Risky Business

Pam met Rosa Gonzalez in her junior year at Arizona State University.  Looking to escape the summer heat one August afternoon, she and her roommate wandered into Senora Rosa’s Psychic Center to get their futures told.  The Psychic Center was less of a center and more of a one-roomed shack situated on a dusty corner just close enough to the university to attract even the most discriminating student.

Rosa had been remarkably accurate reading her roommate’s palm and when it was Pam’s turn Rosa had pushed Pam’s upturned palm away and pulled out a large deck of cards.  Rosa explained a little about the Tarot deck, had Pam shuffle, and cut the cards. Rosa laid the cards out and talked about boyfriends (all ex’s), marriage (he’ll be a brunette with an important job), and babies (she’d have one – a boy).  The Death card loomed ominously on the table but Rosa calmed Pam’s unspoken fears and talked mainly about overall future happiness.

The girls left and laughed all the way home.  But some of what Rosa had spoken to Pam stayed with her.  In her senior year Pam met and married Bill Davies, a handsome, serious boy with a bushy head of brown hair who was starting work with Border Patrol.  Rosa’s words came to mind again when their son, Bill Junior, was born.  Rosa had said, “One son,” but she and Bill wanted more.  Bill quickly climbed the ranks within Homeland Security and wanted be an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent.  Pam was all for the move as she sometimes spent days worried about Bill.  The Arizona border was a dangerous place and a move to ICE would mean a position in Phoenix which would allow him to spend much more time at home.

Bill and Pam were devastated when a doctor finally confirmed that Pam would be unable to carry another child to full term.  She thought then that she might pay Senora Rosa another visit and even drove by the old shack off Spence Avenue one afternoon.  She pulled her SUV into a space across the street and was impressed that the Psychic Center still stood.  From the signs hanging in the draped window, Senora Rosa still offered Palmistry and Tarot Readings but the ‘o’ on the neon sign was out and read “Tar t” readings which made Pam laugh.  There was new signage though: Psychic Readings, Runes, and Séances. Pam shuddered at the word séance.  She had no interest in communing with the dead.  Putting her car in gear Pam headed home.

It was just two years later that Bill got the call that he’d been approved for transfer to ICE out of the Phoenix office.  His initial position would be grunt and desk work but he didn’t mind.  It was cause for celebration.  Pam thought that her life was just about perfect.

Days later Pam heard the bus dropping off kids at the end of their cul-de-sac, Pam peeked out the window and watched as the big yellow bus opened its doors and dislodged screaming children running in all directions to their homes.  She smiled as she saw Junior jump down the stairs and stand talking to his friend Brian.  Just then the timer buzzed and Pam turned to retrieve the Snickerdoodles from the oven.  As she placed the second tray of cookies on the wire racks to cool Pam heard tires screeching, a sickening thud, a moment of silence, and then the screams.

Running out the front door Pam flew down the driveway surveying the scene before her.  A woman was shrieking hysterically beside a car with an open door.  Children were running around wildly as if they’d been wound up by a great metal key in their backs and left to totter out of control.  She could see the lump on the pavement in front of the woman’s car.  She recognized the familiar navy blue windbreaker, khaki pants, and bright blue Spiderman backpack. “Junior, no!” she cried out as she scurried under the car and pulled her boy into her chest.  She hugged Bill Junior tightly to her as she felt his life leave his body.  Wailing, she barely heard the muffled voices behind her.

“You shouldn’t move him, Pam,”

“I called 911.”

“Does anyone have Bill’s cell?”

“I didn’t see him.  I never saw him.”

She could only lay on the pavement, her son in her lap, and kiss his lifeless head as the sirens in the distance neared.  Soon the strong hands of the EMT’s took Bill Junior from her and laid him on a stretcher.  Police were speaking to the lady who killed her son and various other neighbors who’d amassed around the scene.  A gentler arm was suddenly around her shoulders and she turned to see her next door neighbor Nancy’s tear stained face.  She closed her eyes and dug her head into Nancy’s chest as she sobbed harder.

“Brian is calling Bill,” Nancy said quietly.  “It’ll be okay.”  Pam wondered how Nancy could know that.  “Go now with Bill Junior.  I’ll close up the house and we’ll meet you at the hospital.”  Nancy watched sadly as her friend climbed into the back of the ambulance.

Bill Junior had been declared dead at the hospital although Pam knew it had happened hours earlier on the pavement outside their house.  Bill, Nancy and Brian all seemed to arrive at the hospital at the same time.  One look at Pam told Bill all he needed to know.  His first words had been, “What happened?”  But she couldn’t get it out.  She waved over the police and the doctor to report the news to her husband.  Their only son was gone and she couldn’t give him another.

Years later she’d look back on those weeks after Junior had died.  Bill had thrown himself into his work with ICE and seemed to have withdrawn.  He worked even harder and longer hours and she felt cold and alone.  Did Bill hold her responsible?  It didn’t matter that the police had ruled the death of her son an accident.  She should have met the bus.  She should have taken Junior’s hand and led him home.  She should … She should … the thoughts tormented her days and caused her sleepless nights.  She finally headed over to Senora Rosa’s.

Rosa Gonzalez, whose real name was Maria Angelica Hernandez and was wanted in Mexico for her work as a coyote – a smuggler who traffics in illegal immigrants, hadn’t remembered the woman who walked in that day; at least not in the beginning.  She quickly discovered that the woman had lost her son to a car accident and that was all the information she needed to plan for a new pool in her backyard.  She allowed Pam to speak at length about that dreadful day and the painful years that followed.  When she was done Rosa began her spiel.  For a small fee they would start with a Tarot card reading.  That should be followed by a psychic reading, which would cost a bit more.  Before she could object, Rosa continued quickly, “You should bring an item of your son’s to the psychic reading.”  Pam shook her head yes and Rosa ended with the big ticket item of a séance.  “Pam, “Rosa said softly, “you could speak to Bill Junior again.”  Pam remembered shuddering at the thought of communing with the dead many years ago but knew that was just what she wanted now.

“But I can’t afford too much.” Pam whispered.  “My husband would never approve and with our relationship so fragile I just wouldn’t want to rock the boat.”

Rosa listened to Pam and expected any one or more of all the excuses she’d heard before, but something about this woman touched her.

“Listen,” she started slowly.  Rosa had never involved a gringo in her business before but felt she could trust this woman.  “I have an idea.  My cousins are arriving in Tucson on Tuesday and I have no way to get them up here.  They’re getting a ride to Tucson but are poor and don’t have enough money to get on a bus to Phoenix.”  Seeing Pam’s interest, she continued, “My brother was going to get them but he got a job next week in Flagstaff and can’t do it.  I’m at my wits end.”

“Say no more, Senora Rosa,” Pam said brightly.  “I’d be happy to go get them.”

Rosa’s smile was more genuine than anything she’d uttered that afternoon.  “That would be wonderful,” she sighed.  “Let me give you the information.”  Rosa stood and moved to a small table against the back wall.  She already knew Pam drove an SUV but asked the question as though she didn’t, “Oh, wait a minute.” Rosa faltered.  “My cousins are many.  There are six who are traveling together to visit me.”

“Oh that won’t be a problem,” Pam smiled.  “I have an SUV that seats eight,” she paused before laughing, “If they’re thin.”

Rosa laughed along with her, “That’s perfect,” she said and continued to write down the information Pam would need to find the illegals she was smuggling across the border.

Pam wasn’t stupid.  It took her less than a month to understand that she was part of a smuggling operation.  She had retrieved `so-called relatives in Tucson and at odd places in the surrounding desert and taken them to cities all over Arizona and as far north as Las Vegas.  Rosa’s strategy included changing drivers and cars every few hundred miles believing that somehow circumvented law enforcement.  Pam really didn’t know how Rosa had managed to not get caught all these years, but she had escaped detection and now she was caught up in it.  Pam considered herself lucky that she had never mentioned her husband’s occupation.  Certainly if she’d been found out she would have been dead by now.  Life as a coyote could be brutal.

Rosa was fully aware that Bill Davies was an ICE man.  She loved the irony of it.  She also believed that if they should be discovered by ICE that they might be protected rather than let on that one of her coyotes was the wife of an ICE agent.

Bill was knee deep in an investigation of a coyote operation where a suspected safe house was steps from the ASU campus in Tempe.  The place looked like a shack that might be blown over during the next sand storm.  Its front was a so-called psychic, Senora Rosa.  They didn’t know much about her except that she had a steady stream of individuals frequenting her business and a tip from a rival coyote they’d caught trying to obtain a plea bargain.  It could be she really was a medium or it could be a crack house or a coyote safe house.  The ICE task force had just begun surveillance and was working out the logistics of infiltration.

Bill sat in his unmarked car across the street from Senora Rosa’s doing a crossword puzzle and eating his lunch.  He flipped through the log book on the seat next to him.  17 cars had pulled up to the building over the last two days.  He glanced at the license plate numbers finding 12 from Arizona, 2 from California, and 1 each from Illinois, Washington, and Colorado.  It was likely that the out of staters were students at ASU and perhaps a few of the instate plates too.  An SUV was pulling into Senora Rosa’s parking lot.  Bill put down his sandwich and picked up the binoculars and the log book.  His mouth fell open as he recognized his wife’s car and he swallowed hard as he watched his wife walk into the building.  What the hell is she doing here, he thought?  He looked down at the log book, tapping the pencil on the side of the page.  Of course he’d have to record her car.  Could he make a mistake on the plate?  Could he smudge out the last number?  He looked down at his lunch, his appetite gone, sighed and dutifully recorded the time and his wife’s plate number in the record book.

At home that evening Bill looked at his wife over dinner.  It was almost as if he hadn’t seen her in years, he’d forgotten how pretty she was.

“What?” Pam said, her mouth full of chicken.  “You’re staring at me.”

“Sorry,” he stammered.  “I was just thinking about how beautiful you are.”

Pam blushed at the compliment.  Bill hadn’t noticed her in so long.  “Well, thank you kind sir,” she stated in mock southern drawl.  “You’re looking quite handsome yourself.”

Bill pushed around the rice and green beans on his plate.  “Pam,” he started, “I had to drive down to ASU this afternoon.”  Pam stopped chewing and looked at him.  “I saw your car outside this psychic reading place.  What were you doing there?”

Pam finished chewing her mouthful and carefully swallowed hoping she wouldn’t choke.  She placed her fork on the plate and as her eyes swelled with tears she told her husband about the time she’d gone to Rosa’s as a student, how accurate she’d been, and how when Junior had died, she needed to go back to her.  To find anything out about their son.  “We’re going to have a séance next week, Bill.  I hope to make contact with Junior then.”  She wiped at her eyes and looked hopefully at Bill.  “Would you want to come with me?”

“What? To the séance?” Bill barked, a little too forcefully.  He watched Pam shrink back and reached for her hand.  He wondered if his emotional absence from the marriage had driven her to this.  He knew now he could easily explain her license plate to his superiors.  “Honey, you know I don’t believe in that stuff.  Besides,” he continued, “You need to stay away from there.  We’re investigating a smuggling ring we believe is based there and I don’t need you caught up in that mess if something goes down.”

Pam sat staring at her husband and started to cry again.  “Bill …” she trailed off.  She didn’t know what to say or not say.  Bill was looking at her expectantly and sipping from his water glass.  “I know about the smuggling.”

The glass Bill was holding shattered as it fell from his hand and onto the table breaking his dinner plate in the process.  In a rush Pam told her husband the whole story.  The next morning Bill took his wife into the office.

He was able to work out a deal with his superiors.  No charges if his wife became a mole for ICE. She was already fully entrenched in the operation and the upcoming séance would make a perfect situation for them to infiltrate.  It seems that Bill would attend the séance with his wife.

# # #

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Downward Spiral

What you’re about to venture into is my submission for the first round of the #ShortStoryChallenge2015 by NYCMidnight.  We were placed into Heats (# 9 for me) and then given the following rules:  One week to write / Number of words: No more than 2500 / Genre: Ghost Story / Subject: Agoraphobia / Character: A Divorce Lawyer.

Over 1,400 writers participated and five winners were chosen from each Heat to advance to Round 2 ~ this story received Honorable Mention. Enjoy!


Downward Spiral

Bess Stanton hung up the phone with a heavy sigh.  Why was her lawyer making her go to his office to sign the final papers on her divorce?  He could have easily had them couriered to her home; but no amount of pleading would sway him.  “You remember the pain he caused you don’t you?” her lawyer had asked and didn’t wait for an answer, “Well this will be the last step.”  He had quickly set her appointment for this afternoon.  “We just need your signature and you are done.”  He over emphasized the last three words like he was nailing the last three nails in her coffin … You. Are. Done.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Of course Bess remembered that horrible awful disgusting day as if it were yesterday, she twisted the day over and over in her head like she was knitting a scarf that would wrap around the circumference of the earth, knit one purl to infinity.  It was the day her life ended.  The day her husband broke her heart – and of course the first day she saw the spirit.  She shuddered and pulled her sweater tight around her even though it was 75 degrees in the house.  She never felt warm anymore.

She’d met him at the door that day as she had almost every day of their 14-year marriage.  Ever the dutiful wife, she truly didn’t feel it an obligation to greet him, she wanted to be there, to welcome him home with a smile and open arms.  After all, he worked so hard to keep them from lacking anything, it was the least she could do to show her appreciation, to be happy he was home.

“What the hell have you been doing all day?” Bob glared at her as he came through the front door and threw his coat on the hall chair.

“What?” she’d stammered, her bright smile slipping quickly.  She had looked back into the pristine rooms.  There was no real evidence that anyone lived there and all their friends always remarked that she kept her home like a show house.  Even today, she could still remember the scent of pot roast that rippled through the rooms as it simmered in the oven.

“God, I’m sick of you.” He’d said, his eyes cold and his expression colder.  “Every night the same old smiling, sheepdog face.”  He brushed past her and ducked into his study, slamming the door behind him.

She’d stood there in the foyer looking after him, the front door still gaping wide like her mouth, wondering if he was drunk or sick.  He’d been acting odder and odder over the last few weeks but today was different.  She turned and closed the door, picking up his coat and hanging it in the hall closet.  Unsure of what to do next, she bypassed the closed door to his study and headed to the kitchen to check on dinner.

Bess had set the table and knocked gently on the study door.  When there had been no answer she’d eaten dinner alone, the succulent roast sticking deep in her throat.  He was still in his study when she had finished watching TV and had gotten ready for bed.  What could he be doing in there all this time, she wondered?  She had knocked softly at the door again.

“Honey, it’s time for bed.” She said so softly she wasn’t even sure he could hear her.

Just then the door opened and all 6 foot 2 inches of her husband loomed before her.  It wasn’t that long ago she could throw her arms around him, plant her face in his chest, and be enveloped by his love.  Today he was an impenetrable wall.  Grim and imposing.  Today, he scared her.

“I’m leaving.” Bob said harshly and for the second time today, brushed past her, roughly bumping her out of his way.  She stumbled backward into the wall as he strode past.  He carried his briefcase and what looked like an oversized overnight bag that she had never seen before.

“Where could you be going at this hour?”

Bob dropped his bags in the foyer and slowly turned to face her.  “You stupid cow,” he yelled.  She gasped.  He had never spoken to her in such a manner.

“I hate you.” He had continued.  “I haven’t loved you in a long, long time and now it’s time for me to have the happiness I deserve.”

“The happiness you deserve?” Bess asked bewildered.  “What does that mean?”

He had sighed then like he was explaining why the sky was blue to a two-year old for the umpteenth time.  “I’ve been having an affair with Sylvia for the past six years.  I love her, not you.  I never should have married you,” his words spit out of his mouth like a machine gun.  Bob retrieved his coat from the hall closet, picked up his bags and walked out the door.

The door slamming shut was like a period at the end of her life.

Bess’ mind reeled.  Sylvia Collinwood was her best friend.  Her best friend of 20 some odd years was shacking up with her husband?  How could she?  But then she remembered what Bob had said … six years.  That was about the time that Sylvia’s husband had left her for another woman.  The whole situation was incomprehensible.  How could she have not noticed the infidelity for six years?  She had been too busy being the perfect housewife, the perfect hostess, the perfect … Bess sank to the floor letting the tears roll down her cheeks freely.  She felt as if her heart had been cut from her chest.  She curled into a little ball in front of Bob’s study, hugging her knees to her chest, and her tears turned to sobs.  That’s when she thought she heard something at the front door.

“Besssssss …” her name drawn out like a snake’s hiss.  She choked back a few sobs struggling to quiet herself enough to listen, when it came again.  “Besssssss.”  She’d picked her head up off the cold floor and strained to see over the couch into the foyer.  Was it Bob?  Had he returned to say he was sorry?  To say he didn’t mean it?  Declare his love for her?  “Besssssss,” came the voice again.

Bess sat up.  “Bob?” she called out hopefully.  It was then that she saw a flash, a whisper of something, by the front door.  Bess rubbed her eyes and began to stand up when the wisp, or whatever it was, sped past her knocking her back to the floor.  She screamed as she ducked, feeling a cold, wet wind slicing through the air above her head.  She thought she heard laughter right before she passed out.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The divorce proceedings had dragged out for over eight months.  Bess had spent most of the time in a fog, unaware of the day or even what month it was, relying solely on her lawyer to remind her of important dates.  She was so alone.  Her friends were his friends and they melted into the ether as news of their separation spread.  She wanted to scream at them – she was the victim, not him.  They should have helped her – stood by her.  Instead, she was left alone to wander through the house all day, still cleaning, still cooking, with fervent hope that Bob would return when he came to his senses and realized his mistake.

Bess wanted to be ready for his return.  Little by little she stopped going out having found that almost everything she needed to survive could be ordered online or with a quick phone call and brought to her door.  The spirits didn’t help.  That’s what she ended up calling them … spirits.  It was worse at night but now they followed her around the house incessantly whispering her name as they flew by.  “Bessssss …” The sound reminded her of when she was younger and her older brother would steal into her bedroom late at night and touch her.  She shivered every time she heard it.  She had grown used to the spirits torment at night and learned how many sleep-aid pills to take with a heavy shot of scotch  in order to quite her mind.  When she took the pills she could forget everything and grab a few hours of fitful sleep.

It had been one day last month when, her reflection in the bathroom mirror startled her enough to stop moving and take a long look at herself.  She poked and prodded the lifeless skin on her face, amazed at its sallowness and wondered if she’d ever be able to get the dark half-moons under her eyes to disappear.  She had dragged her fingers through her dirty and tangled hair.  She looked dreadful.  No wonder Bob hadn’t returned yet.  How could he come home to this?  While she stood mesmerized by her appearance, a spirit whizzed around her head and left cackling through the ceiling above the tub.  She had grabbed onto the sink to keep her balance and tears formed in the corners of her eyes.  Bess had come to accept the spirits at night but until now that was the only time she had seen them.  She didn’t know how she would be able to handle them if they came during the day.

“You’re not welcome here during the daytime,” Bess said under her breath.

“Besssssss … came the reply.  She could swear she heard laughter coming from behind the walls of her bathroom.

That day Bess had covered her ears and ran out of the bathroom, through the master bedroom, down the long staircase, and fled out the front door.  She skidded to a stop as she heard a child scream and saw mothers with their children fresh from school on the sidewalk outside her home.  She ran to the fence that surrounded her home, “Did you see it?” she brayed at the now terrified child.  His mother quickly hid him behind her legs.  “Did it follow me outside?”  She screamed at the mother who was quickly shrinking away from her.  Bess looked frantically around at the people who were now staring at her, their mouths gaping.  Slowly she realized that they were not shocked because they had seen the spirit.  They were horrified by her.  She uttered a guttural moan and turning, fled back into the house.

That had been the last time she’d gone outside.  And now her attorney wanted her to go out.  To get in the car.  To drive down to Main Street.  To appear in his office.  She wearily climbed the stairs to her bedroom and picked out a brown, jersey knit, two-piece to wear.  Brown somehow matched her mood.  Brown was close enough to black to wear to a funeral.  She heard a thunder clap outside and the smattering of rain against the windows.  Brown was a perfect color for this dreary day.

Bess struggled with her hair.  The spirits had torn much of it out over the last few months.  She was always finding clumps of it on the floor and would stand, shaking the hair ball in her fist into the air pleading with them to stop.  But every time she spoke to them she just heard their abrasive laughter.  Laughing at her.  She eyed the bottle full of sleeping pills, just one wouldn’t hurt, she thought, to help her get through the meeting.  She took two instead with a swig of water from the tap and headed downstairs.  At the front door she donned her coat and threw a scarf over her head.  She retrieved the keys from the foyer table and immediately began to gasp for air, a spirit must be constricting her chest, she believed.  After a few minutes, she was able to regain calm and peered out the window.  Seeing no one on the street, Bess ran for the car.  It took several attempts to get it to start, but eventually the old thing groaned to life and shuddered as if it was shaking off the cobwebs of the last couple months.

She headed carefully toward Main Street and found a great parking space just across from her lawyer’s offices.  Checking her watch she realized she was early and as all sorts of people were wandering up and down the street, she stayed in her car, gathering up the courage to cross the street, enter his office, sign the papers, and slip quickly back home.  It was while she was waiting that she realized the spirits hadn’t come with her.  She shuddered in the damp cold of the car.

Across the street Bill Granite’s paralegal, Dan, was staring out the window.  “Hey, Bill,” he called.  Isn’t that your client across the street in her car?”

Bill moved to the window.  “Yeah, that’s Bess.”  He looked closer. “What the hell is she waiting for?”

“Well the small conference room is ready for you,” Dan said as he turned on his heel and went back to his desk.

“Thanks,” Bill uttered.

Bess stepped out of her car and into a puddle.  “Damn.”  She slammed the car door shut.  Immediately her scarf attempted to strangle her as a cold blast of rain-soaked wind picked up the ends.  She clawed at her scarf and stuffed it deep into to collar of her coat.  Her teeth began to chatter.

Seeing Bess get out of her car, Bill pulled away from the window and went to his office to get the Stanton’s divorce decree.  The husband had signed it several days ago.  He wouldn’t be sorry to see this marriage end.  Bob was heartless and Bess was creepy.  There always seemed to be something going on behind her eyes.

Bess looked over at the law offices across the street.  It was so close, but she felt she’d have to trudge a mile to make it to the door.  Her vision tunneled and the door to the building seemed to pulsate.  “Besssssss …” a wisp passed her left ear.  “Besssssss …” another wisp passed her right ear.  She’d never had two spirits coming at her at once!  She started to cross the street when another spirit sped by her head cackling, then another and another and another.

“Stop! Stop! Leave me be!” Bess yelled as she flailed frantically, twisting and turning, trying to fight off the menacing spirits.

“Oh my God,” Mary cried as her car rounded the bend on Main.  She stood on her car’s brakes as she watched the woman lurch into her lane thrashing her arms.

Hearing the squealing sound of rubber on road, Bess looked up to see five spirits with evil grins on their faces heading toward her.  Screaming, she staggered toward her attorney’s office and into the path of an oncoming truck.

# # #

 

 

Flash Fiction Friday: Down on the Farm

This piece was written for a contest.  The prompt was “Someone is a hero, and has saved the city! But … nobody noticed. What happened?”  Enjoy!


 

Tutti, Fruiti, and Baby Jane all ran down the dirt road to see who could make it home fastest.  Baby Jane struggled to keep up, her little legs were still too little to beat her older sisters, but one day she knew she would and boy would that be a glorious day!  As they ran, each sister noticed that many of the roads they passed had men gathering in little clusters.  Passing the umpteenth cluster of men Tutti, the oldest, slowed her run and finally came to a stop in the middle of the major intersection nearest their home.  Fruiti skidded to a stop beside her, “Why’d you stop Tutti,” she asked?

“Shhhh.” Tutti hissed as she held up an arm.  “Don’t you hear it?”

Fruiti looked at her blankly, “Hear what?” she asked.

Baby Jane finally met up with her older sisters, “What’s up?” she asked, wondering why her sisters had stopped running.

“What’s happening, Tutti?”  Fruiti whispered.  She didn’t like the serious look on her older sister’s face one bit.

“I don’t know,” Tutti whispered, “but something is wrong.  Haven’t you guys noticed the odd silence all day?”  Both of Tutti’s sisters looked vacantly back at her.  “And,” she continued as she turned and looked up the street, “the menfolk are supposed to be at work now, not standing around talking to each other.”

Baby Jane peered under the legs of her older sister and at the conclave of men that had gathered right up the road from where the girls had stopped.  That was when she saw her father.  “Hey there’s Daddy!” she cried out with glee.  Fruiti clamped her hand over her sister’s mouth.  “Hush now, Baby Jane.”  But each of the girls had noticed that their father didn’t even glance up at them with the outburst from his youngest child, even though he was within earshot.

“We’ve got to find out what is happening,” Tutti exclaimed.

“Let’s wait for tonight.” Fruiti whispered tugging at her sister. “Maybe Daddy will tell us after dinner.”

“Good plan, Fru-tah,” Tutti laughed, over-enunciating her sister’s real name, and set off down the road intent on reaching home first.

“Oh great!” Fruiti shouted as she scampered after her older sister desperate to win the race.

Jane watched as both of her sisters made a beeline for the safety of their home and then turned back and looked again at her Dad.  If anything, he was now huddled even closer to the other men he was talking with. She didn’t understand what might be wrong, but didn’t like that whatever it was seemed to upset Tutti.

“Hey wait for me!” Baby Jane squealed as she turned and ran off after her sisters.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Papa Joe had heard his youngest daughter call out but he had no time to stop and acknowledge her.  These were desperate times.

“What are we going to do?”  Sammy asked his wizened group of friends.

Papa Joe had been with her earlier. He contemplated whether to tell his friends the whole truth knowing they wouldn’t want to hear what he had to say.

Dan knew Joe had seen her earlier and couldn’t wait, “Out with it Joe.  How’d she look to you this morning?”

All eyes turned to Papa Joe in expectation.  His breath rushed out in a gush, “I’ve never seen her so ill.”  Joe hadn’t realized that he’d been holding his breath.

The group gasped as John whispered, “Oh No,” under his breath.

Papa Joe looked sadly at his oldest friends.  “Let’s get on home now.” He said matter-of-factly, “it’ll be dark soon.”

Dan nodded in agreement and turned to leave.

“And besides,” Timothy interjected, “Maybe she’ll be alright in the morning.”

The men stopped and stared at their friend who always had a Pollyanna view on the world.  Then shaking their heads in doubt, each turned and headed in the direction of their home.

Joe could smell dinner before he even got to the doorway and braced himself as he entered his home.  As was usual his children came squealing, throwing themselves at him; and he easily gathered his daughters to himself in a crushing bear hug before shaking them off and asking what was for dinner.  As they ate he could see the questions in their little eyes.  He assumed that they knew something was amiss but he had already decided that he would spare them any worry just yet.  There was no use in letting them know their world might be coming to an end.  Some things just didn’t need to be said.

After dinner the girls cleaned up and when it grew dark outside Joe shooed them into bed and settled back to contemplate the day.  It wasn’t long before he heard little feet creeping up behind him and he turned to see his eldest daughter Tutalinda watching him expectantly.

“Papa,” she whispered.  “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, my child,” Joe purred to her as he motioned her into his lap.

“But it was so quiet today on the farm,” Tutti started, “and all the men … talking in groups and not working?”  Her voice trailed off as her father began to rub her back.

“Sometimes the workers need a chance to talk amongst themselves,” her father said.  He hoped that would be enough to quiet her for a good night’s sleep.  He kissed her on the cheek and gently removed her from his lap.  “To bed, now, young lady.” He said with mock gruffness.  Tutti gave him a pout but turned and headed off to bed now certain that something was terribly wrong.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“Jim-my!” Jimmy heard his mother call as he laid the black cloth over the farm.  “Din-ner!”

“Coming!” he yelled back.  He didn’t like the way the queen looked, nope, didn’t like it one bit.  He’d ordered a new queen ages ago when he saw this one start to falter and hoped he’d get the new one before this one died.  He had cultivated this ant farm for so long he didn’t want anything to happen to it now and without a new queen every ant would surely die.  Already the ants were slowing down in their little tunnels.  Jimmy’s stomach flopped inside his belly as the scent of dinner reached his nose.  He jumped up and lurched out of his room running quickly downstairs.

“Did you wash your hands?” his mother asked as he slid into his seat at the table.

“Yes,” he lied, as he shoved his hands under the table and wiped them on his pants.  He knew his mom had made meat loaf and mashed potatoes and he was starved.

“Guess what came today,” Jimmy’s mom asked as he speared another forkful of potatoes into his mouth.  He looked up at her expectantly.  “Something for your farm,” she teased, knowing he’d he thrilled.

“The queen!” he shouted spewing little bits of buttery potato all over the table.

“Jimmy!” his mother scolded.

His chair barked on the wooden floor as he backed away from the table and stood up to get his queen.

”Jimmy, sit down and finish eating,” his father calmly stated in his dad tone.

“But I …”

“But nothing, young man,” his father continued. “Now sit down.  You deal with the queen after dinner.”

After dinner Jimmy’s mom helped him open the package and they all went up to his room to rescue the farm.  Jimmy turned the lights on low in his room and made a little hole where he could get to the colony’s queen without much disruption.  With the gentleness and precision of a surgeon, Jimmy extracted the failing matriarch and replaced her with the new, healthy queen.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The next morning Tutti, Fruiti, and Baby Jane all awoke to a bright sunshiny morning.  Tutti yawned and stretched.  Their Dad had already left for work and the farm was abuzz with its usual, happy sounds.  Tutti looked joyfully at her sisters as they ate breakfast.  ‘It was going to be a great day,’ Tutti thought.

 

Flash Fiction Friday: A Matter of Conscience

This piece won honorable mention at Two Letter Press for their Flash Card Fiction contest. Writers had to use a prompt provided by them within their story.  You’ll find it in italics below.  Enjoy.


I flipped open my billfold and extracted a new, crisp dollar bill from within.  My eyes danced across the picture of my beloved and a warmth flooded my heart the way it did whenever I thought of her.  When I met Constance I just knew she was THE one.  Dark brown hair, smoldering eyes, beautifully shaped deep rosy lips, she was a natural beauty and completely captured my heart the moment she responded to a small joke I made on the back of another’s conversation.  She tipped her head backward, her long thick hair falling playfully off her shoulders and cascading down her back, and opened her mouth to emit a throaty laugh that echoed for what seemed like minutes in my soul.

I watched as the school across the park let out.  Hundreds of children weaving their way down the huge stone steps, their voices tinkling in the distance like a moist finger rubbed along the rim of a crystal glass.  I smiled.  Constance and I had been dating now for the better part of two years and I had a feeling that it was time to pop the proverbial question before she lost interest.  The problem was, Constance didn’t know the real me.  There had been several times over the years when I could have told her.  There had been over fifty instances when she could have found out.  But providence was my friend and had kept my deepest secret, and greatest fear, hidden from my one true love.

Buses rolled up and swept children away, parents had cars lined up collecting their kids, and some now were walking home.  Mostly in clusters of two or three, but not mine.  Mine walked nonchalantly across the park as if she was making a beeline right for my bench.  My clandestine life plagued me – day in and day out.  Actually, every other week, because that was pretty much my schedule.  But I did have a conscience and certainly couldn’t ask her to marry me without telling her the whole story.  I didn’t want to continue to keep this from her, but I was anxious and when I thought of it my stomach would tie up in knots.  Would she still love me?  Could she continue to utter that beautiful deep laugh at the lamest of my jokes if she knew the truth?  Would she still be able to lay beside me in the dark and throw her arm over my chest, whispering her tender affections to me, fastening my heart ever more deeply to hers?

I sat on the park bench awaiting her arrival.  Knowing she would walk right past me as she had so many times before.  My thoughts drifted back to Constance.  Would she leave me?  I looked up into the sky as if I expected an answer from heaven.  I laughed to no one in particular; God definitely wouldn’t be talking to me.  My laugh startled the girl as she drew closer and her head whipped up looking cautiously at me.

“Didn’t you just see my puppy at your feet?” I called out, still smiling.

“Puppy?” the girl said, her face brightening and then laughing she looked around her feet.  “Where?” she said, her voice questioning.

I was already standing and moving toward her, “There,” I pointed off above her head toward some bushes and slipping the dollar into my pocket, picked up my pace, “He’s getting away, come on!”  I heard a dog yipping in the distance, giving credence to my story.

She followed me as I knew she would.  They always do.  I don’t know if it’s the way I look or the way I sound.  Kids seem to instantly trust me.  I dropped to my knees half in the bushes and half out.  “There he is.” I cried with mock excitement.  “Oh!” I exclaimed, “He seems to be stuck.”

I looked back at the girl who was straining to see into the dense foliage.  I held back some of the branches, “Look!  You’re small enough.  Can you go in and get him?”

“Ummm … “ the girl wavered.

“He won’t hurt you,” I cooed.  “I’m just too big to get in there.”

She dropped her book bag and got down on her hands and knees peering into the darkness within.  I moved to hold the branches aside for her and as she started in, my knife slipped out of my sleeve and was onto and across her neck in seconds.  I shoved her body into the bush and threw her bag in after her.  I sighed.  That was not the way I wanted it to go down.  I sat down, dejected, with my back to the bushes and surveyed the park.  Was anyone paying attention?  Did anything seem out of order?  The whole thing was my fault because I’d laughed out loud thinking God was going to answer me and messed up the plan.  I didn’t get my usual relief but I did save a dollar.  I knew I’d have to leave soon.  By early evening the place would be crawling with cops.  I got up and walked slowly back to the car.  My mind awash in emotion.  The girl … a moment in time lost.  My girl … if she doesn’t understand … will be lost.

By the time I got back to the city I knew I still had the better part of the day before Constance would be home.  Wednesdays were her school nights and kept her out until 9:30 or 10.  Still 20 miles from home I circled a park and seeing some promising options decided to stop, even though I usually didn’t do too good on the fly.

There were only a few times my careful set up didn’t occur as planned and it always messed with my head.  I learned to keep a bottle of ether in the trunk for emergencies; hidden away in a secondary wheel well I’d concocted after I watched a program about smuggling.  It was perfect and had held many of my tools over the years.  Suddenly I heard a young voice calling to his friends, “See ya tomorrow guys.”  I spied a lone kid walking in my direction and knew he would be mine.

I quickly pulled out a rag and splashed some ether into its fibers, careful to stay upwind.  I stuffed the rag into my jacket pocket and slammed the trunk lid down.  I always got jumpy when I acted impulsively.  I turned and started walking toward the boy intent on intercepting him before he got to the street.  I smiled to myself.  This was going to be easy.  The boy had a slight build and stood about four feet tall.  I figured him to be about 11 or 12.  I was on him before he knew what was happening and wrapping my left arm around his shoulders I shoved the rag into his face, breaking his glasses in my enthusiasm.  He went limp within seconds and I dropped the rag and grabbed him into my arms.

“Hey are you okay?”  A lady with a stroller had appeared seemingly out of nowhere.

“Oh yeah,” I stammered, my mind reeling.  “My son just got stung by a bee and I’ve got to get him to the hospital.”  I picked the boy up and began loping back to my car.

“I’ll call 911.” The retched hag shouted.

“No thanks,” I yelled back, “I’ll take him.”

I broke into a run afraid that the screeching woman had alerted others.  Sliding him into the passenger seat I jumped behind the wheel and peeled out of there as fast as I could.  By the time I got home my heart was pounding.  I sat in the parking lot and looked at the boy still passed out on the front seat.  What was I thinking bringing him home?  I spied the large green dumpster at the far end of the lot and looked at my watch – 4:46pm.  People would be coming home soon, I’d better act fast.

Driving my car to the end of the lot I pulled the kid out and propped him up against the dumpster.  I rested my knife at the base of his right ear and tried to get the relief I needed to fill the emptiness deep inside.  No dice.  I slipped the knife deep into the kid’s throat and started to slice him open when suddenly I heard a footstep behind me.  I froze.  And then I smelled her perfume.  Gasping, I turned.  She stood there in front of me, waiting for an answer. She managed to maintain her composure, but her eyes told me exactly what she wanted to hear. In that moment, I wondered if I had the strength to tell her the entire truth.

“It is you.” She breathed, the scent of her perfume mixed with the smell of the kid’s blood was making my head swim.

“Constance,” I gulped. “I can explain.”

“It’s Detective Barlow.” Constance said in an even tone.  “Drop the knife.”  Suddenly the woman I loved was pointing a gun at me.

My world went dark.