Bloodbath Blues – Flash Fiction

It was one of the nicer houses on its block which is to say three or four of the windows still held glass and the yard had been mowed at some point over the past year. The front door sagged from twisted hinges over a foot-wide chasm where the porch fell away from the house. There might have been a shutter still dangling that hadn’t yet fallen into the weeds. It was a nice place.

Klein was talking to reporters out front. I nodded and ducked the yellow tape.

I managed to bridge the gap between porch and house without snapping my leg off, walked inside, and retched at a stench that might have been rotting maggots fermenting in the sun.

A broad L-shaped staircase brought me up to a second-floor hallway. There were four bedrooms here, two on each side. Filthy mattresses and greasy sleeping bags were sacked around on the floors. Bottles, cans, and cigarette butts were everywhere. Drying puddles of bodily fluids added to the ambiance.

A bathroom about the size of a teacup stood at the end of the hallway with its door open. Sweeney and McGregor were inside looking at blood spatter.

Sweeney saw me and his eyes changed. He hissed something at McGregor who waddled over and pressed a meaty palm into my chest.

“Hold up, Joe.”

I stopped.

“Sweeney thinks you should sit this one out.”

Sweeney stepped up and laid an arm around my shoulder. “Joe! How you been?”

I looked at Sweeney. Then at McGregor. I looked at Sweeney again. “What is this?”

Sweeney paused and mumbled something to the floor and I put it together.

“You don’t want me to see her.”

Sweeney tried to guide me back towards the steps. “Let’s go down, Joe. You should be sitting for this.”

“Who is she?” I asked, trying to squirm free.

Sweeney and McGregor blocked my path. “Hold up a minute,” McGregor said.

My mouth was dry. A bead of sweat slid down my back. I didn’t like my new heart rate. “Get your mitts off me. Let me see.”

Sweeney exhaled. “Joe…” He and McGregor exchanged a look. “Listen, there’s no easy way to do this. Nothing I say is going to prepare you. Maybe I should just let you see for yourself if that’s how you want to play it.”

From far away I heard myself tell him it was. My heart triple-timed. Sweeney said more but I heard it the way you hear the television as you drift off to sleep. He and McGregor stepped aside. I floated down the hall and I was in the bathroom, kneeling by the tub. The woman was young, maybe still a girl. She was sprawled on her back, bare arms dangling over the sides of the tub, blood still dripping from a fingertip.

She was clothed which struck me as unusual. Her short shorts and sleeveless t-shirt were sopped. Blood was smeared across her face and neck, smeared across her teeth. The skin that wasn’t painted bloody was a bruised yellow turquoise. Her lips were grey. Her hair, blonde at one time, was red and black and matted. I studied her face. Then, I turned to Sweeney: “So? Who am I looking at?”

Sweeney’s eyes narrowed and he furrowed his brow. “You don’t know?”

“Never seen her before.”

Sweeney looked to McGregor.

“Look again,” McGregor said.

I turned back and the girl was sitting. She shrieked at me, wild-eyed and hysterical. I shrieked back. She lunged for me and I was on my feet with my gun out. Sweeney and McGregor threw themselves at me. They took hold of my arm as the gun fired. It sounded like an atomic bomb in that little room.

They pinned my wrist to the wall above my head and held it there. They were blocking the girl. I couldn’t see the girl! Someone was screaming and screaming. I closed my mouth and the screaming went away. Sweeney’s contorted face swam in front of me. He was insistent, barking orders, trying to reach me. My ears sang.

“…a gag,” Sweeney was saying, distant and tinny. “Not real. It isn’t real…” His face was shiny and pasty. His eyes looked insane.

We stood this way for several seconds. Finally, McGregor tilted his head, squinted at me, and released my wrist. He turned to the tub. Sweeney let go and I had my arm back.

The girl was on her side in the the tub with her hands over her ears and her knees pulled up tight. She was shivering, frantic, talking to herself. Sunlight streamed in through a fresh bullet hole in the wall. My bullet couldn’t have missed her head by more than six inches.

I stumbled to the hall, found a place to slide down the wall, and sat on the floor. I laid my gun beside me. My pants were wet. Sweeney knelt by the tub and comforted the girl.

McGregor came out and sat beside me. Neither of us spoke for a long time. He picked lint off his pants. Finally, he said: “I tried to warn him, Joe, but you know how he is. I told him it was too much.” He turned, appraised me frankly, shook his head, and returned to the lint. “Great gag.”

My voice was hoarse and thin. “What happened?”

McGregor sighed at his pants. “The girl is his niece. She’s taking some acting courses at the community college. This whole thing came about when she told Sweeney her acting could fool a cop.”

I considered this for a while. “Makeup?”

McGregor nodded once. “Everybody was in on it. The reporters are actors. Sweeney wanted to get back at you for that stunt you pulled with the pizza delivery guy.”

I smiled ruefully. “Mission accomplished.”

The girl bet him $10 she could convince you she was dead,” McGregor said. “Looks like she won.”

I shook my head. “The blood didn’t smell. There was too much of it not to smell. I knew it felt wrong, I just couldn’t – I couldn’t quite…”

McGregor shook his head again. “Sweeney.”

“Let’s hope the girl isn’t in shock.”

“She’ll come around. Listen, Joe, you’re not gonna…you know…report this, are you? Sweeney and me and Klein, we could lose our badges.”

I shook my head. “What is this trash heap anyway?”

“Crack house, maybe? Smack? I dunno, ask Sweeney. I’m just here because he told me to be.”

I nodded and climbed unsteadily to my feet. I felt ninety years old.

“What are you gonna do?” McGregor asked.

“Going home for dry skivvies.”

McGregor nodded and returned his attention to the the lint on his pants. “Sweeney,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harvey’s Agenda – Flash Fiction

The woman sat at the bar and stared into her drink and Harvey stood behind her. He laid a hand on her back and leaned in so his mouth was in her ear. “Did you get it?”

She nodded at her drink.

Harvey sat down. “Beautiful.”

The bartender walked over. “What can I get you?”

“Whiskey,” Harvey said. “Neat.”

“How about you, ma’am? Ready for a refill?”

The woman covered her glass with her palm. The bartender left and came back with a whiskey.

“You don’t seem too enthused,” Harvey said.

The woman didn’t say anything. She pushed an ice cube down into her drink with a straw. It bobbed back to the surface.

“You got the signature,” Harvey said. “The hard part is over. Here, let’s see.”

The woman turned and dug in her purse and handed him a piece of paper. He looked at it and gave it back to her. She put it in her purse.

“Don’t lose that,” he said. “How did you manage it?”

“Just slipped it in the stack. He never reads anything.”

“They won’t suspect a thing,” Harvey said. “That explains everything nice and clean. There won’t be a reason for anyone to poke around.”

“He’s not the type. Everyone knows it.”

“Wasn’t,” Harvey said. “He wasn’t the type. He’s been down since he retired. You said so yourself.”

“Not that down.”

Harvey pointed at her purse. “That letter says otherwise.” He brought out a pack of Camels, shook two out, and offered one to the woman.

“No, thank you.”

He lit one. “What do you want to do?”

“I just wish there was some way to know for sure that we will get away clean. I wish there was some guarantee.”

“Life isn’t like that.”

“No,” she said. “On second thought, I guess I do want one.”

Harvey fished out a Camel and lit it for her.

She exhaled. “But you think it’s safe?”

“I wouldn’t let you do it if I didn’t.”

“What do I tell them, you know, if they do poke around?”

Harvey shrugged. “The truth. He seemed a little down but you didn’t think he was the type. They’ll believe you. Melancholy makes people do crazy things.”

“How long until we can be together?”

“After? I’d say a year just to be safe.”

The woman nodded. “Okay.”

“You’re sure? We shouldn’t go through with it if you’re not sure.”

“I’m tired of waiting,” she said. “I don’t want to wait anymore.”

“Me neither,” Harvey said.

“He’s not a monster you know. He doesn’t treat me poorly.”

“I know.”

“I wish there was some other way.”

“I know but there isn’t. This is the only way to swing the money side of it.” He laid a hand on her shoulder. “Everything will go off without a hitch, you’ll see. We just need a little faith and before you know it, we’ll be together. Did you buy the sleeping pills?”

She nodded.

“Good. Have you eaten yet?”

“I’m not hungry.”

“No? I’m starving,” Harvey said. “Lucky for me, they have great food here.” He stubbed out his cigarette and waved to the bartender. “Can I get a menu when you get a second?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Father’s Day Miracle – 100 Word Story

It was the fire that taught Jeff about miracles. After all, he shouldn’t have been there – Jeff never visited on Wednesdays. “Maybe I’ll see what the old man’s doing,” he’d said and when he pulled into the drive, the house was engulfed.

Reflecting, Jeff doesn’t know if his father would have escaped – so frail was he when Jeff found him, barely visible through the smoke. Jeff’s eyes shimmer. He smiles, grateful. He sees again his hands gripping the skinny ankles, hears anew the screams as he drags his father back into the flames. “Better safe than sorry,” Jeff whispers aloud.

The Temp – Short Story

Ben handed us bottles of beer so cold they held slush. We clanked them together, drank them together, and left our empties wobbling on the table. We grinned at each other like idiots.

It was Friday.

Peggy pointed at the door and we chuckled as Ross came in from outside and stood awkwardly in the doorway scouring the room for us. Ross was technically our boss.

Ben yelled: “Norm!” and waggled his empty bottle in the air. Ross nodded. He stopped at the bar and came over to our table with more bottles of slush. We inhaled those too.

Jeannie swang by with some gals from the front office. They stood at the bar and drank wine until their cheeks were pink and their eyes shiny. They giggled, fanning themselves with their hands.

Maureen and Val took the table next to ours. They sipped frozen orange juice drinks through little red straws and gossiped in hushed tones.

Jeff and Tim and Randy claimed the table on our other side. They split pizzas and pitchers and played grunge on the jukebox, yelling about sports.

More people from work trickled in and it was a good party, upbeat and happy, but as is often the case on Fridays, the party didn’t last. Our crowd thinned as people left for back yards or cabins or casinos. By the time sun was down, the five of us were the only survivors from the Gazette. We were roaring.

“Attention, please!” I said, rapping the neck of my bottle with a butter knife. “Everyone shut up now unless you’re me!”

“Hold that thought,” Mandy said and she vanished into the crowd.
“Are you and Ross going to kiss?” Peggy asked. She and Ben clinked bottles.

“No. Shut up and hear this: The temp lady told me she can control the weather with her mind.”

Ben smiled. “Is that right?”

Ross sighed and palmed his face.

“Who?” Peggy asked.

“Don’t encourage him,” Ross said, his voice muffled.

“The temp lady. The one from the press room who stands outside and smokes all the time.”

Peggy’s eyes glossed.

“The gal Ross got after for playing blackjack at the break table? You know – the parlay card lady.”

“Oh!” she said, the lights coming on. She pondered this a few moments and asked: “What about her?”

Ross held up his bottle. “My ad director, gentlemen! Here’s to carefree living and a prosperous tomorrow!”

Ben and I laughed at Peggy and clinked bottles with Ross. Peggy laughed and punched Ross on the shoulder, spilling his beer onto his khakis. He frowned and set his bottle down, dabbing at his crotch with a cocktail napkin.

I told Peggy: “She says she can control the weather.”

Peggy’s eyes went far away. “I worked temp for a while in Walker,” she said, nodding. She picked at the wet label on her bottle with long fingernails. “It actually wasn’t too bad. You can choose your own hours and, if you don’t like a place, you just tell them and they find you something else, no questions asked.” She nodded absently. “Of course, the pay isn’t – ” She looked up, caught Ross’s expression, and stopped. “What?”

“Are you done?” he asked.

She shrugged. “It’s more interesting than the boring shit you talk about.”
Ben said: “Hello!”

“Let’s go ahead and circle back here,” I said. “The temp lady told me she can control the weather. She can decide how much rain we’ll get and everything.” I asked Ross: “Did these skills come up in her interview?”

Mandy materialized with fresh bottles. She set them on the table, one at a time, and asked: “What interview?”

Ross massaged the bridge of his nose.

Peggy said: “The temp lady’s from the press room.”

“Oh,” Mandy said. She thought for a moment and asked: “What about it?”

“She says she can make it rain.”

“Can somebody knock me unconscious?” Ross asked. “Just a nice heavy blow to the base of the skull would be great.”

Ben said: “You’d think with those skills, she would have a better gig than working temp at the paper.”

“Hey!” Ross snapped.

“What about winter?” Mandy asked. “Can she control snow or just the rain?” She smiled and nodded at Peggy. “It would be nice if she could get us a couple snow days.”

“You are correct,” Peggy said and they clinked bottles.

“There will be no snow days,” Ross said wearily.

Peggy’s eyes narrowed. She leaned in and lowered her voice. “Jeannie says that gal comes out of the bathroom stall and heads straight for the door.” She raised her eyebrows. “Doesn’t even stop to wash her hands!”

“Eww!” Mandy groaned.

Peggy grinned, nodding enthusiastically.

“Jeannie,” Ross spat. “There’s a reliable source.” He turned to Ben. “You getting this hot scoop? Temp at Gazette Does Not Wash Poop Hands. That’s your headline; have Jeannie get the photo.”

Peggy laughed and punched him.

A young, blonde guy appeared and asked if we were using our empty chairs.

Ben shrugged. “All yours.”

He thanked us and dragged them off.

I said: “Listen. Last July, that fire at the state park by Hudson, remember how out of control it was? The fire chief was always on the radio warning people to evacuate.”

Ben smiled at Ross. “You know where he’s taking this, don’t you?”

Peggy and Mandy clinked bottles.

Ross sighed and sagged in his chair. “Death, where is thy sting?”

“Listen though!” I said. “Remember, how dry and dusty it was? And super windy. You guys remember this, right?”

Mandy said: “I do. I left my windows down one of those mornings and I could write my name in the grime on my dash.”

“It was probably like that two days after you bought it.” Ben said.

She smiled. “It’s possible.”

I said: “There was that farmer who wouldn’t leave, remember? It was a big standoff. The news was saying the fire would reach his farm by seven pm but he wanted to stay so he locked himself in the house. There was debate about whether the cops should remove him by force. Anyway, the radio in the break room was talking about it and Joanie said something like, ‘Oh, that poor guy!’ and the temp lady said – ”

“Donna,” Ross said.

“What?”

“Donna,” he repeated in an exhausted voice. “The temp lady, her name is Donna Hastings.”

“Right…okay. Well, so Donna Hastings told Joanie not to worry because she was going to save the farm with her superpowers. She said she would pray that night or do a dance or whatever and the fire would stop before it reached the guy’s property.”

“A line dance?” Mandy asked.

The Macarana“, Ross said.

“Sure enough, that night the fire stopped right before the farmer’s fence. How crazy is that? One minute it was raging uncontrollably, threatening the whole town, and the next it burned itself out.” I snapped my fingers. “Like that.”

“A force field then?” Ben asked.

“No, not a force field, smart guy,” I said. Then, in voice I hoped sounded ominous I added: “The weather.”

“Donna Hastings controlled the wind?” Ben asked.

“Donna Hastings controlled the wind,” I confirmed.

Ben mulled this over. “Why didn’t she use her rain powers?”

I shrugged. “Yeah, I don’t know. Maybe it would require too much water to douse the flames in time and there would be flash floods or something.”

Peggy said: “She should have made it rain before everything got dry and there wouldn’t have been a fire to begin with.”

“Think of all the animals she could have saved!” Mandy cried.

Ben nodded soberly. “Trees too.”

“That’s it,” Ross said. He upended his bottle and chugged it dry, leaving the empty to rattle on the table. He slid his chair back, stood, dug around in his pockets, and produced a wad of damp looking bills. He peeled off a few. They fluttered to the table like soggy leaves. “I’m done with you knobs.”

“You’re going?” Peggy demanded.

“Yeah…” he replied, miserable. “I gotta take my nephew fishing in the morning.”

“We don’t have a waitress,” I reminded him. “Is that cash for us because we’re such compelling company?”

Ross’s eyes went from mine to the table and back again. He exhaled. He picked up the damp bills and stuffed them back in his pocket while we laughed at him.

Ben yawned. “All right. I’ve got things tomorrow too.” He looked at his phone. “Getting to be that time.”

Peggy looked at hers. “Yikes!”

We stood and drained our bottles.

“Does Donna work Monday?” I asked Ross. “Remember to ask her about her skills.”

“Yeah, I’m never doing that, Ross said.

It was here that Ross’s eyes and mouth got suddenly round. He said: “Donna!” and there beside him stood Donna Hastings.

She made no reply, her face was taut and serious. I decided she had probably overheard us making fun of her and I felt shame. She took Ross by the shoulders and spun him to face her. She barked up into his bewildered face: “You’re gonna have to talk to ‘em!” Maintaining her grip on Ross, she turned to the rest of us. “Sorry but it can’t be helped.”

“To whom?” Ben asked.

Donna hesitated, released Ross, and turned her attention to Ben. She appraised him frankly over her glasses, her eyes probing his for a long moment. She shook her head. “Don’t believe in much, do you, kid.”

It wasn’t a question.

“Pardon?”

“Faith, man!” Donna said. “You’ve got no faith.”

His eyes narrowed. He shook his head. “No, I’m more a science guy, I guess.”

“Yeah,” she mused, staring. “I guess you are.”

She turned to Mandy. “Faith here though! Lots of it.” She nodded and touched the tip of Mandy’s nose: “You’re not growing old yet,” she whispered.

She turned to Peggy. “And you! Your spirit’s free as a bird though you’re the oldest one of the bunch – present company excluded of course.” With this last, she gave Peggy’s arm a grandmotherly pat. She took her hand. “A smart girl, I think.” She nodded. “Good sense. A strong heart.”

She released Peggy and glared, first at Ross, then at me. Her eyes darkened. The corners of her mouth turned down. “As for you two…” she began but she shook her head. “But there’s no time for this! No time! Sit! Sit!” She corralled us back to the table and we sat. Donna sat too. My eyes darted to Ben’s. His expression held the question too. Where did she get the chair?

“Donna,” Ross said meekly. “I’m sorry but I really have to get going. I have to get up early.”

“Yes you do.” She winked. “Four-twenty-five, to be exact. That way you can hit the snooze twice and still be up by four-forty-five which is when you have to get moving. You set your alarm yesterday morning so you wouldn’t forget.”

Ross’s eyes grew round.

“Take heed,” Donna said, looking from one of us to the next. “By the time your drinks are gone, they’ll be here.”

“Who?” Peggy asked.

“Our drinks are already gone,” Ben said.

Donna’s eyes twinkled. “Are they?

Ben squinted and tilted his head. Slowly, with careful fingers he reached for his bottle, his gaze locked on Donna. When his fingertips found it, they stopped. He gasped and his eyes fell. His mouth fell open. He twisted the bottle in his palm and stared.

I looked to my own bottle. It was cold and filled with slush.

Mandy asked: “How did – ”

“A trick,” I said. “Like the chair she’s sitting in is a trick. She’s a magician.”

“Illusionist,” Ross said. “They prefer illusionist.”

Donna ignored us. She took Mandy’s right hand in both of hers and pulled her in, eyes burning. “They’re coming, child,” she hissed. “They’re almost here! They will know if you lie or hold back so answer them true. It won’t last long. They’ll want to keep me in sight while they still think they can and they can’t do that talking to you. Give them the words I give you.”

“Who?” asked Peggy. “Who is coming?”
Donna turned to Peggy and said: “The Lost.” She turned back to Mandy. “Tell them what you know, child. Tell them I’m a temp from work named Donna Hastings.

She turned to me: Tell them about the wildfire.”

To Ben. “Tell them about these bottles and the chair and the alarm.”

To Ross: “Give them this message: The lost key is found. Witch Azrael has gone to The Shadows to rescue the princess and the princess will claim her rightful place on the throne. Tell them their wicked days are numbered.”

To Peggy she said: “Your heart is strongest. Shepherd these lambs when The Lost try to seduce them. They weave enchantments with their words. Join hands!”

We did as we were told and sat around the table in a crowded bar holding hands. Finally, Ross looked up to ask: “What’s supposed to – ?”

And Donna Hastings was gone.

Moving Day – Short Short Story

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“Just grab it and toss it out.”

You do it!”

“Seriously? This is why you yelled at me to come in here?”

“Please, will you?” she pleaded. “Can you kill it, Josh?”

“Why can’t you?”

“Because I can’t.”

Her brother grinned. “Can you imagine if it had babies and they were all crawling on your face when you woke up?”

She shrieked high and shrill and long and he added squeaking baritone wails and they laughed and laughed until nothing was funny anymore.

He wiped his eyes and sniffed. “It can’t hurt you.”

“You won’t do it?”

“You only have to look at it a few more hours.”

She frowned. “It will still be here even if I can’t see it.”

They sat quiet. “Will you bring your stuffed animals?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“All of them?”

“No.”

“I’m going to bring all mine. And my dolls. And the toys from when I was little.”

“Dad said we’re supposed to leave the stuff we don’t need.”

“I don’t care what he said!”

He blinked at her. He turned and looked out the window. “I should go pack,” he said.

“Do you think mom will be sad when we’re gone?”

He leaned forward and rested his forehead against the glass. “Probably.”

“Do you remember that fight they had when I spilled my juice?”

“Yes.”

She nodded. “I wished I didn’t spill it.”

“I know,” he sighed. “It’s ok though.” He turned from the window. “I’m going to pack.”

She stepped in his path with her doll. “Do you want to play army men or something? You can use Barbie for the monster. I won’t get mad.”

“I have to pack. I’m sure Mom will be up soon to help you.”

She tossed the doll on the bed. “I’m going to ask her to kill it.”

“It’s only a few more hours you have to think about it.”

“No,” she shook her head. “It will still be here. Even when I can’t see it.”

 

 

Buried Treasure – Flash Fiction

He stood in a large hole, perhaps four feet deep and five or six in diameter. The digging was strenuous, the ground comprised of gravel and sand. With each thrust, the shovel stopped dead, sending a jolt through his arms, his shoulders, his back. Every few minutes, he dropped to his hands and knees to dig by hand. With his fingers, he unearthed heavy rocks, straining to wrestle them from the hole and heave them aside. The rocks dented and dulled his shovel, slowing his progress.

The air was crisp and the moon full; his body steamed through his shirt. He lifted the shovel from the hole, flat to the ground and perhaps a quarter full, and tossed its contents over his right shoulder. The sand made a brushing sound as it fell on dry leaves. He plunged the shovel into the earth again.

She stood behind him and said, “Why are you doing this?”

He stopped and let the shovel stand by its blade as he removed his cap and drew his arm across his forehead. The shovel stood upright for a moment then fell. “I have to find it,” he said.

She shook her head. “I don’t need it.”

Bending over, he grasped the shovel. “If I don’t find it now, We’ll have to wait until Spring.” He shook his head. “I can’t dig through the frost.”

She wrinkled her forehead and said, “Leonard, you’ve been out here for days! Weeks!” She moved close and he pulled away. She stopped and said softly, “Perhaps it’s not God’s will that it be found.”

“I don’t believe that. If He wants me to leave it out here in the wild, He needs to tell me plain. I ain’t interested in deciphering hints from The Almighty.”

She raised her eyebrows. “He is telling you. I’m telling you. Take the shovel home and draw yourself a warm bath. Put on dry clothes. Make a fire! Do the things you need to do to move on.”

He shook his head.

She smiled with sad eyes and said, “The landslide was not your fault. You don’t need to find my body.” She smiled. “It’s already buried.”

He fell to his knees in the dirt and covered his face with his hands. “No, no, no…” he cried.

“I have to go now, Leonard,” she said softly. “It’s time for us both to go home.”

She drifted away into the trees…

Leonard awoke with a start, his eyes wet and the television still on. Beside him, she lay sleeping, breathing deeply. He spooned her, and buried his face between her shoulder blades, pulling her close.

She faced the wall, smiling. “These dream pills were worth every penny,” she thought. “I am SO going shopping today.”

Now try this: The Predator