Party at River Island – Flash Fiction

We followed railroad tracks by the forest and the tracks followed the river. A white moon hung full and bright to our right, fluorescent on the water. To our left, dense black trees grew close to the tracks.

Chalk-white stones glowed with the moon, piled loosely around heavy wooden ties. I grabbed one of the stones and gauged its weight, its feel. Then, with all I had, I flung it at the river. We were silent for a moment. Then, the stone thumped into the soggy riverbank and rolled into the brush grass beside the water.

I searched for a smaller stone.

“How much further?” David asked. He threw a stone. There was a pause and we listened.

Splash.

“A quarter-mile, probably,” I said.

“It’s far.

I skipped a stone side-arm up the tracks. “Parties don’t get busted out here.”

We walked a while and, to our left, thick forest gave way to a wide-open, rolling hill that I knew to be the Viebrock property. The yard smelled freshly mowed. At the top of the hill, where the ground was level, a cabin sat black in silhouette. The yard ran down and down some forty yards before meeting the river. A two-person paddleboat bobbed rhythmically with the river, thumping against a wooden dock.

“You sure they aren’t home?” David asked.

“No campfire,” I said. “No lights. There’s nobody there.”

“How do you know they’re not sleeping?” he asked.

I balanced on one of the rails and jumped down on the rocks. “I don’t.”

We slid down to the dock and climbed into the paddle boat. I freed the tether from a post and, side by side, we pedaled. We pedaled for a long time. Then I pointed.

“That’s the island?” David asked.

I nodded. “That’s it.”

The island was a small circle of land with a sandy beach around its perimeter. Further inland, the ground climbed and turned rocky and there were scraggly pines and sticker bushes. Large, gray formations jutted out between the trees and the island above the beach was littered with boulders.

“Nobody’s there,” David said.

“They’re in the cave.”

He gave me a look.

“Really,” I said. “It’s safer there.”

“I don’t hear anything.”

“You don’t hear parties in the cave, dummy. That’s the point.”

We pedaled and he was quiet for a while. Finally, he asked: “What about their boats?”

I scanned the island. “They must have come in from the other side.”

“How do you get here from the other side?”

“How the hell do I know? I’ve never done it.”

We pulled the paddleboat onto the sand and dried our hands on our shorts. “Over here,” I said. Sandburs stuck our clothes and got in our sandals, sharp as tacks. We picked our way up through the rocks.

At a high clearing I stopped. The moon was shining bright off the black rippling surface of the water.

“Do you remember Maynard?” I asked.

“Maynard, your dog?”

“Yeah, my beagle.”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

We continued crawling up the hillside, doubled over, using our hands to feel for hidden boulders in the dark. “It was weird how he died,” I said.

“Yeah, that sucked.”

“I can’t believe someone would do that.”

“What a douche.”

We stopped again. I breathed deeply in the cool breeze. “The vet said the shot went right through his heart,” I said. “That’s a tough shot.”

David nodded, looked at me, said nothing.

I asked: “How many guys do you know who could make that shot?”

David opened his mouth, closed it again, and said: “Probably not many. What are you asking?”

I shrugged again. “I’m just saying it’s weird. You never liked Maynard. He howled, woke the neighborhood. I can’t count the times you told me about it.”

His eyes narrowed. “It sucks you think I shot your dog.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“Dude!” David said.

“Listen!” I hissed. “Did you hear that?”

“What?”

“Listen.”

We listened to the breeze and the frogs and the water sloshing against the island.

“I don’t hear anything.”

“All right.” I pointed. “The cave is right up there.”

“Where?”

“Right there.”

David stood frozen, willing himself to see. I cuffed the back of his head and the heavy, white stone in my palm made a sick cracking sound when it met his skull, like a dry twig being snapped in two. His eyes rolled white. His legs buckled and he collapsed. He let out a long wheeze, twitched twice, and lay still.

I pushed at him with my sandal and, when he didn’t grab my leg and pull me down, I found the courage to feel around on his neck for a pulse. It was faint but steady. I dragged him back down towards the beach, tripping over rocks, bloodying my knuckles, smashing my shins, bruising my tailbone.

David never stirred, not when I dropped him in the rocks and picked him back up only to drop him again and again. He did not wake when his heels dug ditches through the sand or when I dumped him unceremoniously into one of the seats of the paddleboat. He slept as I wrapped the anchor rope around his right ankle and when I pushed us from shore.

When the water was deep enough, I turned and pushed David out with both feet. There was a great splash and the rope fed into the water. The boat drifted a ways and suddenly halted, straining against the rope.

I dove out, swam back to the island, found the kajak I had hidden, and paddled for home.

The Resistors – Flash Fiction

In 2038, the Federal Live Stream Act was officially passed by an overwhelming majority. The act, considered controversial and bucked by a small minority, required all Citizens of the World to receive a microchip implant in order to participate in commerce (i.e. to buy food, housing, etc.) The Chip, as it was commonly called, killed, once and for all, the need for cash and keys and provided The Flag with the GPS coordinates and a continual live stream, of all chipped citizens. This feed was sent securely to the Flag’s Intelligence headquarters in Moscow.

All live streams were recorded and saved but none were accessed except in cases of Suspicion or during the investigations of committed crimes.  However, it was not due to these assurances from The Flag that the Stream Act passed. Studies (and common sense) had indicated that the Chip would significantly reduce the number of terror attacks and other crimes perpetrated globally and the citizenry, worn down by ever climbing increases in terror attacks and crimes, sacrificed its privacy to The Flag in order to see these numbers fall.

Three years after the Stream Act passed, Brock came into my office, said: “You need to see this,” and played for me the recorded stream of a missing young woman by the name of Kate Phillips.

Miss Phillips was a Resistor who did not wear a Chip. Still, it was rare that anyone went missing anymore. Cameras were virtually everywhere and even Resistors, though they did their best to elude them, were under near 24-hour surveillance as a result.

“Right…here,” Brock said, pressing Stop. “Poof.”

“Glitch?” I asked.

“Not according to the Lab.”

“Again,” I said.

Brock replayed the recording. On the screen, Kate Phillips ran from the camera and it followed her. Panicked, she looked over her shoulder with increasing frequency as the camera closed the gap between them. When the pursuer drew close, within six or eight feet, Phillips leaned forward and vanished.

“And they know it didn’t glitch,” I muttered, more to myself than to Brock. “What happens when you frame by frame?”

“Watch.”

Kate Phillips was looking over her shoulder at the camera. The camera was close, within ten feet or so. Brock stopped the recording. He advanced the frames one-by-one and then Kate Phillips was gone.

“Huh,” I said. “Anybody got a theory?”

Brock said: “Me and Evans think she fell off a ledge or into a hole or something.”

I shook my head. “No…Who’s chasing her anyway?”

“Boyfriend. We have him in custody.”

“Go back.”

Brock went back and advanced by frame.

“There,” I said.
We studied the still shot. Brock nodded and whispered: “Her legs are still there but her upper body…”

“She didn’t fall in a hole,” I said. “She dove into-”

Brock’s eyes got wide. “The Resistors have Transport,” he said with a disbelieving tone.

“Moscow,” I said. “This is 29468-LT. Patch to 79354-CL. Stat.”

“Live stream patched,” an automated voice replied. Another voice, this one human, said: “Pretty busy here, Carter. What do you need?”

“Colonel, the Resistors have Transport tech,” I said. “You’re going to want to see this.”

 

Dead Connection – 100 word story

You get down into some of these third-world countries and the tech is thirty years behind; this airport had a pay phone.

There’s weight to the sound of a real phone bell you don’t get with a cell. I heard the ringing from far away and ran to it.

Saturday afternoon. Civilians everywhere. A mother gripped her son by the arm and bawled, “Mind me!”

Another ring.

I shoved through. “Down! Down! Down!” I said and a little girl landed on her butt and slid.

A man picked up the handset and the phone detonated.

 

 

 

100 word story for Friday Fictioneers. Photo credit: © J Hardy Carroll

Catch of the Day – Short Story

I was twelve when Shemp ran away. It’s been 35 years but the memory is burned into my brain with vivid clarity. Glen and I biked to the lake that morning, the dogs chasing each other in circles. We held fishing poles outstretched beside us like lances and a forest green tackle box was bungeed to Glen’s banana seat. It contained a myriad of lures and assorted wares, most of which he never used. Now it bounced and clattered along behind him.

The morning air was chilly. It was mid-September and just getting light. The dogs scampered in front of our bikes and we could barely see them. I said, “Shemp, knock it off!” but he didn’t care. Neither did Glen’s dog, Herman. They frolicked about causing us to lock the brakes repeatedly.

There was a stiff breeze blowing in from the lake as we laid our bikes down at the landing. I could see cars dotted about the lot and, through thick fog, the tiny red and green lights of a boat on the horizon. Otherwise, we had the shore to ourselves. I impaled a squirming worm onto my hook and cast hard but the wind caught the bait and it splashed into the water twenty feet out.

I noticed an area of violent bubbling to the right of my bobber of maybe three feet in diameter. I pointed this out to Glen saying, “Look at those bubbles over there. What do you think that is?”

He was wrestling with a lure. He always used exotic lures but never caught anything with them. Inevitably, he’d switch to live bait but I knew better than to tell him this. “Aerator?” he said without looking up.

“No, the aerator is over there,” I said pointing down the shoreline to the left.” And they turn it off after Labor Day weekend.”

He swore at his rod and ignored me.

“Can’t be plants,” I continued. “Plants don’t make bubbles like that.”

Glen had pulled several feet of line from his reel and was trying to wind it tightly. He insisted on using an open faced reel which he wasn’t very good with. As often as not, his casts fell dead at his feet with a pathetic thump. This was followed by frustrated swearing and, ultimately, tears but I didn’t try to intervene. Once, I had told him to switch to a closed faced Zebco like mine, that it was easier. He sneered at me and explained that he was a “real” fisherman.

“Have fun with that,” I told him.

Shemp and Herman splashed after each other on the shoreline, neither willing to swim, it was too cold.

Deciding I’d re-cast at the bubbles, I began to reel.

They followed my bait.

“Dude!” I said. “The bubbles are chasing my line.”

This got Glen’s attention. He looked up from his snarled reel. “What?”

“The bubbles, they’re following my line. Watch.”

I began reeling and the bubbles inched closer. When I stopped, so did they.

“It’s probably a turtle,” Glen said but he didn’t sound convinced.

“That’s a pretty big turtle,” I said.  “Have you ever seen a turtle make bubbles like that?”

Glen shook his head, staring quietly as I began to reel. The bubbles moved toward the bait again. “Go slow. See if you can catch it.”

When the bubbles were a just a couple feet from my line, they stopped and Glen swore loud. He picked up a stone and hurled it into the water.

Then Shemp was in hot pursuit, throwing himself into the lake.

“Shemp, no!” I yelled. “Here, Shemp!”

The bubbles were on him with remarkable speed.

And he was gone.

Agnes and the Dealer – Short Story

There are moments in life that determine our fates. Call them crossroads or decisions, determinations or resolutions, the labels matter not. What matters is that a choice must be made and the reverberations of that choice will be felt for the rest of our days.

Agnes has arrived at such a place.

She sits with two cards in her hand, a ten of spades and a six of diamonds, the blackjack dealer standing before her. No one sits beside her, her fellow gamblers having been relieved of their assets and long since gone home. It is a few minutes past four in the morning but the casino is bright, the music loud, and the building is pumped full of oxygen. From where Agnes sits it may as well be two in the afternoon.

She is winning.

Agnes has been conversing with the dealer all night and he’s heard all there is to hear about her grown children and their grown children and their children too. He knows her favorite books and where she goes to church and about her ladies clubs and that she crochets. And as the hours have come and gone, they have talked and laughed and sparred back and forth, him winning a hand, her winning two, him winning two hands, her winning one.

And finally they have built to this moment, she having thrust all her winnings, all her savings, to the center of the table in moment of do-or-die madness. Her heart is galloping, her hands shaking and she doesn’t know if she wants another card so she stalls by confiding, “I can’t believe how well this night has gone. I never win anything.”

And here the dealer stops and gives her a look, a look of warm sympathy as though he understands what she means but can’t allow her the sentiment. He says, “Don’t say you never win anything, Agnes. Don’t say you’re unlucky.”

She smiles without looking from her hand, her mind racing as she strains to calculate her odds.

“In my line of work, you hear it all the time: So-and-So is lucky but not me. So-and-So has a rabbit’s foot or a horseshoe or a four-leafed-clover wedged up their ass but not me.”

Agnes blushes at the unexpected profanity but says nothing, still studying her cards.

“Can you tell me the number of times you’ve said, ‘I could have been killed’ or ‘I should have been killed’ or ‘I nearly died’? Can you tell me how many close encounters you’ve had where looking back you wonder how you walked away? The odds that any of us has made it this far are remarkable and if this doesn’t leave you feeling lucky or blessed, I don’t know what will.”

Agnes doesn’t know how many times she has cheated death. The number is probably somewhere between five or ten times she imagines, maybe a couple more.

“When people think of luck, they think of money. They think of lottos and raffles and game show prizes and all of those things are well and good,” the dealer says. “But Life…Life is the ultimate prize. To be alive, to awaken each day and to breathe and to laugh and to cry…these are the prizes we need to win, the alternative does away with any complementary parting gifts.”

Agnes nods over her cards grateful for this pep talk and the extra time it affords her to contemplate her hand. “Yes, yes, I suppose that’s true,” she says.

Here, he pauses until she looks up. Then he says, “the multi-millionaire who commits suicide is a cliche. It happens so often yet we’re still surprised when it does. We say things like ‘money can’t buy happiness’ or ‘at least you have your health’ but we don’t really mean it. Deep down, we all think we could solve our problems and buy some purpose in this life if we just had the cash.”

He falls silent and she doesn’t reply. There is a drawn out pause then he gestures toward her hand. “What’s it going to be?”

Agnes swallows hard. “Hit me.”

He peels off a card and lays it before her: the six of clubs.

She stares at the card then exhales in a long rasp. Her hand goes to her chest as she slides off her chair and into a heap on the floor.

“Oh Agnes, we’re sorry. You were so close!” says the dealer. “Looks like your luck has run out.”

 

 

 

The Hit – Short Story

Vince clenched my shirt collar and pulled me close. “This is not complicated,” he said, slipping the vial into my shirt pocket and giving it a friendly pat. “You dump this into his drink then get the hell out of there.”

His face was up in mine but my heart was pumping hard and his voice sounded far away.

“You calmly serve the drinks,” he growled low. “Tell them you’ll be back with their food, walk slowly through the kitchen, down the hall, and out the back door. You’ll find me right here with the engine running and we’ll be drinking on a beach in Mexico before anyone knows what happened.”

“And you’re sure it will kill him? There’s no way it could just make him sick?”

“He’ll be stone dead,” he assured me. “There’s enough in that vial to kill everybody in the building.”

A sudden wave of anxiety threatened to overwhelm me.”Why can’t you do it?”

But we’d been over this many times. Fitzgerald and his cronies knew Vince. None of them had seen me before.

“How do you know he won’t drop dead on the spot? Shit Vince, there are guns around Fitzgerald all the time. What if he…you know…what if he…faceplants when I’m still standing there?”

“It’s a slow moving poison,” he said. “It takes at least ten minutes to kick in but when it does…”

He let the sentence hang, we both knew the ending.

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

It was busy that night and the kitchen was an asylum. In the dining room, customers were celebratory and ordering weird menu items many of us had never seen ordered before. Ingredients were running low, tempers were running high, and I was oblivious, consumed by the morbid task at hand.

My shift had begun at 6:00 but it wasn’t until much later that Fitzgerald and his pack of goons finally strolled into the restaurant. I was taking orders from a family of four when the gangsters filed by me reeking of cigars and expensive cologne. My knee bumped the table and a glass of water almost tumbled off the edge. Apologizing over my shoulder, I fled through the kitchen doors.

Rodney was standing in front of me looking concerned. “You feeling all right?” he asked me. “You look strung out, Man.”

“Why? What makes you say that?”

“Cause Man, you look like shit! You’re all pasty and sweaty looking. You look wasted or hungover or something. You’re not supposed to start partying until after work.”

My heart was thumping so hard it was making me nauseous.

“That reminds me, you still owe me for Saturday,” he said. “Fifty bucks.”

“Ok. Ok, yeah,” I said ducking into the bathroom. In the mirror, it was clear that Rodney wasn’t lying. My shirt looked like it had come out of the washer and never been dried. It had to go.

There were extras hanging from a hook in the hallway behind the kitchen. They were for emergencies in case someone spilled wine or spaghetti down the front of themselves. I put one on and hustled back towards the dining room.

“Margaret’s swiping your table, bro,” Rodney said casually as he brushed by me, heading outside for a smoke.

My table!

Spinning through the cacophony of the kitchen dodging waitresses and busboys and bursting into the dining room, I spotted Margaret, her dazzling smile in overdrive as she wrote down food orders from Fitzgerald and his men.

They already had their drinks.

Margaret laughed at one of their suggestive comments then headed for the kitchen where she was promptly intercepted by me.

“That’s my section!” I said. “You stole my table!”

Margaret blinked and her thousand watt smile dimmed. She considered feigning ignorance but playing dumb wasn’t going to fly and she knew it. It was a bad habit she had, taking other servers’ wealthy looking customers, and a big table like this had proven too much for her to resist.

She nodded meekly and shuffled into the kitchen to place their orders before relinquishing the table to me. The spring in her step was gone.

“I’ll split it with you,” I told her as the kitchen doors swung shut behind her and she smiled weakly at me through the window.

Just hang here until Fitzgerald needs a refill.

I waited with my arms crossed by the kitchen door ignoring my other tables while servers and bus boys sailed back and forth from the kitchen. My best opportunity had slipped by and I wasn’t going to miss another one. Already, my back was slick. This shirt would soon be unwearable too.

After five minutes or so, the time had come.

“Another drink, gentlemen?”

They barked orders while I scribbled. Fitzgerald wanted brandy.

The bar was a madman so I helped Stan with the drinks. My hands trembled as I reached for the vial.

It was gone.

It must have fallen out of my pocket when I was changing-

My shirt.

Frantically, I wove through the crowded dining room and into the battlefield kitchen spinning, avoiding bodies, and willing my way through the chaos. When I reached the hallway, I sprinted.

The hook was empty.

But it had been hanging right there. Right there! That was right where I had left it.

Mesmerized, I didn’t see the back door open.

“I don’t know how you got so wrecked off that shit,”Rodney said tossing me the vial and rubbing his nose. “That coke is trash.”

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

 

This story is a response to the  one-word prompt Complicated.

 

Now try this: The Installer – Short Story

 

 

 

 

Goodnight, Ugbert – Really Short Story

Mama noticed I was crying when she came to tuck me in.

“Papa said I was unusual,” I told her.

She sat on the side of the bed and caressed my face, drying my tears. “That wasn’t a very nice thing for Papa to say, was it?”

I shook my head. She sighed and looked at me for long minutes ruffling my hair and petting my face.

“Just remember this when you have children,” she said. “Remember that words can hurt too.”

I nodded and she sang me a lullaby. Then she smiled and said, “You know, Papa wasn’t wrong. You really are a weird little bastard.”

I drifted off to sleep. Mama always knew just what to say.