Category: short stories

Vincent and Lily (part of a story)

I wrote this some day ago and still like it. Please forgive any typos and mistakes…I don’t have it in me to do anything more than cursory proofreading. 

Birds tire of flying after a while. One bird named Tom was exhausted and said to his wing mate, “Listen, I gotta take a rest. I’ll catch up later.”

Tom’s wing mate Fred snorted as much as a bird can snort, which honestly isn’t much. It’s kind of a stupid little noise, but there you have it. “You won’t catch up. You’ll get lost and die.”

“Wow, that’s kind of mean,” Tom said. “I won’t get lost. It’s impossible for birds to get lost, anyway. It’s possible I wouldn’t find the flock for a few days, but to get lost is something that—”

“It happened to Cecil,” said Fred.

When Fred didn’t elaborate, Tom pressed, “Er, who’s Cecil?”

Fred cut an irritated, beady eye at Tom, and sighed. Also, a rather silly sound and lost in the rush of wind. “Cecil was a bird who got lost.”

“And?”

“And died.”

“You know this for a fact?”

“It’s common knowledge, Tom!” Fred snapped. “Now keep flying and leave me alone!”

“Nope,” said Tom. “See ya… or not.” And with that, he dropped out of formation and flew to the ground.

Once there, Tom curled his legs under himself and sat in the grass. It was an unusual position for a bird to take unless it was wounded, which Tom wasn’t, and it occurred to him he could get snatched up and eaten. But just the thought of flying to a nearby tree made him tired, and before he knew it, he’d fallen asleep.

“You’re the bravest bird on Earth or the stupidest.”

The feline voice brought Tom fully awake, and he stared nearly eye to eye with a large tabby cat. “I’d like to think I’m not stupid,” Tom said, just for the sake of having something to say and possible forestall his imminent death, “but I’m not particularly brave, either. So, in response to your remark, I must say that this isn’t such a simple matter of black or white, yes or no. There are gradations, even with birds.

The cat glared at Tom. “That was an unnecessarily long and philosophical statement. Usually, birds just freeze when they see cats.”

“I suppose I’m not most birds,” Tom said and wondered how long the cat would stand for his sass.

“No, you’re not, at that,” the cat replied thoughtfully, settling into the grass. “I will not eat you. I stalked you, of course—instinct and all that—but I’ve already eaten. Couldn’t swallow another feather.”

“Ah, well, that’s good news for me,” said Tom, standing up and shaking his wings. He felt much better now that he rested, and he was sure he could take to wing in an instant, leaving the cat and possibility of death (no matter what the cat said behind). But he was curious. And since there was no saying about curiosity killing the bird, he stayed.

“What’s your name?” Tom asked.

“Which one?” the cat answered. “What humans call me, what I call myself, or my secret name?”

Tom’s eyes widened. “Cats have secret names?”

“Of course we do. We’re among the few creatures that do.”

“Well, what is it?”

The call rolled its green eyes. “I’m not telling you that, bird. It’s my secret name for a reason. But humans call Lily.”

“That’s a pretty name,” Tom said. “I’m Tom.”

Lily placed her face on her paws. “That isn’t such a pretty name.”

Tom shrugged his wings. “No, it’s rather dull. I wish I had a secret name, like Max, or Dash, or Vincent.”

“Vincent?” Lily echoed in surprise.

“I knew a wise bird named Vincent,” Tom said. “He was great and taught me a lot.”

“So I’ll call you Vincent. Vincent the bird. It seems to suit you better than Tom.”

“But… that isn’t my name,” Tom protested. “It isn’t what my parents named me.”

Lily opened her mouth in an enormous yawn, and Tom shivered at the sight of her teeth. “It doesn’t matter,” she said. “You can be whoever you want to be.”

“The flock would have a thing or two to say about that,” Tom muttered.

“Well, I don’t see any other birds around, so I dub thee Vincent the sparrow. Wear your name with pride.”

Tom—Vincent, his mind insisted—fluttered his wings excitedly. “Vincent. Yes, you’re right. I will be my own bird.”

“Excellent,” Lily said. “I’m glad to have helped a fellow animal out. And now, I must be off.”

“But wait,” Vincent said. “We just met. Where are you going?”

Lily blinked lazily. “Home, silly. I’m an indoor and outdoor cat, and I’m ready to go inside. I think. I might change my mind when I get there, but I’m ninety percent sure I want to go inside.”

“Can I come with you?”

Lily laughed and said, “I don’t think my humans would take well to a sparrow living with them.”

“No, I could fly along with you and make a nest in a tree, assuming there are trees where you live.”

“Oh, there are plenty of trees,” Lily said, “but what about your flock?”

“Who needs them?” said Vincent, feeling suddenly brave. “They were going somewhere boring, anyway. Same place every year. This sparrow wants something different.”

“Well, I can’t promise that living in a tree in my humans’ yard will be the most exciting thing you’ve ever done,” Lily said, getting up and stretching, “but I suppose it would be different. All right. Come on.”

“Hang on a second,” Vincent said. “Do you mean to eat me… like, at any given time?”

Lily pondered for a moment and then said carefully, “It’s technically possible. If I don’t get enough food inside, or if my wild side kicks into high gear and I just have to kill something, I could eat you. But I’ve never eaten a bird I’ve met. It’s just too strange and wouldn’t be worth the guilt.”

“Do you feel guilty when you eat birds you don’t know?”

“Of course not.”

“What if one said, ‘Wait, my name is Cecil, I got lost from my flock, please don’t eat me?”

Lily narrowed her eyes. “That’s a very specific hypothetical situation.”

“Well?”

“I don’t know. I would like to think I wouldn’t eat a bird once I learned its name, but perhaps I would and then feel just a tiny bit guilty. Also, have you ever seen a cat stalk and kill a bird? It’s all over pretty quickly. There’s not a lot of time for chit-chat.”

“Okay,” Tom said. “I trust you. I think.”

Lily shook her head. “You’re an odd bird, Vincent. It’s getting late, and my humans will get worried

Something deep and troubling had occurred…(story draft)

I began writing this story in 2008, and I’m surprised I’m still able to connect to the characters and their voices. I didn’t think they had anything else to say.

For now, I’ll call this story complete. It never had a title, and I can’t come up with one now. So it goes.

 

trailer
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Something deep and troubling had occurred during Ed’s time away, and it rippled through the park like electricity. He couldn’t come right out and ask his wife Martha what it was; if she knew, she would lie like she always did, no matter the circumstances. There was a time when he and Martha were close, and he would have gone right to her and said, “I got that feeling again,” and they would have talked about it, probably made love and talked some more. But they were different people now.

And this time, things felt much different. Worse. A fundamental shift had taken place.

His horoscope was no help at all. Whatever Ed had—the sight, clairvoyance—wasn’t always reliable, but it was still a hell of a lot more accurate than astrology. But he was in the habit of reading it, if only to get a chuckle. Today’s read: Cancer – You should avoid any extra projects this week. Outlook is good on the creative front, but beware strenuous labor. What good did that do? He was a contractor, for God’s sake. Labor was what he did, but as the cards fell, he wasn’t doing anything today, though not for lack of trying. He and his partner Joe Frampton had just come back from a job in Williston, and his back ached like someone had beat his spine with a shovel. He didn’t have anything in the works until next week, when he and the crew were going to do some demo work out at Greg Anderson’s place. Nothing to do today but contemplate his own list of unending chores around the house. It was one thing Martha dug at him about. “When are you gonna fix up the bathroom?” she would ask.

“I’m not a plumber, Marth,” Ed replied.

“You could fix it and you know it. You’re just lazy and good for nothing.”

If he was lazy and good for nothing, what was she? The exact same. Martha hadn’t worked since being a cashier at Winn-Dixie in high school. She hadn’t even been a good mother. Their first child, a backward looking boy named Rye, was serving ten years for armed robbery, and child services had taken away eleven year old Kelsey to live with relatives over in Robinson county. Ed called Kelsey occasionally, and his only daughter would grunt through the conversation and smack gum. He hadn’t visited Rye in nearly two months. As bad of a mother as Martha had been, he knew he wasn’t exactly in the running for Father of the Year.

Maybe he was good for nothing, except maybe hammering two pieces of wood together. Maybe Martha had the right of it, after all.

But none of this explained the overwhelming sense that all wasn’t right, that something terrible had happened. Ed sighed and grabbed another beer from the fridge and waited for Martha to return from whatever nonsense she was up to.

***

The nonsense Martha was up to involved disposing of a body, specifically that of Georgia Jenkins.

“God in Heaven, Jilly,” Martha growled as she dragged the duct-taped and blanket-shrouded body from the truck bed of her friend’s dusty Ford F-150. “How many rocks did you put in there?”

“You’re just out of shape,” Jilly said, slamming the truck door and peering around the darkness of the lake. “I hope no one’s out here.”
Martha dropped Georgia’s inert form and breathed heavily. “Too cold. Everyone else is inside, warm and toasty. And we’re out here dragging a body to the lake.”

“What if we get caught?”

“We won’t get caught if we hurry. Come on and give me a hand.”

The two women dragged the body to the edge of the lake and eventually got the corpse pulled between them and began swinging. Georgia Jenkins connected with the icy waters of the lake with a tremendous splash and, after bobbing around like a ghastly cork, sank beneath the surface.

Martha sighed. “Well, that’s that.”

Jilly tried and failed to suppress a shiver that had nothing to do with the biting wind. “Unless she comes back to haunt us.”

“Shut up with that nonsense, Jilly.”

“What, you don’t believe in ghosts?”

Martha withdrew a battered pack of Salem Lights from her front pocket and lit a cigarette. After a greedy drag, she answered, “No, I don’t believe in ghosts, Jilly. And if I did, I wouldn’t be waiting around for Georgia’s sorry ass of a ghost to come dragging its chains to my door. She was a dumb bitch in life, and probably dumber in death.”

Jilly shook her head. “I don’t know, Martha. Maybe we shouldn’t have—”

Martha flicked ashes at Jilly, and a tiny piece of hot rock sizzled in the air. Jilly gasped and jumped back. “If you’re gonna turn spineless, do it when you’re alone. Don’t try to drag me down, too. I’m right as rain with what we did.”

“All right. Can I bum one of those?”

Martha grimaced and grudgingly offered the pack. “I guess you need a light, too?”

“Yeah.”

“I thought you quit.”

The cigarette trembled in Jilly’s grasp. “I’m starting back now.”

***

Ed was about to nod off sitting in front of the TV when someone started banging on the door. He snorted and shook himself awake, staring blearily at the clock. It was midnight, and still no Martha. She wasn’t the one banging on the door. Even if she’d lost her key, Martha would be howling Ed’s name and calling him all sorts of things.

Ed polished off the last of his beer as he stumbled to the door. He was shocked to find Georgia Jenkins—naked and shivering—on the porch. But then he immediately felt such strong déjà vu that he stumbled back for a moment. This is it, he realized. This is what’s wrong. Something with Georgia.

“Georgia, what the hell…” Ed started, but the words died on his tongue. Under the sallow front porch light, the girl sobbed uncontrollably. Her lip was split in several places, her left eyes swollen shut and the color of eggplant. Lashes lay like spiderwebs across her chest, and her right arm had been savagely yanked out of socket.

“Get in here, get in!” Ed said, tenderly taking Georgia in under his right arm and walking her into the trailer. When he touched her, it felt like sparks shooting through him. For an instant, he hurt everywhere that he saw wounds on Georgia’s body. The feeling faded as quickly as it came, but Ed started shaking like the girl.

Georgia’s sobbing increased when he shut the door and left the room to fetch a blanket. “I’m not leaving you, Georgia!” he called wildly from the bedroom. He dashed back in the living room an draped the blanket around the girl’s bruised shoulders. When his fingers brushed her skin, he didn’t feel any pain, which was a relief. “You want some water? Maybe something stronger?”

Georgia nodded, and since Ed wasn’t sure which she preferred, he went to the kitchen and returned with a glass of tap water and a bottle of Jim Beam. Georgia reached for the Jim Beam and took three strong pulls. She shuddered and lay back against the threadbare couch. “I’m okay,” she said, and Ed winced at the way Georgia’s broken-glass of a voice sounded. “I’m okay. Well, at least I’m not dead.”

“What happened?”

Georgia turned her good eye to Ed and paused before saying, “Your wife. And Jilly. They did this.”

Deep inside, Ed knew it was the truth, but he still said, “Georgia, come on.” Martha was many things—many of them not good—but a murderer?

“Fuck you!” Georgia’s voice, no longer broken, filled the trailer like thunder. “Martha and Jilly beat me and left me for dead, Ed! They wrapped me in a blanket and taped it up and dumped me in the goddamn lake! I got out because they’re too fucking stupid to do anything right!”

As soon as the fury had entered Georgia, it evaporated. She sank back onto the couch and into the blanket, glaring at Ed from a tangled of wet brown hair. “So fuck you if you don’t believe me,” she went on quietly, “but this isn’t the kind of thing a girl’s mistaken over.”

“But…why?”

Now it was Georgia’s turn to laugh. “Why? Because they’re lunatics. And because of me and Jilly’s husband.

Despite the bruises and cuts, and the dislocated shoulder that was becoming more uncomfortable to look at with each passing second, Georgia Jenkins’ beauty still shone. Sure, lots of women in the park were jealous of Georgia. And yes, Georgia hooked up with John Martin after he and Jilly split but before he cut town for good, but to kill her for it?

Georgia sighed and took another drink. “After a few more sips of this, I’m gonna need you to pop this shoulder back in. Okay?”

“Yeah,” Ed said.

Georgia stared at her bloodied palms. “I get lonely sometimes, just like everyone else. You know, when men do it, no one gives a shit. But let a woman run her life like she wants, and she’s a goddamn whore.”

“I guess.”
Georgia shrugged and winced when her right shoulder flared with a fresh wave of pain. “Let’s get this over with,” she muttered and stood up. She let the blanket fall, and waited while Ed studied her naked, brutalized body. “And I’m gonna want some clothes. Don’t know why they stripped me.”

Ed reached out and took a hardy pull on the Jim Beam. He reached out and touched Georgia’s swollen shoulder. If he concentrated, he could almost get inside Georgia’s head. She was scared, but more than that, she was angry, and the anger was growing. “You ready?”

“As ready as I can be.”

Then three things happened: Ed snapped Georgia’s shoulder back into place, Georgia screamed so loud the windows rattled, and Martha opened the front door.

***

No one said anything for what, to Ed, felt like an incredibly long time, but was only a few seconds. He had read somewhere that the human mind goes into hyper alert mode when it encounters a serious threat. Time seems to slow down, and looking back, it’s like you can notice every small detail. In super slow motion, Ed watched his wife’s expression go from blank to shocked to scared, and then turning, he saw Georgia’s expression morph second by second from hurt to animal rage.

Time snapped back into place, and Georgia flung herself across the room so fast that Ed didn’t have time to react. Martha outweighed Georgia by a good fifty pounds, but she wasn’t ready for the attack. They both tumbled out the door, off the porch, and into the dirt.

“You tried to kill me!” Georgia screamed. “You dumped me in the fucking lake and left me for dead!”

People were running now to see what the commotion was, and when they arrived at the little plot of dirt and grass in front of Ed and Martha’s trailer, they were treated to an eyeful. Georgia Jenkins, naked as the day she entered the world, was straddling Martha Irwin and choking her. “How does it feel, bitch?” Georgia yelled. She dashed Martha’s head against the ground.

Ed was just about to pull Georgia off his wife when Georgia suddenly let go of Martha and sat back. “Get me some goddamn clothes before I freeze to death,” she snapped at Ed, “but nothing of hers. Some of your stuff is fine.”
Martha was on her hands and knees, coughing and vomiting up what looked like chicken pot pie and Kool-Aid, and it smelled like stomach acid and whiskey. Jilly broke from the crowd of onlookers and was going to help Martha up, but she stopped when Georgia said, “Leave her. I know you had reasons to hate me, and while I’m not real happy about you trying to kill me, I get where you’re coming from. That piece of shit”—she kicked a rock at Martha—“is a cat of a different fucking stripe.”

Ed came back with what he figured were reasonable clothes for Georgia: a flannel shirt, jeans he hadn’t been able to fit in for ten years, a braided belt, some white socks and a pair of old slippers. Georgia stood up and took the clothes, saying, “I’m stepping in here to change. See to your wife, but you make sure she’s still here when I get done.”

“Okay,” Ed said, nodding. He looked at the crowd, which had broken up. People had their own problems to deal with, and when it was clear that Georgia wasn’t actually going to choke Martha to death, they decided it wasn’t worth their time anymore. The only people who stayed were Jilly and Pesto Bill, an old man with rheumy eyes and who was missing his left arm from a farming accident.

“You gonna let that girl whip on your woman like that?” Pesto Bill asked Ed.
“I reckon I didn’t have a choice,” Ed replied. Pesto Bill shrugged and walked away, whistling the same tune he always whistled, “That’s Alright, Mama” by Elvis.

“Georgia said I couldn’t touch you,” Jilly whispered as she bent over Martha, who was still coughing. Her breath wheezed in and out of her lungs. Every time she tried to speak, she coughed. She finally gave up and sat back in the dirt.
“Listen, before Georgia comes back here,” Ed said, walking forward, “I gotta say, this is the dumbest thing you’ve ever done. And we both know you’ve done some dumb shit over the years.”

Ed directed his comments toward Martha, but he glanced over at Jilly so she knew his statement included her, too. “This is attempted murder. It’s not like you just scared the girl or tried to run her off. You threw what you thought was her dead body in the lake. What was your plan after that? To keep that terrible secret for the rest of your life?”

Martha shook her head, but she didn’t try to answer. Ed would have found out, of course. Martha wouldn’t have been able to keep thoughts of Georgia’s murder hidden. He did his best to stay out of Martha’s mind, but the murder would have been a flashing red beacon that he couldn’t have possibly ignored. He would have confronted her, she would have denied it…and then? They would pretend it hadn’t really happened? Ed wasn’t sure he could have done that.

Georgia stepped back outside into the chilly air. She was more composed, and it looked like she had tried combing her hair. Ed was once against struck by how pretty she was. He stepped aside and let Georgia pass, keeping his mind as far away from hers as possible.

“You two listen, because I don’t plan on repeating myself,” Georgia said. “I’m not calling the police or pressing charges or any of that shit because it’s not worth my time. There’d be a trial and lawyers and people poking their noses in my business, and I’m not having it. But Jilly, you’re leaving. Tonight.”
Jilly didn’t move. She looked like an animal staring into headlights, and she stayed that way until Georgia clapped her hands together. The clap sounded like a gunshot, and Jilly jumped. “Go!” Georgia roared. “If I see you around here again, I will shoot you in the cooter, I swear to Christ.”

After Jilly had scrambled away, Georgia turned to Ed and winked, though there was no mirth in her expression.

“As for you, Martha Irwin,” Georgia said, “you’re staying put where I can keep an eye on you. I haven’t decided your punishment yet, but believe me, it’s coming. There will be hell to pay for what you did, but I need to think on it.”
Martha stared at Georgia and then Ed, her expression pained. Aren’t you going to do something? it said to Ed. Ed sighed and turned to Georgia. “Can we talk for a moment inside?” he asked.

“No,” Georgia said. “I’m tired. But thank you for your help. Martha doesn’t deserve you.” She whipped around to Martha and said, “But just because I feel that way doesn’t mean I was going to fuck him, you stupid cunt. Are we clear?”
Martha nodded, and so did Ed. Georgia said, “Okay then. Ed, I’ll return these clothes to you after I wash them. Right now, I’m going to get a drink and sleep for a day or two.”

Ed didn’t say anything as Georgia walked away. When she was out of sight, he gave his hand to Martha, who took it grudgingly and pulled herself up. “We gotta handle her,” she whispered, wincing in pain as she did.

Ed reached out the smallest bit with his mind to touch his wife’s, just to see if what she was saying was bravado or if she really meant to try to kill Georgia a second time. He pulled back almost immediately after skimming the black, hot surface of her thoughts. She was serious, God help her.

Ed didn’t say anything as he helped Martha inside the trailer. He hoped Jilly was packing and getting ready to split; he hoped Georgia was back in her trailer and able to have a moment’s peace. As for him, he was going to have to find a new way to live with Martha…but he didn’t expect that would last long. One way or the other, either Georgia or Martha were going to have to go. And after tonight, Ed wasn’t sure which one he wanted it to be.

To Finish or Not to Finish….

That is the proverbial question. I have so many stories I’ve started and never finished that it’s become par for the course. If I have a good start–characters I care about, dialogue that flows well, a decent plot–it’s almost a guarantee that I’ll move onto something else. Part of the reason is my ADD (undiagnosed, but it sure feels like it) and part of it is that I write in short bursts, before work or between online teaching sessions. At least, it used to be that way. A few months before our house fire–so last April–I began writing less and less. After the fire, I stopped almost completely. Up until then, I had written primarily poetry, and had amassed a decent list of publication credits. But then the poetry stopped flowing, and I took a break.

I actually did more than take a break. I killed my first blog–writingforghosts.com–and killed my first music site, too. I wanted to disappear. I suppose the feelings were linked to the fire and being displaced. Now that we’re quarantined and my kids’ lives have been completely transformed and my wife is working from home, I’m going through another spiritual shedding of skin. But it’s okay. I don’t have to spiritually destroy anything else. I just need to accept things as they are and adapt, which is always difficult for me. I’m not exactly a go-with-the-flow-guy.

I’ll mention here in passing that I’m in recovery, and that I blog about it here. So all these internal changes happen in relation to my alcoholism. This site, as it was previously, is for creative writing. Just know that much of my work, if not all of it, is informed or at least touched by my ongoing recovery from alcoholism.

Below is part of a story I began more than ten years ago. I dug up the file this morning to see if there was any spark still left in the story, and there was. It’s small, but it’s there. I’m going to try my best to finish it. I gave it a once-over for grammar and typos, but probably missed some things. Here’s part one:

Something deep and troubling had occurred during Ed’s absence, and it rippled through the trailer park like electricity.  He couldn’t come right out and ask his wife Martha what it was; if she knew, she would lie like she always did, no matter the circumstance.  There was a time when he and Martha were close, and he would have gone right to her and said, “I got that feeling again,” and they would have talked about it, probably made love and talked some more. But they were different people now.

And this time, things felt much different.  Worse.  Ed could taste it with every breath, every beat of his heart.  A fundamental shift had taken place.

 His horoscope was no help at all. Whatever Ed had—the sight, clairvoyance—wasn’t always reliable, but it was still a hell of lot more accurate than astrology. But he was in the habit of reading it, if only to get a chuckle. Today’s read: Cancer – You should avoid any extra projects this week.  Outlook is good on the creative front, but beware strenuous labor.  What good did that do?  He was a contractor, for God’s sake.  Labor was what he did, but as the cards fell, he wasn’t doing anything today, though not for lack of trying.  He and his partner Joe Frampton had just come back from a job in Williston, and his back ached like someone had beat his spine with a shovel.  He didn’t have anything in the works until next week, when he and the crew were going to do some demo work out at Greg Anderson’s place.  Nothing to do today but contemplate his own list of unending chores around the house.  It was one thing Martha dug at him about; his apathy toward the work needed to his own house.  “I swear, it’s worse than the cobbler’s kids with no shoes,” she’d gripe.  “When are you gonna fix the bathroom?”

“I’m not a plumber, Mart,” Ed replied, using the name Martha hated the most.  “Mart,” she’d spit, “like I’m a Wal-Mart or something.”  Ed had once rejoined with, “Well, you’re as big as one,” which earned him a punch in the eye.

“You could fix it and you know it,” Martha replied, ignoring the nickname.  “You’re just lazy and good for nothing.”

If he was lazy and good for nothing, what was she?  The exact same. Martha hadn’t worked since being a cashier at Winn-Dixie in high school. She hadn’t even been a good mother. Their first child, a backward looking boy named Rye, was serving ten years for armed robbery, and child services had taken away eleven year old Kelsey to live with relatives in Robinson county.  Ed called Kelsey occasionally, and his only daughter would grunt through the conversation and smack gum.  He hadn’t visited Rye in nearly two months. As bad of a mother as Martha had been, he knew he wasn’t exactly in the running for Father of the Year.

Maybe he was good for nothing except hammering two pieces of wood together.  Maybe Martha had the right of it, after all.

But none of this explained the overwhelming sense that all wasn’t right, that something terrible had happened.  Ed sighed and grabbed another beer from the fridge and waited for Martha to return from whatever nonsense she was up to.

 

The nonsense Martha was up to involved disposing of a body, specifically that of Georgia Jenkins, aged twenty two.

“God in Heaven, Jilly,” Martha growled as she dragged the duct-taped and blanket-shrouded body from the truck bed of her friend’s dusty Ford F-150.  “How many fucking rocks did you put in there?”

 “You’re just out of shape,” Jilly said, slamming the car door and peering around the darkness of the lake.  “I hope no one’s out here.”

Martha dropped Georgia’s inert form and breathed heavily.  “Too cold.  Everyone else is inside, warm and toasty.  And we’re out here dragging a body to the lake.”

“What if we get caught?”

“We won’t get caught if we hurry.  Come on and give me a hand.”

The two women dragged the body to the edge of the lake and eventually got the corpse pulled between them and began swinging.  Georgia Jenkins connected with the icy waters of the lake with a tremendous splash and after bobbing around like ghastly cork, sank beneath the surface.

Martha sighed.  “Well, that’s that.”

Jilly tried and failed to suppress a shiver that had nothing to do with the biting wind.  “Unless she comes back to haunt us.”

“Shut up with that nonsense, Jilly.”

 “What, you don’t believe in ghosts?”

 Martha withdrew a battered pack of Salem lights from her front pocket and lit a cigarette.  After a greedy drag, she answered, “No, I don’t believe in ghosts, Jilly.  And if I did, I wouldn’t be waiting around for Georgia’s sorry ass of a ghost to come dragging its chains to my door.  She was dumb bitch in life, and probably dumber in death.”  She paused to take a drag on her cigarette.  “Nah, Georgia’s enjoying the flames of Hell right about now.”

Jilly shook her head.  “I don’t know, Martha.  Maybe we shouldn’t have—”

Martha flicked ashes at Jilly, and a tiny piece of hot rock sizzled in the air.  Jilly gasped and jumped back.  “If you’re gonna turn spineless, do when you’re alone.  Don’t try to drag me down, too.  I’m right as rain with what we did.”

“All right.  Can I bum one of those?”

Martha grimaced and grudgingly offered the pack.  “I guess you need a light, too?”

“Yeah.”

“I thought you quit.”

The cigarette trembled in Jilly’s grasp.  “I’m starting back now.”

 

Ed was about to nod off sitting in front the TV when someone started banging on the door.  He snorted and shook himself awake, staring blearily at the clock.  It was midnight, and still no Martha.  Unless she’d locked herself out again.  But no, because she would be screaming his name

 Ed polished off  the last of his beer as he stumbled to the door.  He was shocked to find Georgia Jenkins—naked and shivering—on the porch. But then he immediately felt such strong de ja vue  that he stumbled back for a moment. This is it, he realized. This is what’s wrong. Something with Georgia.

“Georgia, what the hell…” Ed started, but the words died on his tongue.  Under the sallow front porch light, the girl that had been Georgia Jenkins sobbed uncontrollably.  Her lip was split in several places, he left eyes swollen shut and the color of eggplant.  Lashes lay like spiderwebs across her chest, and her right arm had been savagely yanked out of socket.

 “Get in here, get in!” Ed said, tenderly taking Georgia in under his right arm and walking her into the trailer. When he touched her, it felt like sparks shooting through him. For an instant, he hurt everywhere that he saw wounds on Georgia’s body. The feeling faded as quickly as it came, but Ed started shaking like the girl.

Georgia’s sobbing increased when he shut the door and left the room to fetch a blanket.  “I’m not leaving you, Georgia!” he called wildly from the bedroom.  He dashed back in the living room an draped the blanket around the girl’s bruised shoulders. When his fingers brushed her skin, he didn’t feel any pain, which was a relief.  “You want some water?  Maybe something stronger?”

Georgia nodded, and since Ed wasn’t sure which she preferred, he went to the kitchen and returned with a glass of tap water and a bottle of Jim Beam.  Georgia reached for the Jim Beam and took three strong pulls.  She shuddered and lay back against the threadbare couch.  “I’m okay,” she said, and Ed winced at the way Georgia’s broken-glass of a voice.  “I’m okay. Well, at least I’m not dead.”

 “What happened?”

Georgia turned her good eye to Ed and waited nearly a full minute before saying, “You wife.  And Jilly.  They did this.”

Deep inside, Ed knew it was the truth, but he still said, “Georgia, come on.” Martha was many things—none of them good—but a murderer?

 “Fuck you!”  Georgia’s voice, no longer broken, filled the trailer like thunder.  “Martha and Jilly beat me and left me for dead, Ed!  They wrapped me in a blanket and taped it up and dumped me in the goddamn lake!  I got out because they’re too fucking stupid to do anything right!”

As soon as the fury had entered Georgia, it evaporated.  She sank back onto the couch and into the blanket, glaring at Ed from a tangled of wet brown hair.  “So fuck you if you don’t believe me,” she went on quietly, “but this isn’t the kind of thing a girl’s mistaken over.”

“But…why?”  Ed’s ability didn’t give him insight into Martha’s reasoning, though in the back of his mind she thought he could sense her red-hot anger…and something else. Jealously?

Now it was Georgia’s turn to laugh.  “Why?  Because they’re lunatics.  And because of what I did with Jilly’s husband. 

Despite the bruises and cuts, and the dislocated shoulder that was become more uncomfortable to look at with each passing second, Georgia Jenkins’ beauty still shone.  Sure, lots of women in the park were jealous of Georgia.  And yes, Georgia hooked up with John Martin after he and Jilly split but before he cut town for good, but to kill her for it? 

 “Don’t pretend you haven’t thought about us having a fling, and I won’t either,” Georgia sighed and took another drink.  “After a few more of these I’m gonna want you to pop this shoulder back in.  Okay?”

 “Yeah,” Ed said.  “Okay.”

Georgia stared at her bloodied palms.  “I get lonely sometimes, just like everyone else.  You know, when men do it, no one gives a shit.  But let a woman run her life like she wants, and she’s a goddamn whore.”

“I guess.”

Georgia shrugged and winced when her right shoulder flared with a fresh wave of pain.  “Let’s get this over with,” she muttered and stood up.  She let the blanket fall, and waited while Ed studied her naked, brutalized body.  “And I’m gonna want some clothes.” 

Ed reached out and took a hardy pull on the Jim Beam.  He reached out and touched Georgia’s swollen shoulder. If he concentrated, he could almost get inside Georgia’s head. She was scared, but more than that, she was angry.  “You ready?”

“As ready as I can be.”

Then three things happened:  Ed snapped Georgia’s shoulder back into place, Georgia screamed so loud the windows rattled, and Martha opened the front door. 

 

 

Freewriting Session #???

Doubt this will go anywhere, but who knows?

It was a dark day when I decided to kill him. I don’t mean spiritually dark…it was fucking dark, like the sun had gone out or something. There wasn’t an eclipse or anything, it just got dark. Looking back, I’m glad it was like that, like the world was in shadows. And now that he’s gone, I can get on with what’s left of my life.

Ben the Would-Be Cannibal (story snippet)

 I came across this story snippet as I was going through some old writing, and I was struck by how often cannibalism comes up as a theme in my work. Also, for every completed story, I have perhaps fifty or so partial stories. So it goes.

No picture for this one. I’m not terribly keen on Googling “cannibalism.”

“I’m supposed to care about something, you know,” Ben said as he chewed on a face.
“What if I’m a sociopath?”

“Well,” Donovan observed, “you’re eating a human head. And just because you’re
supposed to do something doesn’t mean you should. Shit, I’m supposed to go
to church, but I don’t. Also, I’m sitting here as you demonstrate you’re a cannibal, so
what does that say about me? I’m supposed to stop you, right? Or at least protest in
some way?”

Ben sighed. “I’m not really a cannibal. This is processed.”

“Doesn’t matter. You’re eating a processed human, which they say tastes like the real deal.”

“I guess.”

“You haven’t eaten a real person, right?”

Ben sighed again. “No.” He could have, of course. There was nothing stopping him
from exploring the black market and picking a body. It would be dressed-out and
ready to cook. Instead, he was gnawing on human-flavored gelatin face. What
respectable cannibal would eat a face, anyway? Could you even cook a head and have
the features stay in place? Maybe if you closed the eyelids and simmered it in broth,
Ben reasoned. The facsimile face he was dining on had gooey, sweet-flavored eyeballs.
He imagined the real deal was a bit tougher and more salty.

“So why are you worried you’re a sociopath?” Donovan asked. “I mean, the current
activity notwithstanding?”

“Because like I said, I don’t care about anything. Not school, not girls, or cars.
Nothing, man. It’s a scary feeling.”

“Which means you’re not a sociopath. Do you think a real sociopath pauses to
reflect on his lack of empathy?”

“Maybe. Like, early in their sociopathy.”

“Have you ever tortured or killed animals?”

“No.”

“See?”

“That doesn’t mean anything, Donovan. The mutilation of animals is only one
indicator in a wide variety of cues that might signal someone’s a sociopath.”

“Well, for someone who doesn’t like school, you don’t seem to have a problem
learning. At least about sociopaths.”

Ben shrugged and ate.

Donovan studied the beheaded false corpse before him. Eventually, Ben would have to
remove its clothes, and Donovan didn’t want to be around for that. Ben had
ordered a male corpse, which Donovan guess was better than a female corpse, but he
really wasn’t sure why…

 

The Whale-Shaped Man (fiction? poetry? both? neither?!?!)

The Whale-Shaped Man

Is he in his office? asked the whale-shaped man.
Is who is his office? the woman in sparkly pants replied.
You know.
I don’t.
Him.
That doesn’t clear it up.
The whale-shaped man grimaced. I’m talking about your father.
Oh. Why do you want to see him?
To ask for your hand in marriage.
That’s stupid, the woman laughed.
What?
Why would I marry you? You’re shaped like a whale.
But I love you.
That doesn’t change anything.

So the whale-shaped man left. Inside his office, the woman’s father sighed in relief.

Awake (short fiction)

This is part one of my story about mannequins coming to life at night, a scenario I first read in a Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) style book when I was young. I’ve since looked for the book online with no success (this might be it, but I can’t be sure). The book chilled me to the bone, but I read and re-read it, trying out different outcomes. If you’re familiar with the CYOA books, you know the endings can be quite dark. In one ending, your left as prey for the evil, animated mannequins.

In my mannequin story, there’s no boy or girl trapped in a store after the mall closes. It’s a love story, and a sad one, at that. I haven’t done more than spot editing, so there are undoubtedly mistakes and things I’ll change in the final draft.

If she stood away from the security lights and stayed in the shadows, Ashley almost looked human, which made Barry more than a little uncomfortable. They had agreed to be themselves with no adornment, but Ashley had applied lipstick and eyeshadow, and she had found a wig. Her lips were curved in a permanent smile, even when she was upset.

Barry looked around the department store, but he didn’t see any other mannequins about. They used to all animate at once, exactly fifteen minutes after the mall closed. It was magical, all of them gathered in the center of the first floor by men’s casual wear, looking at each, flexing their plastic fingers which didn’t move more than a little, but any movement was a miracle.

That had been close to a year ago, and Barry supposed it was inevitable that the newness of consciousness had worn off. That still didn’t account for the different animation times…or the fact that some of the mannequins didn’t animate at all.

Barry took a few halting steps toward Ashley, suddenly unsure of himself. He considered changing his shirt, a complicated task that usually required another mannequin, but he decided against it. He would stick with the plan he and Ashley made. If she wanted to break it, fine. She was her own…person? Her own entity? Barry didn’t know. He imagined he felt a headache coming on, which he knew wasn’t possible. He could barely feel when he touched something, as if he had stunted nerve endings. Perhaps I do, Barry thought. Perhaps I have a functioning brain, but the rest of the system isn’t complete. Would it ever be complete? Barry liked to think so.

“Good evening,” Barry said to Ashley. He remained formal with her. It seemed the right move.

Ashley didn’t turn to face him. Her cool, flawless face stared at an unseen point on the shadowy wall. “You don’t approve,” she said after a moment.

“I don’t approve of what?”

“The lipstick. The eye shadow.”

“It’s not that I don’t approve,” Barry said. “I just thought we were going to be ourselves.”

Ashley turned. Barry had to admit that she looked good. Somehow, she had expertly applied the lipstick and eyeshadow, and the blonde wig was situated perfectly on her normally bald head. She had always been more flexible than Barry. She had almost a complete range of motion in both her hands, and she could turn her neck more than a few degrees without causing tiny fractures in the plastic. Other mannequins usually whispered jealously about Ashley’s abilities, but Barry saw none of them around tonight.

As he scanned their corner of the department store, he realized they were the only two that had animated. He saw Evan in his corner, wearing the store’s latest fall jacket, along with a red scarf, jeans, a flannel shirt, and hiking boots. Beside him, Joey–no more than ten if he’d been human–wore the same outfit but in a smaller size. From where he was standing, Barry couldn’t see Elizabeth, Cierra, or Tonya. He also couldn’t see Alex, the half-mannequin with no eyes whom Elizabeth usually carried to the center of the store.

He heard no voices. He and Ashley were only ones awake.

Perhaps a Little Fiction to Change Things Up

I’ve sensed lately that I need a break from poetry. Perhaps it’s all the rejections I’ve been getting. I certainly want a break from submitting poems. I still have a few out there, and maybe they’ll find a home.

I have a few stories running through my head. One is about mannequins who come to life at night in a department store, two of whom have fallen in love and find immense difficulty mapping the emotional and physical terrain in which they find themselves. Another springs from a wrong number text I received last night, and the other has something to do with this:

junk
There’s a story hiding in this big ol’ pile of scrap metal

I’ll post the stories as they progress, as I used to, breaking them up into parts. I generally do little editing and revising of my fiction that I post until I’m finished with the story. I like having a record of the piece as a work in progress.

Here’s the beginning of the tale of the love-smitted mannequins:

If she stood away from the security lights and stayed in the shadows, Ashley almost looked human, which made Barry more than a little uncomfortable. They had agreed to be themselves with no adornment, but Ashley had applied lipstick and eyeshadow, and she had found a wig. Her lips were curved in a permanent smile, even when she was upset….

mannequins-in-love-2
Oh, my….

So stay tuned, and thanks as always for reading.

Three Mothers (flash fiction)

It’s Halloween, and I’m sitting in my oldest son’s taekwando practice. Close to me, three mothers discuss various things. I let their conversation drift in and out of my head as I wrote this spooky little piece. Please forgive any typos; it came out in a rush.

Three Mothers

“I just want them to play, but the little one starts digging,” says one mother. Her name is Jessica. She holds her pink-encased, glittery phone in her left hand as she scratches a lesion on her face with her right hand. She’s not an advanced case, so they let her out and mingle with the other mothers, all of whom are in various stages of the disease, but none so bad that Death has quit being polite and just barges the hell in, here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?

“Well,” says another mother–this one a small, blonde woman named Kathy who had fine features but now looks like the victim of an acid attack–“maybe you shouldn’t let them play in the graveyard.”

Jessica makes a disgusted face. “Let’s not call it that, please.”

“What the hell would you prefer?” asks Octavia crossly. She is the third mother (women aren’t allowed to gather in groups larger than three). Her red hair has started to fall out, but she’s styled it such a way as to minimize the damage. She looks almost normal from the right angle in the right light.

“The Resting Ground, as we’ve been taught,” Jessica replies and begins swiping on her phone. “No one likes my posts anymore. Dammit.”

“Because you’ve lost a kid,” Kathy says. “It brings people down.”

“But I have three more,” Jessica protests.

The other two women shrug. They know how it is, and Jessica does, too, even if she denies it.

“My youngest is the cutest thing,” Jessica goes on, loudly, as if others are listening. It’s just the three of them on a deserted street, but they’re never truly alone.

“The one who was digging in the graveyard?” Kathy says.

“The Resting Ground,” Jessica replies between her teeth.

Kathy and Octavia share a look. “The Resting Ground,” Kathy corrects herself.

“Yes, Baby Kenneth.” Jessica’s fingers fly on her phone as she searches for a picture of her child. “He’s very curious and very healthy!” she practically shouts as she holds her phone out for the other women to see.

“Adorable,” Octavia mutters, and Kathy just nods. Satisfied, Jessica closes the picture and goes back to her homepage. She scratches the lesion harder.

“How much longer do they say you have?” Octavia asks Jessica, not unkindly.

Jessica blinks several times before she answers. “I told them I didn’t want to know.”

“But Donald knows.”

Donald, Jessica’s beefy husband who nabbed a coveted job in the slaughter house last month, most certainly knows. Jessica has promised him not to tell her, and Donald is playing along so far. Unbeknownst to Jessica, he’ll wake up her up in the middle of the night three days from now and reveal her expiration date.

Jessica will visit each of her children and kiss their brows. She will linger the longest over Baby Kenneth, tasting his name in her mouth, tracing his eyebrows until touching him no longer feels real.

 

A Little Close to Home

The best writing surprises the writer, or so I believe. As I’ve undoubtedly said before, I’m often surprised, shaking my head after a writing session and saying to myself, “Well, there’s something going on here, but I’ll be damned if I know what it is.” I’m comfortable with ambiguity in my work, if not in my everyday life. With this poem, though, I recognized the point. I knew it was about me.

I became uncomfortable as the words flowed out, and the discomfort continued as I redrafted and tinkered with it. The poem is certainly hyperbole, but it contains enough truth about me to make me sigh. I’m not a very social person, and lately I seem to have withdrawn even more. I’m trying to rectify the situation, but not as hard as I could. Such is my life at this point.

The Recluse

The fact that I found none of this
peculiar (the horse smell, the dark
magic of the mantle clock, the eye
that glittered murder from the socket
of my dead boyhood friend, the pain)
told me I was either in a dream or
something had fundamentally shifted,
an alien landscape had grown inside
me, a filter had dropped into my brain
that processed everything bad as good.

I determined I wasn’t dreaming by the
sheer consistency of items and events
that stretched through the day and into
the night…dreams went quickly sideways,
and this all had a bizarre, black logic,
including the girl who approached me
hesitantly and asked, “Are you the recluse?”

“I am the one who has been foretold to you,”
I decided to say, not caring how I sounded,
not caring that the girl dissolved into tears
and ran through the empty streets, shouting
out to any who would listen, “He has come,
he has come, prepare the way of the recluse!”

I merged with the shadows behind a house
that used to belong to my grandmother before
she and her second husband killed themselves.
I didn’t know who lived in it now, but I determined
that I wouldn’t visit the new owner–or visit anyone.
I couldn’t. I had a prophecy to fulfill, after all.