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 Death of Clara Strickland (Part Two)

shutterstock_215100169-750x500There was a tub in the guest bathroom upstairs and Clara wondered if she would just flow down the drain when the plug was pulled. Manifesting took a little more concentration than simply being alive did, and anytime something, or someone, distracted you, things happened. At first, she started floating in the air, then she started sinking through the tub. Hot water still felt good and being with someone who had kept notes on what she liked and where was really nice.

“Where are the rest of the ghosts, Amy?” Clara asked as she settled into a half way state that allowed her to have most of her body immersed in the hot water.

“Hiding out until the sun and the cameras disappear,” I think I hear someone coming up the stairs, follow me up into the attic please.” And with that Amy drifted up and through the ceiling. Clara followed, a little clumsily but still easily. They watched as a cop explored the bathroom, looking for anything out of place, and they could tell he wondered why the tub was full and why the water was still hot. But after a few hours the cops took Clara’s body away, and they all milled around for a while and they left too. Clara noticed time seemed to pass by more quickly. But there was less to care about now. There were no bills, no crimes, no sins, no time, and…

“So tell me, Amy,” Clara stretched her legs out and they passed through Amy’s body, “what’s the downside to being dead?”

“You’re going to freak out when I tell you this, Clara,” Amy replied, “but you are dying on borrowed time.”

“Say again?”

“I mentioned that when you and I first met, and it’s true, hold on, hear that?” Amy stood up and cocked her head. “That’s Matt. He’s been dead longer than anyone else around, maybe thirty years or so.” Amy shouted, “Hey Matt! Upstairs bathroom! Clara Strickland just died! Come on, we’re having a tub party!”  Amy sat down with a splash. “Your hearing is better now, have you noticed that?”

Clara was trying to hear whatever it was that Amy heard when a nude man glided through the wall and sat down in the tub beside her, with only half of his body showing.

“Hi!” the man said, “I’m Matt, and you are Clara, I am a very big fan of yours,” He leered at Amy, “you have told her, I assume?”

“Yes,” Amy laughed, “and she’s cool with it, but you had to think she’d be the kind of ghost everyone likes.”

“You are so awesome, I’m really glad you’re dead, and a ghost!” Matt seemed nervous but happy.

“Uh, thanks, I think?” Clara laughed. “So you’re the oldest ghost alive, uh, dead?”

Matt looked like he might have been thirty at the most, but Clara couldn’t tell. Both Matt and Amy looked very happy. But why not? Being alive was a burden. Being dead…maybe not so much. Still…

“So ghosts can die?” Clara asked.

“Beats me,” Matt replied slipping his arm around her. Clara let his arm pass through her. No sense is being too easy but Matt laughed hard. “She catches on quick! But seriously, the last ghost that was here for very long at all was a woman named Prudence. She claimed to be over one hundred, and she’s the one who told me ghosts simply disappear after a while. No one knows why.”

“And the sunlight thing?” Clara asked.

“Uh, a ghost in Lubbock told me about that.” Amy said. “Freaked me out.”

“And the camera thing?” Clara stood up and grinned at Matt who was staring.

“That came from Sammy,” Matt said, “he’s around somewhere, and there’s Ted, who doesn’t like to leave his house. He watches television a lot. But he died in front of the TV so…”

“How do you know any of this is true?” asked Clara and the other two ghosts just looked at her.

“I guess we don’t,” Amy finally said.

They met at Ted’s house, and for three days, with breaks just to relieve the tension, they all wrote down everything they had ever heard about being a ghost and then panned everything they didn’t know to be a fact. At the end of three days they had a page and a half of notes.

“That’s it?” Clara asked. “That’s not even a five minute conversation!”

“Mostly,” Ted said, “all we really know about being dead is the day to day stuff. It’s not like we could know anything about any other ghosts.” Clara didn’t like Ted but was careful not to show it. Ted was depressingly dead. He watched television a lot and complained about the people living in his old house. But the people were rarely home, and their only hint that Ted lived there too was the television being on at odd hours. But they were smuggling cocaine into SoCal so they were used to odd things happening.

“You know,” Sammy said, “I wouldn’t mind trying out that camera thing. You know, let one of you take my photo. If it turns out to be true, we just tear up the photo and I’m free. If it isn’t then we can stop being camera shy.” Clara did like Sammy. He died young and hadn’t aged. She never wanted kids but if she ever had one she hoped this would be what she wound up with.

“Hey, Clara,” Ted asked, “why are the lights on over at your house?”

“Holy shit!” Clara swore, “George is back. Anyone want to go over and spy on him with me?”

 

The Bunker

 

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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.

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

I Fought the Lawn and the Lawn Won.

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Yesterday, I took the bush hook out and hacked and hacked and hacked some more, and finally got to where there was a tree that needed to be removed from the fence. I woke up stiff as hell and sore, but I also needed to finish mowing, from two days ago, and get the weed eater out. I need to rewire the fence’s electric wire, but there is no point in doing that until I can get some work done is getting the fenceline clear. But first I have to finish mowing.

 

Many year ago I had a dream where I was sitting in a house, smoking pot with some friends, and this guy just walks in with a shotgun and blows this other guy’s head off with it, and walks about again. There was smoke, blood, screaming, and everyone ran like hell out of the back door. Of course, once we were outside we realize the only phone was a landline inside, cell phones had not permeated by dream world at that point, and so we went back in. Well, the dead guy was not only not dead but he was standing up and even though most of his face was missing, he seemed pretty lively for someone who took a direct hit from a shotgun. We’re still thinking, okay, the dead dude isn’t dead, but he’s got to be injured severely, but no, he isn’t. We watch as his face slowly reforms and he tells us, “Stupid bugs, you’ve seen things you shouldn’t have.” And we run. And that’s more or less how the dream ended and the story died.

 

The mower doesn’t crank right off the bat and I feel that odd sense of dread that comes with dead lawn equipment and the relief of not having to mow today. But I would have to get the damn thing fixed today, which might be as bad as mowing. The mower roars to life and the debate ends. I have about thirty minutes in the front and all of the backyard to mow. It occurs to me that the story died a long time ago and I ought to try to bring it back. But how? First, aliens, supernatural creatures, or… something different. I’ve never had a story with…what?

 

The front yard is a curious mix of jungle envied Bahia grass and weeds from the woods. It’s a tough mow if I let it go, so I have to mow every five days or so. That last sentence could have been a poem, you know. It’s a yard that wants to be a jungle, not a jungle I’ve turned into a lawn. Back and forth, back and forth, and the area I have to mow shrinks. So, what if the dead guy who isn’t dead was a creature that comes from a race of beings that live exclusively in and around Black Holes? They’re intelligent enough to build bodies that mimic humans, but they are also creatures who spend their existences traveling through space in the blink of an eye, literally. Mostly, they are seekers of truth through science, but there’s a very small number of them who like to play with lesser beings, the way some humans use animals for entertainment.

 

I like this, I think, but it needs some work, and I have to get the weed eater out to cut the weeds in the Holey Land, that part of the yard marred by the diggings of two Giant Labs. My safety glasses are so fogged with humidity I cannot tell what I’m cutting so I have to stop. I can still clear around the fence, I just need a general idea of where to point the weed eater, so off I go, to clear around the inside of the fence.

 

So the Black Hole creatures here on Earth are renegades. They’re outcast from their own people. They have no physical form, so they create human bodies to live in. They have an innate ability to travel within certain forms of energy, so they travel instantly from one place to another, often leaving a dead body behind. The bodies appear to be human and only an inspection at the molecular level would indicate they are not.

 

Why are they here and what are they doing? I ponder that as I mow as closely to the Holey Land as I can. Boredom? Spite? You’d think an advanced civilization would be beyond that. But what if they’re not?

Weed eating goes well.  Children at the beach don’t think about the animals they kill collecting shells and sand dollars, so perhaps the Black Hole People just have no way to consider us as important enough to have empathy for at all. The two that are in the story use people in their own game of tag and if humans die then that’s part of the vacation.

 

I clear an area that is fairly large, and it’s now a place the dogs can run in the grass by the fence and see their feet. Hawks and Owls like short grass because it makes prey animals easy to see. And suddenly, I think, what would make one of these creatures more visible to another?

 

The story begins. There is a narrator, a man who is in terrible heath. He is only twenty-one but has heart problems and has had them since birth. He’s a very pale and very weak person, but brilliant. His friend is a very pretty but very unmotivated woman who he’s helped through High School and college. He has a crush on her, but he’s realistic about his chances with her. She likes guys with good drugs and money.

 

They’re at the narrator’s house an hour after the shooting. She’s explain how the man who got shot hired her to pose for photos, for really good money, but them started asking her to go to different countries, and for no good reason, asked her to leave a cell phone in various places. This frightens her, but at the same time, the pot is really good, the sex with the guy is great, and the money is more than she can get anywhere else.

 

The weed eater hits the fence and the hotwire wraps around the head of the weed eater and I get shocked. Oddly, the fence I still working so I have to go unplug it. The reason the alien has the woman drop off cell phones is they’re his conduit to difference locations. His opponent, with whom he’s sharing this friendly game, is doing the same thing. Both agree that the humans are as expendable as water bugs.

 

So, the woman theorizes that the alien has never intended for her to remain alive, knowing what she knows, and now the narrator realizes that he too is in danger. He asks her if she wants some hot chocolate and after he makes it, he hands it to her and tells her that he has always loved her, and that he has an idea how to get them out of all of this. As she stares at him, rapt in attention because he has always gotten her out of so much trouble before, he pulls a knife out and stabs her in the eye, killing her instantly.

 

The alien may just quit once she is dead, and he’s willing to take that chance

 

 

Take Care,

Mike

 

 

 

 

 

Character Sheets

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I’ve created a world inhabited by fewer than one hundred people. As it’s progressed, I’ve created character sheets for over half of them. Someone of them will die early in the story, but they’re still connected to the people who survive. These are people who all lived in a County with a small population with a town inside of it that had an even smaller population. From afar, and untouched, mostly, they watched the larger cities fall, watched as sickness and destruction, and monsters, devoured the heavily populated areas on Earth, and finally, like a river that floods finally reaching far flung areas, the small town was all but overwhelmed.

 

For course, I cannot have one hundred main characters, and three of the first one hundred are kill in the first day, but the story weaves a different feel for what’s happening depending on who is in the scene. Thomas Coker and his wife, Brenda, have never lived anywhere else except this small town, and they’ve never known any other people but the people here. They are alone in their direct families, having lost all siblings, children, and most of their close cousins. Yet there are people they’ve know, quite literally, all their lives. When maps are being drawn as to where there might still be un-looted stores of good and places that contain vital pieces of equipment, Thomas knows where to look and he knows three ways to get there and four ways to get back again.

 

Then you have Annie, the young, heavily tattooed, and very liberal pink haired woman from Colorado who became stranded in South Georgia and never made it out. She knows no one, has no idea what happened to her own people and realizes she never will, despises the heat and humidity of the South, and hates the men of the South who view her as some sort of oddity with her face piercings and strange accent. While everyone else in the camp see this place as perhaps a new Eden, Annie see it as nothing less than a prison, and wants nothing more than to leave. But to be on the road alone is certain death, she knows that, too.

 

You have men who are secretly gay, you have women who have cheated on their husbands with men who are in the camp, you have people who have swindled others in the county and they must live and work side by side with these people. You have Robert Peters who worked as a meter reader for thirty years and retired two years before the end came. More than anyone else, Robert is vocal about having been cheated out of something promised, and he represents attachment to the old world that no longer exists in any form. There are those inside the camp who have accumulated great wealth, and there are those inside the camp who have always been dirt poor. There are those who will take to farming and the hard work required to survive and there are those who will simply find a way to die quietly.

 

The cloud hanging over everyone’s head is the lack of children. Of the ninety-seven people in the camp when the story begins, only three are younger than ten years old. Two of those are under five. There is one “real” kid, Jamie Marks, whose parents took turns guarding him until they were killed. He spent five years inside his house never going outside for one moment. At nine years old, Jamie is a lost soul. He has no family, and even though he is adopted by kind people, there is no childhood for him to have now. The camp as seen through the eyes of a little boy who might be the last child alive on earth will be interesting writing.

 

The story begins in September, of 2020. By hard work and some good luck, by Spring the camp has been secured, and the ground must be readied for planting. There is a hot house with vegetables being grown, but there is corn, soybeans, and other large yield crops to grow. The food inside the camp might, if stretched, last for another year, but that would require the people inside to further reduce their calories, and the two meals a day regime is beginning to wear on everyone’s nerves and bodies. They want this harvest to work, they need it to work, and their focus is in making it work, harvesting their crops, and storing food, and making life better for everyone.

 

So suddenly, in a time of plenty, a security camera catches the image of someone trying to sabotage one of the walk-in freezers, that is powered by solar panels. It’s Jamie. Very few people knew there were security cameras, and the question now is, how many are there and where are they? And the question of what to do with a nine year old that came close to ruining many months worth of food? Who decides his fate? What punishment fits the crime?

 

In a camp where food was very scarce, the mood was different and punishment was always a question of how much food to take away from those who committed what offenses they had the energy to commit. Yet now, in a time of plenty, or reasonably so, what is the guiding light of justice if everyone now believes they have beaten starvation?

 

And, the more pragmatic members of the group say, what it this year and next year is not? How many bad years would kill us? How much sabotage would it take to be an extinction level event? Nearly all mothers have lost children, nearly all fathers have lost children, yet here is the last child committing an offense that might be considered worthy of the death penalty if he were an adult. What to do? Who is to do it?

 

Ninety-six people gather in an auditorium to consider the possibilities. What do you think they should include and what would you not consider?

 

Take Care,

Mike

Jan

 

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Jan looked at the trail of vomit on the floor that ended at the comatose body of her husband, Will, lying on the floor. He had tripped and fallen on the way to the bathroom and puked hard, long, then lay face down in it, and passed out. This is the night of their fourth anniversary and Jan couldn’t see another year going by and enduring this. When things were good they were very good, but when things were bad they were worse than bad. Will had begun the disintegration publically tonight, and hadn’t made it home before slipping into a lizard minded quest for more alcohol. This was the first time he had really humiliated her in public, in the way that mattered, even if most people already knew the truth about him, and even if she refused to.

 

 

The television was a nice one, and Jan wondered if looking around a house and seeing nice things was worth it, really, but Will’s parents had left him with money, and he never spent it on anything but booze and her. He didn’t hunt or fish, he didn’t immerse himself in sports, and Will never raised his hand or his voice to her. She idly flipped through the channels and wondered how there could be thousands of programs and none worth watching. Her father had told her stories about there being two or three channels when he was a kid, and he saw cable arrive with thirteen channels, and who could imagine there being more than thirteen? Jan knew she was trying to find a way to forget her husband was passed out on the floor again, this time in his own puke, the stitches torn out and his body bleeding from diving into a patch of yucca plants to win a bet for a half gallon of cheap whiskey. The video of the event had gotten over one hundred thousand views on the internet and the comments were brutal; “moron”, “stupid”, and “Darwin Award nominee of the year”.

 

 

Jan stopped at the news and they were talking about a man in Russia who was killed and eaten by some creature no one had ever seen before. The video on that was grainy and unclear, and Jan wondered why, with all the cameras that were on earth now, when something truly amazing was supposed to be happening, the feed was always fuzzy. There was a time when Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, and UFO’s could be believed in, but now… Mythical creatures, like the unicorn and the good marriage, were largely being dispelled. Jan could feel herself leaving now. She could see it in her mind, clearly, for the very first time. Until now it had been something to wish for or to wonder about, like someone sitting on top of a house during a flood. The water had now risen to a point she felt compelled, driven away, to leave.

 

There was a program on where two well-dressed people, a man and a woman were trying to sell vacuum cleaner to an enthusiastic audience. With the demonstration of each attachment the crowd cheered wildly and Jan smiled at this. Wasn’t this how life was lived, that people praised their kids for anything they did, expected to be supported by the people around them, and in the end was sold whatever was being offered? She realized the poison in her own cynicism and she hated Will for making her this way. She got up and went over to where he lay face down in his own puke. It was beginning to smell, and she would smell that smell for the rest of her life, she knew, because it smelled faintly of fried fish, which Will had eaten too much off, and they had paid too much for, at a restaurant that served too much alcohol to him, and they knew it. Jan kicked Will in the face, violently, viciously, hard, once, twice, three times, and then she stomped her foot hard down on his left hand. Her breath came in ragged gulps now, and she realized in horror what she had done, and was terrified at the pleasure she was feeling from it. She backed away from Will’s body as he moaned, his legs moved him forward a few inches across the floor, lubricated by the vomit, and he turned over, and from his mouth blood and vomit issued in a thin geyser. He rolled over again and make snorting sounds out of his mouth.

 

 

His phone was on the floor and Jan picked it up and wiped it off. She took photos of Will lying in his own puke and posted them to his Facebook page. She knew it would do no good, she wasn’t hoping for some sort of shaming to dry him out, no, she knew better than that now, but this was her way of burning bridges, and she didn’t realize it until Will’s son tried to call. But it was too late, far too late, in so many ways it was too late. Jan made a video of her pushing Will’s face with the tip of her shoes, rubbing him into the puke while he blew bubbles in it with his nose, and Jan let the video run for about a minute before she posted it.

 

Will’s phone began to light up now. His friends were calling, what few he had left, his son was calling and sending text messages, and someone would eventually come over. Jan packed a few things, just enough to last a couple of days, and she turned the heat on in the house, even though it was warm outside. The smell would be terrible when she returned, she knew that, but she wanted it to smell like that. She wanted it to linger, to infest the house, possess it like a demon so she would never forget it, and never come back for good. She locked the dead bolts so no one could get in and threw Will’s phone into the back of the closet so he would have a hard time finding it when he finally sobered up.

 

 

After ten minutes of driving Jan pulled over and wondered where she was going and what she would do when she got there. The good wife would go back, repair the damage as best she could, and try to help him, again and again and again. She pulled back into traffic and started calling people she knew that lived out of town, to find a place to land.

 

 

End

Imaginary Friends.

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It’s odd that I know people who do not exist at all. My dream of an old friend who had committed murder sticks with me. The friend doesn’t exist, of course, but he did for a handful of minutes. My mind created him, a fifty something man with thinning hair and three ex-wives. He was athletic as a younger man, but a back disability and a drinking problem ate away at his vigor as time eroded his body. His third wife, the one I remember best, stayed the shortest about of time. Jan stuck with him for just shy of five years and then relinquished him to the bottle again. She called me one night, to tell me he had taken a dare, for a half gallon of whiskey, to jump naked into patch of Yucca plants. He went back first, but struggled to remove himself from the plants, and was horribly cut up by the sharp blades that Yucca leaves are. He got his half gallon of whiskey and he also spent a couple of hours in the ER and lost three days of work because his foot was cut badly.

 

 

After the divorce, he rented a room down at the beach and stayed drunk for a week, drinking himself out of a job in the process. Six months later, Jan called me to go down and bail him out of jail, after his third DUI in less than five years, and I told her I was done with that sort of thing, and I still am. She told me she couldn’t do it, she couldn’t see him like that again, and so we both agreed not to do anything about it anymore. A year or so later, I saw Jan at a friend’s house, and we wound up going out, just as friends, and after I took her home, she asked me to come in, and we sat on her sofa and talked for hours about why men drank the way they did, and if they knew the women who loved them felt like it was their fault the men drank like that. The night crept away from us, and I held her when she started crying. I never realized how much it hurt her to see him drunk, how it affected her at her core as a wife, as a woman, and how she doubted herself for it, and how hard it was for her to be the wife of a man who people could tempt into doing stupid things for whiskey.

 

You knew he was this way when you met him. You knew he would never change. You knew he would only get better at hiding what he did, until it spilled out into the open, you knew he lost to wives to it, and you knew that when you married him. Yes, but I thought I would be enough to fix him. She wipes her eyes as she says this, and laughs, the sound she would make when a female friend of hers said that same thing out loud, and she would laugh at how ridiculous it sounded. Once you reach a certain age, a woman ten years young than I tells me, it’s harder to believe you’re attractive to anyone, and your husband hides in the woods behind the house to drink himself into a state where he doesn’t see you. The space of a few heartbeats go by and I realize what’s she’s said and what she means.

 

 

There is no real love here, no future, no promises or intent. There’s only damage done and more damage perhaps, maybe some healing, maybe something shared that will tie two people together in a friendship that might last, but it doesn’t matter, at the time, at the moment, at the point of need, and small hours ticking away. It’s like an emotional stone soup, where everything everyone has is thrown together and then cooked over a fire, and whatever it is, it is better than the stone at the bottom of the pot.

 

 

 

Jan isn’t real and none of this has ever happened. I had a nightmare Friday night, and left lingering in my mind was the life of a person in the dream, Jan’s ex-husband, whose name never showed up, and from there my mind cooked up the rest. It’s very likely I could put them both into a story about a marriage gone wrong, and maybe even use the murder in the dream. If Jan’s ex-husband went to prison for murder, she would have a double curse upon her; the woman whose husband loved alcohol, and the woman whose husband went to prison. It’s hard in the South for a woman to escape the shadow of her husband, she’s a reflection of his worth, and who he is, rather than who she is. Might Jan be written into a story where she finds a place to stand on her own, and take charge of a life she wants to live?

 

 

The dream has stuck with me all day today, until I had to sit down and write it out, define it, breathe life into the people I know so well who do not exist. But that too, is part of life, to imagine, to dream, to look beyond the blackness of night and interpret the shadows cast by starlight in the woods. So little there is to see, if your eyes are the only tools you trust, and to me there is more, there has to be, so into the darkness I peer, hoping…

 

 

Now, it is clear to me where Jan will arrive. I think she will be a part of a story I’ve been working on, where she’s a survivor among survivors, and she is known to the locals as the woman who lost a man to drink and to prison. Yet, like me, Jan looks into the shadows and see not the darkness, but the light that created the shadows, the forms from which the shadows grow, and at nearly fifty years old, Jan decides to begin anew, and alone.

 

Take Care,

Mike