had to explain why you were doing this, you had to let me know you hadn’t done this before, and would have never done it with anyone else, and at the end of the day, wished things had been different a long time ago.

“Before we moved here,” you told me one night, when we finally had some time together, more than a few stolen hours, “we were really broke, and neither of us had a job. I was pregnant, barely, with the youngest, and managed to get a job waiting tables. He would come to the restaurant and sit, and drink tea, and just watch me. Four, five, six hours or more, he would find someone to stay with the other kids, or he would drop them off at a friend’s house, and come watch me work. I asked him why and he told me he didn’t feel right with me being there alone, with all those people, and even though we were broke I had to quit because the manager didn’t want him there taking up a table. He couldn’t keep a job, wouldn’t work at anything very long, but didn’t want me to make a living. I hated that in him. I hated that he could get a job and stay with it long enough for us to pay off the credit cards and finally put the kids into some nice clothes and then he would get busted on a piss test or start laying out drunk.” All of this came out of you in a rush, as if you had been holding it in for years, and suddenly, at that moment, I knew you were thinking about what it would be like to be with me, longer than a few stolen hours, longer than it took to get this out of our systems, and I wondered, too.

If I had to name one thing that separated us more than anything else it was my atheism. You never could come to terms with it, and you confessed you had asked him to keep me away from the kids when you first found out. When you first got married, because the first kid was on the way, you went to Sunday school every Sunday, and even after the first child was in school there was the Sunday morning ritual of going to church. He started sleeping in, and then the oldest started wanting to sleep in, and finally you gave up on having a family of church goers, and it wasn’t my fault, and you knew it.

“I don’t believe in sex outside of marriage,” you told me one night. “I think this is wrong, sometimes, but I can’t stop.” And you surrendered to me right after you said that, you allowed me to set you ablaze in desire, and it didn’t matter what I asked you to do because we both knew you were going to do it. I think this was your way of confessing to me that you were flawed in what you believed, yet were still capable of that belief, and you wanted me to join you, and by joining me it was an invitation. And you never turned down an invitation from me, ever.

“Please don’t make me talk like that,” you would plead with me, “don’t make me say those things.” But when I did extract from you words you had never used before, in ways that you would have never done so freely before, it always pushed you to a level of heat like nothing else we did. Your innocence was refreshing, and I’m sorry that I watched it die.

Two or three times, I remember having the thought, I was going to ask you if you meant for me to see you naked, to watch you, and each time something else happened, and the thought was pushed away.

Affairs never grow up to be relationships. The strain of trying to keep the fire from burning through so others could see it damaged us both but mostly it damaged us. Even after the divorce was final it still felt like an affair and eventually there was a month we didn’t see one another, and then there was another, and then there was a time we were mad at one another about nothing at all and we stopped speaking for a while.

Finally, one day, you showed up again at my house, and this time I was far away, and you told me that you were getting married again. You wanted to see how it felt to be in the same room with me again, just to make sure the fire was really out, and I had started seeing someone else, too. It felt wrong this time, and it was wrong, this time, and I felt bad for talking you into it. You couldn’t stay, wouldn’t, and when you left I knew I would never see you again.

Your youngest finally graduated from college, and she looks a lot like you. You called to tell me I was invited, if I wanted to come, and that was it, that was the last time I heard your voice. Someone from High School looked me up, found me in my hiding under writing name, and we talked for a while before he asked me if I remembered you, and yes, I do, I do remember her, and he said, “She’s dead, she died in a car wreck in ’16, or ’15, I think it was ’16, and did you know that the Coach’s daughter is a lesbian now?” And then the obligatory homophobic rant.

Really. I didn’t know that. Hey, thanks for calling, but you know, I buried my past under another name, and I wish you wouldn’t call me back, okay? Thanks. Bye.

I hope you died quickly, and painlessly, and I hope that you were right about your religion and your god. I wished I had told you I loved you, because in some odd way, I always did.

end

Dimensions (sci-fi fiction)

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“You know what they are,” I panted, “you know, don’t you?” The room was totally dark and I knew the panic would kill me, one way or another. I was born with a defective heart, and I knew that the adrenaline being pumped into my body might be enough, in and of itself, to kill me. But considering all things, it was the second worst way of dying I had seen very recently.

“Ray,” she answered in the dark, “you don’t want to know any of the answers to any of this. They’ll kill you quicker than you’d kill a house fly, and they think of us as insects of sorts, lesser beings, and they should. They’re gods. They have the power of life and death. Or at least death. You saw what happened in there. The man’s head was totally blown off, at close range, with a shotgun, and he just got up and walked out of the room. You want to know? Really? They’ll kill me for what I’ve told you so far, if they aren’t going to kill me anyway.”

Beverly stopped talking and reached for my hand. I was shaking hard and I could feel my chest constricting. Maybe this was the best way to die. I didn’t want to have anything to do with what I just saw. But I was there and there was no way out that I could see.

 

We were just sitting there, smoking pot, and Beverly had starting finding really good pot lately. She knew this guy that lived out in the middle of nowhere, and he didn’t seem to be her type at all, and she also seemed to be someone else when she was around him, tentative, and maybe a little fearful. Bev wasn’t the type of woman to take any shit at all from a man, but he called her “Bitch” all the time, and “Cunt” sometimes, and that’s not something she liked. He treated her like a servant, really, and he was rude as hell to me, too. I was used to that sort of thing, actually, so it didn’t bother me. I had in and out of hospitals all my life, had too many operations to count, I could barely walk from here to there without help, and at age twenty-one, looked twenty years older. I had been born in a body that was giving out before I was out of the womb. I got picked on a lot in school, and after a while, it seemed normal. Bev and I became friends when I helped her cheat on her tests in school. I was helping her through college now, and suddenly, she made friends with Bob. But she had called him Tommy a few times, like she couldn’t remember his name. He ignored me when I introduced myself and seemed totally uninterested in anything I said. We were smoking a joint when this guy walks in with a shotgun and fires three shots right into Bob’s face. We sat there too scared to move, and the guy laughed and walked out.

We got the hell out of there but Beverly had left her purse inside and her keys in her purse. We sat in her car and waited, but the cops didn’t show up and no one else did either. We knew we had to go back inside, and when we did, Bob was just getting back up. His head was there even if his face was a mess.

“Somebody’s gonna die,” he said as he went into the bathroom. We got the hell out of there and went to her place, and turned off all the lights.

“Bob and I got really drunk one night, and he did some coke, a lot of coke, and we were smoking weed constantly.” Beverly said. “He told me he would pay me to do things I didn’t want to do, and he would pay me to do things I had always wanted to do.” She was panting, and I had never seen anyone so terrified. “He asked me if I would let him beat the hell out of me for fifty grand,” Beverly said, “and I asked him if it would disfigure me, or if I would lose any teeth. I mean, fifty grand is a lot of money, but I kinda thought he was joking. He pulls out this bag full of money and dumps it on the floor. There was bundles of twenties and bundles of one hundred dollar bills. I counted it, and it was amazing, Ray, there was one hundred thousand dollars there. We made a list of things he couldn’t do to me, like break my teeth or any bones, or leave permanent damage to me, and then he did beat the hell out of me. He told me I could fight back and I did, but it didn’t help. Afterwards he told me to take all of the money, I had earned it. I went to the ER and told them I had been mugged.” She went to her closet and pulled out a cloth bag and emptied it on the floor. There was a lot of money.

“I didn’t go back for about a month, and he didn’t call me. I was scared to spend the money, scared it might be counterfeit, but I used some of it to pay off my bills, and got my car fixed. I knew better than to go out and start blowing a bunch of cash, then he did call me, and asked me if I wanted to make some money in an easier way. I told him to fuck off but he was in my apartment when I got home from work one day. He handed me ten grand, a plane ticket, and a cell phone. I was to go to Paris and leave the cell phone in the hotel room when I left. All expenses paid. And I went. I lived like a damn queen while I was there, got picked up by a rich guy, made some friends, and when I came back he gave me another ten grand and another cell phone.

Bob asked me if I wanted to keep going, keep going to places I would never see otherwise, and live like I could have never imagined, and I told him yes. He did things to me, unspeakable things, but the money was incredible. Then one night he got drunk, really drunk, and told me that he was eventually going to kill me. I could leave if I wanted to, but it was already too late. It would take another year or so for me to finish what he wanted me to do, and I should live it up. He told me that,” Beverly looked at me and dried her eyes, “he told me he was a creature from another dimension, and that he and another creature had come here to play. They grew human forms out of chemicals, and they killed one another for sport. They think of us like we think of sand dollars at the beach or something like that. They think we’re a fun distraction but as soon as they’re tired of us then it doesn’t matter what happens. Think of all the sand dollars that are killed by tourists that never stop to think these are living creatures they’re putting in bags and carrying around. That’s the analogy he used. We’re just something they pick up to play with.”

Beverly fished a joint out of her purse and lit it. We shared the smoke and she tried to compose ourselves. “He told me they lived inside of a black hole and he once grabbed me, and suddenly we were in Paris. He laughed at me, and we went up to the top floor of a hotel and he pushed me off, and then caught me in midair, and suddenly we were back here. There’s no escaping these things. Everywhere I left one of those cell phone left him a new path to get from one place to another. They can go anywhere they’ve been before, but they need…, where are you going?” she asked as I lurched to my feet.

“Need some water,” I replied, “you want some?”

“Yeah, thanks,” Bev said.

 

I went into the kitchen and got a bottle of water out of the refrigerator, and pulled the longest knife I could find out of the butcher’s block. I walked back into the room and as Bev reached from the water I rammed the knife deep into her left eye. She went down hard, and without a sound.

 

If what she said was true, and I had to think it was, they knew who I was and they would kill me. But I had kept up with all the places Bev had gone, and I knew there were still some places on earth she hadn’t left one of those cell phones. I went through her apartment and found another bag of money, a lot of pot, and a small book with her passwords in it. I took her laptop and her tablet, and then stumbled out of the door. If they wanted me dead I was going to make them work for it, if I could.

 

end