Tag Archives: short story

A Roll of the Dice

 

His eyes peered through the leaves, adjusting. Slowly, oh so slowly, his hand reached out to a branch and gently moved it aside.  Not even the birds nearby noticed the movement. No one did.  A hint of a smile creased his lips for no more than a moment.  It wasn’t time yet.  Soon.

With a quiet sigh his left hand reached inside his breast pocket and touched his Talisman. It was old. Very old. He had taken it from an elderly man who no longer needed it. That was years ago. Another life.  It started him remembering where it had all begun.

As a young man he was interested in what he couldn’t see. He wanted to understand what made people do what they did. So, he enrolled in a psychology course at a University. But all that did was make him ask more questions. The army told him that “He Could Be All That He Could Be” with them so he joined. He got great training. Turns out he was an OK soldier but he learned more than they expected. While he was soldiering overseas, he discovered that he had a particular… appetite. He was always very careful never to indulge to excess. And then he retired. He was still a relatively young man, so he embarked on another career. He drove a truck from the top of North America to the bottom. It was a great job. Weeks on the road allowed him to indulge his . . . appetite quite freely. But it did require planning.

He glanced down at the park below his perch.  It was almost time. Soon more people would be arriving. The children would mostly be at home for dinner and the adults would come out to play. Fair game. He would have to be quick, before he lost the light. But it would only take a few moments. And then he would move on to the next town, the next city, the next park. It had been more than a decade and no one had figured it out.

With the talisman in his hand he rolled the dice on a relatively level spot on a nearby branch. He used to have a pair but one was lost many years ago.  One still worked. Of course, it meant a lower number. How many people would be shot today?

It’s funny, a single dice is called a die.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Dark and Lonely Road

One last little ‘creep’ until next year. I hope you enjoy it.

Anderson Bartholomew Mortenson was pissed!  He would deal with that ‘Bitch’ in his own way and in his own time! He slammed the door of his car and squealed out of the parking lot!  He didn’t care what direction.  He was one of the elite, one of the privileged people, he had money!  His wealth gave him certain privileges!  Privileges that did not include getting a tongue lashing from a servant!  Anderson shook his head, this was ridiculous.  He did not have to justify his presence to anyone.

That woman in the gallery might be the manager but she had no right, no bloody right to embarrass him in front of his friends or to call him a ne’er-do-well.  A ne’er-do-well! Bloody archaic expression and he was offended!  His family, his grandfather, sponsored that gallery and that entitled him to certain privileges.  How could that bloody woman not know that! How dare she ask him to leave!  The people there seemed to think his jokes were funny. They were a little off colour but still they laughed. So what was the big deal?  These affairs took themselves far too seriously.

When Anderson was strongly invited to leave the Art Gallery he did so alone; his friends decided to stay and enjoy the free champagne. Perhaps that is the reason he took the wrong road, or maybe it was his anger, or perhaps something else was at work.  Regardless, Anderson was lost.  He didn’t know this side of town well but he was sure that at any moment he would come across some buildings, a highway exit sign, something to denote civilization as opposed to this endless ribbon of nothing. The road seemed to be mocking him, laughing at him: he was lost, what a fool!

With a sigh Anderson took stock of his situation.  Okay, he thought, I’m lost.  Bit deal.  People get lost.  The fact that he was not in control was annoying but knew he could get out of this. He forced himself to relax and think. First, he needed to find out where he was and where this bloody road went. There were no signs, there were no buildings, there were no street lights, and it was dark. There was, however, a familiarity to the place.  He didn’t know where he was but there was a memory buried deep that knew this road. This was not a promising situation.

As if it was written in a script, a figure materialized out of the dark.  He slowed the car as the headlights brought into focus a man dressed completely in black. Maybe this person could direct him back to civilization.  Anderson pulled the car over and rolled down the passenger side window.

“Excuse me,” he started, “I’m afraid I’m lost can you direct me–“

Before he could finish his question, the stranger opened the car door and got in.

“I think young man that we are headed in the same direction.” The voice that emanated from this strange man was deep with an almost hypnotic quality and his eyes were painfully intense. It was the only part of his face that seemed to be in focus.

The car door slammed shut as if to punctuate the comment. Without thinking Anderson put the car in gear. As they moved slowly forward Anderson’s mind, equally slowly, became clearer.  With a mental shake of his head he turned to the stranger,

“As I started to say sir, can you direct me to a main thoroughfare?”

Anderson was quite pleased with his manner, all he wanted to do was to kick this sorry sot out the door and take off.  But he did not.  He restrained his impulse. His mother would be so proud.  As he spoke Anderson glanced at his passenger:  this strange man hadn’t moved since he sat down, his head was in shadow and facing straight ahead. His entire body was as if it were made of stone.  Not even a sign of breathing was apparent. His hands rested on his knees, relaxed and unmoving.

“I will take you to where you are headed, but you may not like the destination.”

It was a strange comment but Anderson ignored it and once again glanced at his travelling companion.

“My name’s Anderson, and you are?”

The stranger remained silent.  Anderson wasn’t sure what to make of this guy. He had helped himself into the car; he had offered no information, not even his name.  How does one strike up a conversation with a man who seems to like being an enigma? Well this stranger had gotten into the car under false pretences.  Either he coughs up a way to get out of this situation or he’s getting dumped!  In his mind Anderson could be as tough and as authoritative as he wanted.  But when he again glanced at this strange man dressed in black, he felt like the child who had done wrong.  Anderson wondered what the great Cecil Mortenson would do in a situation like this one.  His grandfather was a successful businessman who had built himself up from very humble beginnings.  While Anderson admired that in his grandfather, it also intimidated him and made him want to rebel.  So, what would his grandfather do in a situation like this?

“I doubt very much your grandfather would ever be in this situation.”  The stranger had spoken again.

Anderson was startled; does this guy read minds?

“No son, but I do read faces. You are surprised that I would know about your family.  You would be very surprised at just how much I know about a great many things.  And I will see your Grandfather one day, soon.”  There was an ominous quality to his voice.

As he spoke the man continued to look straight ahead, his eyes only on the road disappearing into the distance. Now that the stranger had broken his silence Anderson thought he should direct another question:

“Are we headed back to town?  I don’t know this road at all.”

“Actually,” said the stranger, “I believe you need to spend a little more time on this road, or perhaps it needs to spend time with you.”

The words that the stranger spoke were bizarre and the feeling that they instilled in Anderson was one of desperation.  He was feeling more and more out of control.  He took his left hand off the steering wheel and placed it on his hip and without thinking he started to tap two fingers against his leg.  It was a nervous habit he had picked up as a child. Only one person had ever noticed it, other than his mother, and that was his friend Bob.  It was strange to think about Bob in a situation like this. It had been many years since he’d spoken to him but he had thought of Bob often and always fondly.  Bob had been Anderson’s roommate for the three years he had spent at University. He had never been impressed by Anderson’s wealth nor was he intimidated by it.  He really just didn’t care.  What he did care about was friendship. Bob believed Anderson was a better man than he really was.  How could he have let that friendship lapse?  And why did he think about him now of all times?

“I met a friend of yours the other day,” offered the stranger, “his name was Robert Delaney.  There was a car accident.  I believe you knew him as Bob.”

This time when Anderson looked over at the stranger, he thought he saw a small smile starting to curl up his lips. It also seemed to grow colder in the car and yet Anderson could not make his hand turn on the heat. He just sat there in the cold and in his growing fear. This man knew things he had no business knowing! What exactly did he know?

“You have done a great many things you should atone for, young man.”

That voice again.  Anderson felt paralyzed, but only in his body.  His mind raced frantically.  He was ashamed as he remembered the cutting comments he had made to perfect strangers, the complete disregard with which he treated those who offered him their services and he could not forget, nor could he excuse, his behaviour in the art gallery that had happened only an hour ago. The night should have been in celebration for a new and upcoming artist.  Instead he had turned it into a bad stand-up comedy routine. But that was who he was: the jokester, the bad comic.  Why should he have to atone for lousy manners?  And then the memory that was buried deep within his mind surfaced.  It was not a pleasant memory.

It seemed as if he had been driving for days.  He felt as though he had been locked inside a prison, unsure of his crime.  But he knew now, he was sure.  He had committed a terrible crime three years ago, on this road. How can you atone? They say that when you are about to die, your life flashes in front of your eyes.  That’s how Anderson felt.  He loved his grandfather and yet he had never told him that.  Quite the opposite, he went out of his way to antagonize the old man who had done so much for him.  He remembered his deceased mother and the dreams she had had for him.  He had not lived up to those dreams.  He remembered his father but not fondly. He simply thought of him as a sperm donor. He hated the fact that he was named after this man who took great delight in calling him ‘Junior’. To Anderson, being in his father’s presence was pure purgatory.  At least he had had the good sense to die many years ago. With any luck he was in hell.

Throughout his life people had tried to be kind to Anderson and he had belittled them and denigrated them. Bob believed the he was a better man than Anderson himself believed.  It was his shame.  And now because he was lost on a lonely road with a strange man sitting next to him, it was causing him to question his life and to remember.   Anderson squirmed in his seat; his eyes still focused on the road ahead just like the stranger. Did he deserve what he had? He felt as if he were on trial for his life! It wasn’t his fault; he had been drinking three years ago.  That young girl had no business being on a dark road at night.  It wasn’t his fault!

The road was the focus of their journey.  There was no lessening of the darkness.  The road itself never varied off the straight and narrow, there was no relief.  No other cars were in sight, there were no sounds of crickets or of people.  It was almost as if nothing existed outside the space that the car traveled each second.  There seemed to be nothing behind and nothing ahead, only dense forest on either side of the long and unforgiving road that they must travel.  Anderson was lost in thought: they say the road to hell is paved, where was this road taking them?

As Anderson was staring at his traveling companion his peripheral vision registered something.  It took his brain a split seconded to realize he was looking at a deer in the middle of the road, a big ten-point antlered buck.

Deer. Deer!  DEER! Anderson wrenched the wheel of the car to the right!  Adrenalin purged all thoughts of the stranger.  His concentration now was on the trees that were fast approaching. The deer was startled and moved into the forest. At least its life was saved.  Anderson reacted to the movement of the deer and quickly pulled the wheel to the left.  He had missed the trees on the right-hand side of the road by millimetres, but now he was looking at a ditch on the left side of the road.  Anderson stomped on the brakes and the car came to rest straddling both lanes.

With what seemed to be a focused determination a mist began to emanate from the tarmac. It drifted slowly over the car like a ghostly embrace. The silence was total. Anderson put his head down on the wheel and started to weep.

The depth of the sorrow that Anderson felt was out of proportion to the certain death he had just escaped.  He was thankful he was alive and he knew it was a near a thing but that wasn’t why he was crying.  He was crying for missed opportunities, for the cruelties he had inflicted on others, he was crying for a young girl and he was crying for his mother.  She had expected better of him and he had let her down.  But now he had a second chance to recognize his shortcomings and he knew that it was in his power to correct them.  He didn’t know if it was a cliché, but he felt himself a better man because of this epiphany

Anderson sat back in his seat. As he raised his head, he could see the dawn rising in the east and through the lessening of the shadows he saw a sign:

L_ ST CHANCE CAFÉ. His long drive was over. With a smile Anderson turned towards his passenger just as the stranger turned towards him.  In the early morning light he could see the full face of the dark man for the first time. Anderson stopped smiling.  It was a familiar face.

It is said that time is not the only way to make a young man old. A sour disposition, an angry character or overwhelming terror can cause men to be old and withered before their time. A man can age a lifetime in a second.  Purgatory is a place that all men fear and more than a few will face in their own time.

“Hello Junior.”

***************

Anderson shook his head, he was confused, unsure of something. As his eyes started to focus, he became aware of his surroundings.  He was on a road, a dark road.  There were no lights and no buildings anywhere in sight.  He also noticed something else that terrified him.  He was sitting on a bicycle.  It was a young girl’s bicycle.  It was terrifyingly similar to one a young girl was on three years ago, a young girl that he drove down in a drunken stupor.  She had died, miserably. And now he was on that bicycle, on that road, on that night.  He could hear the wind in the trees and the faint murmur of a car approaching him. Anderson was going to die just like she did under the wheels of his car.

“Welcome to Hell son.”

 

-END-

The Witch’s Brew

Eddy stepped back from the sign that she had just hung up outside the open door and thought about what had brought her to this point.  Edwina Roxanne Dupuis was a woman of exquisite taste.  Even if she was the only one who thought so. She had conjured up the idea of a neighbourhood coffee and tea house almost 3 years ago and it was only now getting its finishing touches.  It seemed appropriate that opening day was actually Halloween.  It was Edwina’s favourite holiday. She also felt that the name Edwina didn’t fit her character on any day so she always went by Eddy.

“Eddy do you want to use orange tablecloths or burnt umber.  And what in heaven’s name is the difference?  They both look the same to me.”

The voice that had just interrupted her reverie belonged to her not so silent partner Joshua.  They had met and become friends while both were attending university.  Years went by while they pursued their individual careers.  Unfortunately, neither was satisfied and when they met up again in a coffee shop, they were each looking for something new.  From that coincidental meeting came the idea for The Witch’s Brew.

“Burnt umber Joshua.  If you can’t see the difference then you are colour blind.”

Joshua stood for a moment looking at the two tablecloths, one in each hand.  His head went back and forth trying to discern a difference.  Instead he just shook his head.  Fortunately, each had a label so he was actually able to tell which was which.

“There is no difference,” he whispered quietly to himself.  They might be partners but she was still the boss.

A little louder he said, “The place looks fabulous!  You’ve done a great job Eddy.”

The woman in question came in to the coffee shop proper and she was smiling. “We did a great job Joshua.  I may have been the driving force but you provided the money and the moral support.  I’ll never forget that.

Joshua smiled.  Maybe she’d start to look at him a little differently.  There was more to him than friendly support and a buck or two.  He had been nursing a crush on Eddy since the day they met more than 10 years ago.  Unfortunately, circumstances did not allow them to explore a relationship.  Maybe now it would.  She just had to see him as more than a business partner.

“I’m curious, why did you choose Halloween as the opening day?”

“It’s my favourite holiday.  It’s nice when people are able to let go of convention, and be something they are not.  Or perhaps it’s when their real characters are allowed to shine.  We have no idea who and what people really are unless they tell us.”

As she spoke Eddy moved behind the coffee bar and started to polish an already gleaming counter.  She didn’t look at Joshua as she talked and he wondered if the words she used were meant for him specifically.

“Okay boss lady, what do we still need to do before tomorrow’s grand opening?  Geez, do I have to wear a costume?”

Eddy stopped fussing and looked at Joshua. “Of course you have to wear a costume!  It’s Halloween! And all that’s left to do is put out some flowers and put on a couple of pots of coffee.”

Joshua looked slightly alarmed. “I can handle the coffee, but a costume?”

“Oh and everything is going to be free tomorrow morning, just up until 12 o’clock.  I can’t think of a better way to get people to come into our shop.  It’ll cost a few dollars but I think it will be worth it in the end when people realize what a great place it is.  Are you okay with that money man?”

“Sure Eddy what ever you want.” He seemed somewhat distracted, “I could go as a pirate. They’re macho.  What are you going as?”

“Well as a witch of course.” Eddy’s laughter brightened the room immensely. “Don’t worry Joshua I promise not to turn you into a toad, unless of course you use orange tablecloths instead of the burnt umber!”

The two friends shared a good-natured chuckle.  There was only one problem: the two people in the room were not exactly what they appeared to be.  Each one had a secret they were hiding from the other.

*******************

 

The day was finally over and with a satisfying click the front door was closed and locked.  One individual was already sprawled over a couch, his shoulders sagging with relief.  The other was slowly patrolling the room picking up the odd cup and saucer.

“We did it Joshua.  And I think it was a huge success.  Now I am so tired I could cheerfully sell this place for a dollar.” With that Eddy sat down in the nearest chair, her chin slowly sliding towards her chest.

The figure on the couch stirred for a moment, his hand raised and a very small voice uttered only one word: “Sold!”

After a moment the two laughed quietly.  Several more minutes went by before Eddy forced her head to rise up and survey the newest hip spot on the street.  The Witch’s Brew was a success!

“Wake-up Joshua, there is still a ton of work to do.  We have to tidy this place up and get it ready for tomorrow morning.  And we have got to hire some staff. . . .”  Eddy’s voice continued on.  She was outlining the necessary steps for the successful run of their joint venture.  While she straightened up, she continued to talk.  She assumed that Joshua was listening.  But he was not.

Some movement had caught his eye.  From his comfortable perch on the couch he could just make out a piece of black wool that seemed to be undulating from behind a coffee bag.  He was mesmerized. For the life of him he could not understand why someone would have draped a piece of wool on the shelf.  Maybe he was still sleeping.  But that piece of wool seemed to be beckoning him.

With a quick glance to be sure that Eddy was otherwise occupied, Joshua slowly approached the wayward wool.  He was pretty sure he was over tired and hallucinating which is why he didn’t want to let Eddy know what he was doing.  After only half a dozen steps he could actually reach out towards his vision.  A fraction of an inch away from the piece of wool he stopped, inhaled deeply and thrust his hand forward.

“Ahhhhhhh! Oh my….!!!!  Call 911! It has eyes!” In his hurry to get away from the apparition, Joshua backed into a chair and sat down, hard.  The chair tilted back and he was on the floor with his legs in the air.  His mouth opened and closed repeatedly as he tried to speak.  All that came out was a guttural “Ahhhhhhhhhh!!!!!”

Eddy raced to his side and knelt down, concerned.  Her eyes followed the direction of his finger that was pointing in desperation at the path from which he had just fled. A small black figure raised its head and stared pointedly at the two people in the middle of the floor.  The demon in question then opened its mouth and uttered one syllable “Meow!”

With no regard for her fallen partner’s about to be bruised ego, Eddy burst out laughing hysterically.  She patted Joshua on the shoulder and then move towards the shelf.

“So that’s where you’ve been hiding Sebastian.  I wondered where you’d been.”

The aptly named Sebastian was cleaning his whiskers when he was unceremoniously picked up.  Eddy cuddled the tiny black kitten with the big-name and turned to face poor Joshua.

“Did I forget to tell you that The Witch’s Brew has a mascot?  Sebastian this is Joshua.  Joshua meet Sebastian.”

Joshua could do nothing more than stare at what he thought was a demon.  It is doubtful that the small kitten weighed more than a pound or two.  He was completely black except for those mesmerizing green eyes and a very tiny pink tongue.

Eddy was nuzzling the furball and her voice was muffled.  “I know you love me Joshua, and I love you too but you have to love my cat as well.”

Stunned, Joshua stood up. “I do, you know, love you.  I always have.  I didn’t know you knew.” He approached Eddy and put his arm around her and the small kitten. “Yes, your little demon is lovely and what a wonderful idea for the shop.  I guess every Witch needs her familiar.” The two chuckled, comfortable with themselves and with each other.

“Well, I guess we have a lot of work to do and we had better get at it.” Joshua left the two after a few moments and continued on with tidying the café while Eddy continued to cuddle Sebastian. It was almost as if the two were in deep conversation.

“I think it’s going to work.  But no magic Sebastian, you have to remain a cat.  And I have to make sure he never finds out that I am a real witch.”

The end

An Error in Judgement

Underneath an azure blue sky the trees swayed in a gentle dance with the wind in attendance.  It was a bright beautiful autumn day.  It was the kind of day where children want to play outside and adults secretly want to join them. Except no one in that boardroom was paying attention to the beauty outside the window.

Twelve men sat to attention. Twelve men carefully watched the only individual who was standing in the room. To say you could have heard a pin drop would be an understatement. Lives were about to be changed, perhaps permanently.

”Is that your answer Stevens?”  The question was asked gently, almost friendly. But those in the room knew the dangerous undercurrent that resided in those few words.

The man known as Stevens visibly blanched. He knew he’d made an error in judgment and he also knew that it could be the end of him.

He tried to sit a little straighter.

“Well, um sir . . . I thought . . . you always say . . . um . . .”

“Do you know why I chose you for this job Stevens?”

The proverbial pin hit the floor. The man who had just moments ago spoken with such compassion in such dulcet tones, erupted.

‘WHAT THE HELL HAVE YOU DONE!  YOU’RE AN IDIOT! YOUR JOB IS TO CONVINCE THEM TO SIGN NOT DISSUADE THEM!”

“But I thought the good will generated by  . . .

Stevens stopped speaking.  Perhaps he had gone too far but he was trying to help a young family.  And they really didn’t need what he was selling.  There was plenty of time to make decisions like that down the road.

The room was quiet, too quiet.  Stevens raised his head and looked around the room.  No one would meet his gaze.

“They didn’t sign the contract did they Stevens?”

A very small voice replied, “No, sir.”

“Then you will.”

Eleven men stood up from the table and stepped back.  Eleven men did their best to distance themselves from the man known as Stevens.  They didn’t want anything to tarnish them.  They knew the job and they knew the consequences of failure.  The Boss wanted signatures.

Matthew Stevens remembered.  He remembered coming to the big city for work. He met and married a beautiful woman, the love of his life. It was hard to find work for a newly minted lawyer who was pretty much run-of-the-mill. He hadn’t passed the bar with honours, he had actually just scraped by on his third try. But he had a little piece of paper that said he was a lawyer. That’s what he thought he should be doing. So he found work in small low paying law offices. He was a paper pusher. Nothing seemed to fit. Until . . .

He had received a letter in the mailbox, hand delivered.  It offered him a lucrative job in a mid level Corporate Law office. He jumped.  His wife was pregnant with their second child.  He needed this job.  So Matthew accepted the position and proceeded to push more paper. He wanted to go out in the field to sign people up for their policies. He was impatient. In just a few months he got exactly what he asked for. This was his first assignment. It was also the first time he actually read the policy.

His job was to get the head of the family to sign the contract. Simple actually. It was to give the family security and insurance over the life of the policyholder.

Insurance for life

                               This policy entitles the signatory Health, Wealth and Good Fortune for the length of his/her life.  Upon termination of said existence, payment for the above contract will be collected:

                                                One (1) Soul.

 

 

                             _________________________________________

                                          Policy Holder

 

 

 

Thank you for your business!

Mr. S. Atan. Esq.

 

End Transmission

There are people who walk among us, special people.  They could be a neighbour, a stranger, a brother, a friend.  They could be white or black, yellow or beige. These people walk the streets of the city and the fields of the country. They are there in the right place, at the right time, to do the right thing.  You might call them Facilitators.

********************

Abigail was picking up the last few items on her list: bottled water, low fat cookies and of course tissues.  One should always have lots of tissues on a long trip. As she was paying for the few items in her basket, she spied a small, one shot, fire extinguisher.  Without thinking she added the cylinder to her pile.  Now she was ready.

Fire.  She could see the car just ahead.  A woman was standing beside the vehicle looking lost.  She wasn’t screaming or panicking, just quietly standing and staring.  Abigail pulled her car over and stopped.  Quickly she grabbed her newly purchased fire extinguisher and raced to the burning vehicle.  It didn’t take much to put out the fire, it was still quite small.  If the gas tank or the engine oil had caught fire . . .  Everything was under control.  The woman hadn’t moved the entire time.  She just stood and stared.  Thank all that is holy that Abigail had come by at just the right time. She wondered what it was that had made her pick up a fire extinguisher at the last moment. It wasn’t something she had ever had in her car before. It was exactly what she had needed today, but how had she known ahead of time?

 

David enjoyed his early morning drives.  It gave him time to decompress, to relax. There was no one pestering him, no one concerned about what he had to say, no responsibilities, no life and death decisions. He relished this time alone.

He chuckled. He was also a creature of habit so everyone knew where he would be at any given moment. Even on his well known drives. And then, without thinking, he turned right instead of left. This was not his usual route but he didn’t change direction. Perhaps he was curious. Perhaps it was an error.  Perhaps he was guided by another’s hand.

There was a bump in the road ahead so David slowed down. As he grew closer, he realized it was a body, no, it was a man and he was alive. David had spent the last 20 years as an emergency room doctor. He had never had to use his skills outside a sterile room but now he was glad he had made a wrong turn.

The man lived. His children kept their father. His wife kept her husband. And their lives continued. All because one man looking for a little peace and quiet made a wrong turn. But did he?

 

Ahmed looked at his paper. He knew he was right. But how to get the others to understand that something was going on. The students in his writing class just thought that he liked Science Fiction. But his Physics teacher was starting to understand.  There were too many incidents.  Documented occurrences.  There was a correlation. There’s something pushing us, perhaps making us better? There was definitely something going on.  Something . . .

 

********************

 

Begin transmission.

Director, we may have a problem. I am getting a red light on Facilitator 439122 at grid 19, section 4.  We have been having problems with this particular model.  It appears that they have a more superior capacity for problem solving than we were initially led to believe. This particular Facilitator is beginning to question the regularity of the designed incidents.  It is important for the validity of our tests and our test subjects, that any and all management be undisclosed.  Otherwise all the results will be useless.  Director, please advise.

End transmission.

Begin transmission.

Administrator, the subjects were chosen for your research based on their innate ability to adapt to unfamiliar situations.  I would suggest that you amend your data to accommodate this unforeseen propensity for disentanglement.  If you feel that your research will be unduly compromised then I suggest you terminate that particular line of research.

End transmission.

 

*********************

It was not an easy decision.  A great deal of time had been spent cultivating the necessary specimens.  But the research had become contaminated.  They were starting to understand. There was no other alternative.   End transmission.

 

 

The end

The Gate

This image is borrowed from Dan Anton’s blog: nofacilities.com with his permission.

It had stood as a barrier for so many years that people forgot why it was there in the first place.  And then, there was no one left to remember.

It stood proudly for many years.  Shiny and strong. It was a barrier yes, for a while but it was also an acknowledgment: This is my place. You may be welcome. The gate did open.

Over the years, lovers traded stolen kisses across that gate.  Recipes were exchanged and broken hearts mended.  Friends passed through the fence a thousand times and arguments ended with a slammed gate, a thousand times more. But everything moves on, inexorably. Children become parents and grandparents become ancestors.  Generations.  Families. Years become decades.  Everything dies.

Alone. The once shiny posts turned brown with rust and there was no one left to scrape it clean. Hinges broke and the fence fell. In time it was absorbed by the forest.  A forest that once was kept at bay by the shiny new fence. All that was left was the gate.

There was a sense of pride, a sense of a job well done. You see, the gate was not inanimate.  It may have been created by the hands of people but spirits are alive in places that we do not know and cannot understand. But it was time.

The Spirit from within the gate felt the life force beginning it’s final journey and it remembered.  Laughter and tears, wild eyed curiosity and astonishment.  Life was a strange and wonderful experience.  For a time.  Now, sleep.

A Stranger Calls

Bbrrrrrrrnnnnnggggggg

Bbbbbbrrrrrrnnnnnnggggg

“Oh! Shut up!  I’m working!”

bbrrrrnnnnnnnggggg

“Ok, ok, I know it may be important. Who ever invented the telephone should be shot!  Tomorrow I am definitely buying an answering machine! Hello!”

“Thank heavens you’re home Evangelic, I only have a minute, but listen, this is important.”

“Excus . . . “

“The diagnosis was wrong Evangelic; you don’t have cancer!  It’s true!  Some technician messed up the samples.  Don’t give all your possessions away!  Hahaha I’m so happy.  But I have to run, they are about to call for the plane and I have to be in St. Louis by 3. Benson and Hardwick don’t like tardiness.  Evie if this job interview is successful, we will never have to worry about money again.”

“Listen I’m not . . .”

“It’s ok, my love, everything is ok.  You can reach me at the Mayfair and I’ll be home in three days. We can start to make plans now.  Love ya babe!  Bye.”

Lilly held the receiver in her hand for a moment and listened to the single tone that indicated the party on the other end had hung up. She shook her head and then replaced her handset.

“Well, as wrong numbers go, that was a beaut.” She chuckled and return to her computer. After all she had responsibilities too:  the next four chapters of her latest book were due in her publisher’s hands by the end of the week. Except, something was nagging at her:  she couldn’t stop thinking about the strange phone call.  Obviously, the call was from a man who had misdialed.  What’s interesting is he didn’t check to make sure he was speaking to the right person before he imparted his information. Who did that? He was certainly excited; except he was telling someone he loved that she didn’t have cancer.  Which means the party he thought he was talking to didn’t know she didn’t have cancer.  And now she wouldn’t know for at least a couple of days.  He seemed concerned that she find out right away. Well there was nothing Lilly could do about it.  She didn’t know his name and while she knew the woman’s name, it didn’t help her find her.

Lilly couldn’t stop thinking.  It’s what writers did, they thought.  And Lilly thought that maybe she could figure out who the man was.  She knew he was calling from the Toronto Airport, she knew the phone number, and she knew where he was going to be later on that day so maybe the people at the hotel could help her find him.  This is going to be fun!  The writing wasn’t going very well anyway.

So, Lilly made herself a cup of her favourite tea and sat down in front of her computer.  She had a string to unravel and it started in St. Louis.  Stalking was way too easy in the modern age.

With a flick of a few keys Lilly expected all the information she required to be boldly displayed in front of her, it was not. There was no Mayfair in St Louis.  Not deterred she kept at it, something was not right, something didn’t make sense.  Lilly was sure he said Mayfair and St Louis.  She had good hearing and . . .   Then she read: “Built in 1924 . . . The hotel was sold in 2003 to . . .” The mystery deepened. Lilly kept reading. “ . . .  reopened it in 2014 as the Magnolia Hotel St. Louis.That explained one part of the puzzle.

Lilly had a thought.  She looked up how long it would take to get to St. Louis . . . anywhere from 4 hours and a bit to almost seven hours.  Plus time to collect luggage and book into the hotel.  She didn’t have to rush.  But her mind couldn’t get over the urgency in his voice.  She had to do something.  Maybe the Mayfair/Magnolia manager could help. It wouldn’t hurt to ask. So, she looked up the phone number and placed her call.

Now when someone takes the time to make a phone call there are certain expectations. A pleasant voice picks up the phone and an answer to your question is nearly instantaneous, on a good day.  This wasn’t one of those.

“The Magnolia Hotel, how may I assist you?”

“um, may I speak to your manager?  I am calling from Toronto, Canada and I think, there is a matter that concerns one of your guests.”  Lilly could hear the confusion in her voice.  She could only imagine what the young man on the other side of the phone was thinking.

Evidently they train their staff well.  There was no hesitation. “If you will hold the line for just a moment, I will connect you with Mr. Gordon.”

Lilly barely had time to sip her now cold tea when a very cultured voice spoke on the line.

“Vincent Gordon speaking, how may I be of assistance.”

Lilly took a deep breath and explained to a complete stranger how her morning was going. The call, the anxiety in his voice, the concern that someone needed to know that she didn’t have cancer.  Lilly spoke at breakneck speed afraid she was going to be dismissed and, and, and . . .

“Miss Lilly, are you sitting down?

Not the question she expected.

“Yes.  Um, do you think I’m crazy?”

“You are not crazy, just a few years late.”  There was a quiet sigh on the line and a chair squeaked as if someone had settled back into it.  “This may be a bit difficult to understand but we get this call, or one like it, every few years.”

Lilly shook her head, “It was a prank call?!” The quiet inflection in her voice mirrored her feelings.  Lilly was confused.

“It wasn’t a prank. It was . . . It is said that some hotels have ghosts, spirits, leftover energy. I don’t know.  I only know about Elward Harrison and his wife Evangelic.

And then Mr. Vincent Gordon told Lilly a story. It was about a man whose love for a woman survived his death.   ‘April 17, 1972 a man suffered a major heart attack and died while a guest at the Mayfair Hotel in St. Louis.  He is survived by his wife Evangelic.’

Mr. Gordon went on to explain that Mrs. Harrison had received incorrect medical information but the doctor had called and assured her, she was fine.  Mr. Harrison had called the office and acquired the information but did not stay on the line long enough to know that his wife had also been informed.  Evangelic died in 2002.

“I don’t know why he calls.  I don’t know how he calls. But the staff all expect a call on this day.

Lilly’s eyes grew wide. “The date today?”

“April 17.”

Lilly exchanged her cold tea for something stronger. She shivered. Who knows what lives just beyond our ability to understand . . .

 

 

The end

“He’s Dead!”

The picture used for this post is from Dan Antion’s Thursday Doors over at nofacilities.com.  When I saw it, I felt a shiver go up my spine.  This was the house in my head when I wrote this story several years ago.

Two young men stared at each other, mouths open.   The erudite individuals in question were loitering outside the home of an elderly man who had recently died. Perhaps they were remembering the life so recently passed. Or perhaps . . .

“Cool!  What the fu. ., .sh . Aw man, I promised my girlfriend I’d stop swearing!”

“Wait, Boondog, you got a girlfriend? When?  You didn’t have none yesterday!”

“Yeah, man.  We’re in looove.  She just ain’t met me yet.”

The two erupted in gales of laughter.

Boondog was actually Alfonse.  He was a high school drop out who fervently believed that he would one day be a multi millionaire.  He just needed the rest of the world to recognize his genius.

His companion was Edgeley. No one knew his real name, probably not even Edgeley himself.  He didn’t seem to live anywhere in particular.  He just kept showing up.

The two young men gravitated to this spot most days.  Each day they would spend time smoking a particular illegal substance.  This was the perfect spot.  They were hidden from the road but were still quite close to the house.  Ah, yes, the house.  It had been built in the early 1900’s.  It was three stories tall and had a veranda that encircled the main floor. It was an imposing abode that had seen better days.  More than a hundred years had wandered through the rooms of that house. What had been said and done on those solid wood floors?

Our intrepid adventurers were deep in a metaphysical discussion.

“This Burrito is the bomb!’

“Hey, you got burritos?  I like Mexican food!”

“No, man, the Ganga is good!”

“Huh?”

“Dope, weed, pot, grass! Boondog, don’t you know noth’n?

“Aw.”

For the next few moments they said nothing. The smoke whirled above their heads as they inhaled the noxious weed.  Oblivious to the medical consequences of the drug on their brains, they breathed in even deeper.

Time seemed to stop.

Edgeley was the first to speak.

“Do you think his cats ate him?”

“Did he have cats?” asked Boondog with something akin to excitement on his face.

“I dunno.”

Silence.  Time barely seemed to pass.

“They said he was rich.  I bet he’s got cash stashed all over.”

“Cool.”

Our two geniuses continued to stare at the once opulent house. After some time they both managed to stand (after a few mishaps).  Then came the giggles.  Two grown men trying to keep each other from falling and fumbling up the decrepit steps might have been funny to watch but no one saw them enter the house.  Almost no one.

As Boondog reached for the front door knob, the door opened.  He didn’t seem to notice.

“Hello . . “  He shouted, as if he had just returned from a long day at work.

Edgeley slapped the back of his head.  “Shhh!  You wanna wake the dead?”

“Is he here?”  Boondog’s panic was very apparent.

“Nah, man. I’m just messing with ya.”

The front door opened into a huge foyer with an even larger room off to one side.  They headed there. The two men started to wander around the room. Edgeley immediately started to open drawers in the cabinets, methodically working his way from one side of the room to the other. Boondog couldn’t take his eyes off a painting of an old woman. There was a name at the bottom, his lips moved as he read what was there:  Daniela Winslow, died 1893.

As he stepped back, he looked directly into the eyes of Daniela Winslow . . . . . only to see Daniela looking back. Boondog gasped!

The front door closed, violently, the bolts thrown. The shutters on the windows slammed shut. Within seconds the air became cold, too cold. Edgeley stopped what he was doing and looked up. A mist started to rise from the floorboards. It seemed to caress Boondog, who was frozen in place. It then moved on.  Gently, oh so gently it touched the furniture, stroking the wood of the cabinets.

Edgeley looked at Boondog.  All the effects at the previously smoked marijuana were gone. Neither man was at all unaware of their predicament. Any thoughts of looking for stray cash had gone.  All they wanted now was to leave, quickly.

Almost as if it was choreographed, both moved as one towards the front door. Grasping the handle Boondog tried desperately to open it.  The door wouldn’t budge.

“Hello boys. . . “

The voice was low, soft and ominous. They couldn’t tell if it was a man’s voice or a woman’s. Or even where it had come from. The two boys turned back from the door, fear emanating from every pore.  Boondog started towards the steps to the second floor. He just wanted to get away from the voice. Before he could reach them, the mist descended and formed a barrier. There was no going upstairs.  He returned to stand beside his friend.  This couldn’t be happening!

Edgeley hadn’t moved. Sweat started to soak through his clothes. The sweat of fear has an acrid, pungent smell, it smelled of death.

A fireplace they hadn’t noticed before, burst into flame. The cackling sound of the flames seemed to break the spell and they moved.

They huddled next to the fireplace as if for comfort. There was no warmth from the flames.  They seem to mock them, rising and dancing as if to music.  There was no music, then, no sounds. It became oppressive, the silence. The men, so brave and bold mere minutes ago, reverted to their childhood fears.  They were terrified.  And then . . . she screamed.

“I am hungry!”

Edgeley started to whimper.  “I’m sorry . . . I’m so sorry . . .

Alfonse started to mutter unintelligibly. He raised his head. His eyes had changed. He grew larger.  Then he smiled.  “No one will miss you Edgeley.  And we will all feed!”

 

 

The end

 

The Bus Stop

It was a beautiful mid-summer’s day.  It was early enough that most people had not gotten into their cars to start the day.  But one lady was slowly approaching a local bus stop.  Marcella was starting her day the way she did most every day: walking to the bus.  And like every day before this one, she was complaining.

“I am getting too old for this nonsense.” She mumbled to herself.  “Every day I hurry to get to the bus stop just so I can wait.  The bus is always late.  Always!  And I know if I come late then that damn bus will come early!”

Marcella wasn’t a young woman but she didn’t consider herself old just yet.  Yes, she did have sore knees and her feet would swell if the day was hot, but she was not ready to be put out to pasture.  There would be time enough to be old.  For now, she just liked to take advantage of the fact that everyone else thought she was old.  She could complain all she wanted.  People were so polite and considerate.

As she approached her destination, she became suspicious.  Something had changed.  A new bench had been deposited beside the bus shelter.  Marcella was uncomfortable with change so she looked at this new piece of outdoor furniture with distrust.

“Now why would someone put a pretty new bench out here where it can get all wet?” She queried, “kids will be playing on it before you know it and it will get damaged.  Now why would they do something so silly?”

“So that you can be more comfortable while you wait for your bus, you silly old woman!”

Marcella was startled!  She let out a sharp cry and turned around.

“Land sakes!  Beatrice you scared five years off my life!  And you are late!”

Beatrice didn’t respond immediately.  She simply nodded at the first woman and then proceeded to make herself comfortable on the new bench. After a moment’s hesitation Marcella followed suit.  And then the conversation continued.

“I think it’s very nice of them to want us to be comfortable while we wait for their bus.” Beatrice always seemed to find the good in any situation. She was exactly the same age as Marcella but she looked 10 years younger.  People thought the two of them had a strange friendship.  One always saw the good and one always saw the bad.

“Well I think it’s a terrible waste of money.  They should spend that money on buses so that we aren’t always waiting!” True to form Marcella saw the bad. “And think of the trees that died so that our bums could be comfortable.  It is a terrible shame!”

“Oh, I bet this is a green bench.  No trees would have been killed. People are getting smart about that.”

“Beatrice you are going blind, this is not a green bench.  It’s brown. And an ugly brown too.”

“No, no I am not referring to the colour I’m talking about the bench itself.  Nowadays these things are made green.”

Marcella shifted in her seat and stared at her friend.  She knew that both of them were getting older and that sooner or later their mental capacities would begin to alter.  She hadn’t thought that Beatrice had gotten that old.  But now she looked at her very carefully.

“Beatrice what colour is the sky?”

“Well that’s a silly question, its blue.” She turned towards her friend. “Is this a trick question?”

“What colour is the road?”

“Now I know you’re up to something.  The road is grey, just like your hair.  And before you ask, the grass is green.  Now what’s up?”

“Last question.  What colour is the bench we’re sitting on?”

“Well, it’s brown.  What is going on?”

“Hah! You admit it!  This bench is brown!”

“Well of course it’s brown, woman.  Are you blind?”

“A minute ago, you said it was green.”

Beatrice looked at her friend dumbfounded for just a moment.  And then she burst out laughing.  Poor Marcella just looked on, confused.

“Marcella, when some one refers to an item as being green, they are talking about how it was made.  Green items are made by recycling other items.  They are not necessarily referring to the colour.”

The woman in question sat without moving for just a moment.  Then she turned away from her friend and sat up straight facing the road.  She was processing what she had just heard and trying to understand it.

“Are you telling me that this bench my bum is residing on could have been somebody’s deck?  How do you know where this wood has been?  And who has been doing what on it?  It could be filthy!” No sooner were the words out of her mouth then Marcella jumped up and turned around to face the offending bench.

“Oh, you silly old woman!  Sit down!  I don’t care what this bench was in a previous life, now it is comfortable and I can get a load off my feet.  That’s all I care about.”

Begrudgingly Marcella did as instructed, but gingerly.  As she was settling back down on the bench she started to think.

“Do you think there’s any way we could recycle a few people I know?  I can think of something useful I like to make them into:  how about two gorgeous 40-year-olds for one wrinkle 80-year-old?”

As both women started to laugh, they saw the bus.

 

the end

Dear Diary;

It is been 68 days.  Sixty. Eight. Days. I am a prisoner. There’s been no ransom demand, he hasn’t tried to assault me, still, I’m a prisoner in this hovel, this shack. I am going to die here. I’m going to die alone. I don’t think my friends and family know where I am. I haven’t been to work and yet no one has tried to find me. I have been forgotten.

I’m hiding this diary from him because I think when I’m dead, perhaps someone will find this Journal. My last testament. Proof I was here. He feeds me. I have water. I’m even allowed to shower and sleep in a real bed. I don’t know what he wants. I don’t know what matters anymore.

I’ve begun to question my sanity. Was the life I led before, a dream? Are my memories wrong? I remember large groups of people laughing. I remember crowded sidewalks and arguments with strangers. I remember the smell of cars and cheap perfume. I miss those smells. How did I get here?

I can hear him, my jailer. He’s moving around. Is he the reason I’m being kept here against my will? Have I done something to wrong him? Dear Diary I don’t know what’s real anymore. When I’m able to look out the windows, all I see are trees. There are no people, there are no cars, no buildings. Where am I? He’s coming! Oh, dear God! He’s coming!

“Hey hon? I’m just about to hop in for a quick swim. How about after that I toss a few steaks on the barbecue? The cottage is a great place to sit out the pandemic!”