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.

Chump City Nights – Flash Fiction

Since 1946, the same electric sign has hung out over the sidewalk in front of Dusty’s Pub. The sign features a cartoon French maid dusting the word “Dusty’s” with a feather duster.

One warm summer evening in 1978, Dusty, the club’s namesake and creative genius behind the sign, clutched his chest, slid down a wall behind the bar, and expired. His widow sold Dusty’s before Dusty was cold and the pub then belonged to a small, greasy man named Claude Radke.

Radke did not rename Dusty’s Pub, opting instead to spend the money he would need for a new sign on something more practical. This practical something turned out to be a few cartons of cigarettes which he burned through over the course of three or four weeks.

As Dusty had done, Claude Radke required that “his girls” wear the uniform of the French maid on the sign. On Friday and Saturday nights, two of them would skitter about the pub slinging drinks and tickling the noses of their better tippers with feather dusters. It was said that Radke’s girls would tickle other things if the price was right but this claim had not been substantiated.

One drunken night, Claude Radke groped one of his girls and she slapped him hard. Humiliated, he tossed her onto the sidewalk to the drunken cheers of his twisted knot of elderly regulars.

The banished waitress – who told me her name was Louise – showed up at my desk the next morning with information about Claude Radke she thought I could use. She was right. I dropped by Dusty’s later that afternoon to tell him the good news.

Three men sat across the bar from Radke when I walked in and they swiveled their stools to look at me.

“Afternoon, boys,” I said, opening my jacket so they could see the shield. “Stop by again when you can’t stay so long.”

The men grumbled and finished their drinks, pulling bills from wallets and flipping them onto the bar.

“So long, Claude,” one of the men said.

“Thanks for stopping, guys,” Radke said. The door closed behind them and he scowled. “What in hell do you want?”

“Nothing for me, thanks,” I said, taking a seat on one of the recently evacuated stools. “I’m on duty.”

The scowl deepened. “Quite a comedian.”

I made a show of looking around. It was clear we were the only two in the bar. “How’s business?” I asked.

Radke’s eyes narrowed to fiery slits of hate. “You want something, cop, or are you just here to harass a hardworking businessman for no reason?”

I shrugged. “Your gal, Louise, stopped in to see me this morning.”
“Not my gal.”
“Not anymore,” I said.
“Not anymore,” Radke agreed. He dried his hands on a towel.
“She claims you’re selling cocaine out of this place.”
He waved a hand in dismissal.

“Says you keep a pile of it in a coffee can on a shelf in the back.”

“She’s crazy.”

“You mind if I look around a little? You’ve got nothing to hide.”
Claude Radke smiled sweetly; a golden tooth glittered. “Go ahead,” he said. “Assuming you’ve got a warrant.”

I returned the smile. “Funny you should say that,” I said, reaching into my jacket pocket and producing a folded piece of paper.

Radke’s eyes shot to the paper. He looked up at me.

“Do not do it,” I said.

He bolted through a doorway behind the bar.

I placed my palms on the bar, tried to vault over, and bashed a shin into the polished wood. A couple stools went down and I cursed and gimped out the front door, hobbling down Wisconsin back to the alley. Claude Radke was a ways up the alley, hunched over and gasping.
“You should have turned left,” I said.

He ran for a few steps and his shoe slid out on the rocks. He went down windmilling, rolled around in the gravel for a while, and laid there in pain.  He sat up and I was on him, palming his forehead, pushing him back down in the rocks. “Lay still.”

“I don’t gotta talk to you, cop!” he spat. “I want my lawyer.”

I let go of his face and sat down beside him in the dirt. He panted at me. I panted back. A dark, bloody gash had been carved out above his right eyebrow and both knees were torn up and slick.

“Killing me with this running, Claude,” I said. “Too old to be running. Where the hell were you gonna go?”

“I want my lawyer.”

“So you said.”

“I’m not telling you nothing.”

“Anything,” I said.

Claude Radke frowned. “Anything.”

I stood and dusted gravel from my pants and held out a hand to Radke. He ignored it and climbed to his feet, wincing. I brushed some gravel off his back. He gave me a look so I stopped brushing. We started walking.

“I’m not arresting you,” I said.

“Thanks.”

“On the level.”

He stopped walking. “What is this?”

“Here’s the proposal: You give me the coffee can and you get to decide what you do with your time for the next 3-5 years.”

Radke’s eyes got narrow and shrewd. “You’re gonna sell it?”

“Don’t be stupid.”

“Use it?”

“How much does your lawyer charge?” I asked.

He started walking again. “I didn’t take you for a dirty blackmailer, cop. Next month you’ll be back for more.

“One and done.”

He winced and dug tiny, sharp rocks from bloody left palm with a fingernail. “And if I don’t?”

I shrugged. “The Department gets it. You pay an attorney for a plea deal, and you probably do time.”

We walked in the back door of Dusty’s and he put a large can of Folger’s in my hands. I opened it; Louise was telling the truth. I set the can on a table, pulled cuffs from my belt and said: “Claude Radke, I’m arresting you for possession of a narcotic with intent to sell. You have the right to remain silent…”

“You lied to me,” Radke said. His lips were shiny and spit flew when he said it.

I put the cuffs on him, finished his rights, and marched him around the bar out the front door. The pub was still empty.

“You said-”

“I lied.”

Radke was bewildered.

I dug in my jacket pocket, removed the folded paper, unfolded it and showed it to him.

“LOST,” it said. “Male German Shepherd answers to the name Rex. Missing since June 17th. Has shots and is friendly. If found, please call…”

I folded the paper back into my jacket and Claude Radke and I took a drive downtown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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

 

The Predator – Flash Fiction

Miles Vandelay stood at the head of the table and hoisted his wine glass with his left hand. With his right, he pinged the glass repeatedly with a spoon. His eyes glittered with booze and triumph.

“Real quick,” he said. “I don’t want to hold up the party – ”

“Get off the stage!” said his VP of Operations, Todd Alton. He grabbed a bread roll from a basket on the table and tossed it at him. Soon, rolls were coming in from all over the room. They bounced off his chest and sailed past his head as he bobbed and ducked. “You’ll make me spill my wine!” he protested.

“There’s plenty more where that came from!” yelled Ezra from another table and the room erupted into applause and whistles.

Vandelay laughed and held up a palm. “All right, all right, you animals, but you know I’m cheap. I want to enjoy every. last. drop.” He upended the glass and held it up as a gladiator might hold the decapitated skull of a defeated enemy. The employees roared and upended their glasses, holding their empties high.

“They say,” said Vandelay, “All’s fair in love and war and I suppose that’s true. I’ve been through enough wives to know the love part is anyway.”

The room hooted and whistled.

“I’d like to add,” Vandelay continued, “that all’s fair in business too. To those of you who are here tonight, I salute you. This evening, we celebrate the culmination of our efforts. Our moment of glory is at hand!”

The room exploded into cheers. Rolls flew from table to table and Alton popped a fresh bottle, champagne spraying everyone at the table.

“Now I know this merger wasn’t easy,” Vandelay said after the cacophony had died. “We had to let some good people go and that can be difficult,” he said in a somber tone. “The good news is…we’re drinking their cut!”

The employees roared and pinged their glasses with their silverware.

“Some will say that life is more than money. They’ll tell you horror stories of deathbed regrets and spiritual reckonings. I would point out that every person who talks like that is broke and a loser! You don’t hear that garbage from successful people!”

“Amen!” said Ezra and the room laughed.

“I would submit to you that there are two types of people in this world: the hunters and the hunted. Looking around this room, I see victorious hunters and, to the victors go the spoils!”

The employees cheered and stomped their feet.

“The bonus checks that you received today were the largest Vandelay Industries has ever paid.”

He raised his hand as the decibel levels went to their highest point of the night. The employees stood as one to chant, “Van-de-lay! Van-de-lay!”

He smiled and waited for calm. “All right. All right. Now listen. It would be easy for us to rest on our laurels but life is about the survival of the fittest. You’re either growing or you’re dying, there is no coasting. So I raise my glass…wait…somebody give me a full one,” he said, tossing the empty over his shoulder.

The employees laughed and someone handed him a full glass of champagne. “Eat, drink, and be merry!” he said. “For tomorrow we…have to get up early and do it again!”

As he drank, he heard the laughter. In his peripheral, he saw glasses lifted to faces.

Then it went black.

He awoke with a start to find himself lying in an alley. It was cold and he was wearing only a t-shirt. “What the hell?” he asked, looking at the gravel. Pieces of broken glass glinted in the rocks. “I must’ve…blacked out…got robbed,” he muttered.

A voice startled him. “No,” it said. “You weren’t robbed.”

He turned to see a homeless man, long-haired and filthy, seated beside him. He wore ripped corduroy pants and torn shoes with duct tape holding them together. He smelled of smoke and rotten teeth and body odor. He wore an army jacket but Vandelay doubted very much that a man like that had served in the armed forces.

“Who the hell are you?”

“Ah…” the man said, smiling. “That’s not the question. The question is, who are you?” The homeless man put a bottle wrapped in a paper bag to his lips and drank. Then he set it down and laughed heartily as red wine trickled from his lower lip down into his beard.

“Yeeeaaah…okaaay,” said Vandelay. “That’s great, Crazy. I’ll be on my way now. Good talk.”

Vandelay stood but something was wrong. He was too close to the ground. He was too small. Too light.

He was a child.

“What is this?!” he demanded. “This can’t be…this isn’t real!”

The homeless man turned and winked, his eyes remarkably clear. “Oh, it’s real. You see, Miles, you didn’t do so hot in your last life. In fact, you made a real mess of it. This is your do-over. A mulligan. Another chance to live it right.”

Vandelay’s face was horrified. “How do you know my name?…No! No, this isn’t right! I’m asleep or…on something…Todd dosed me with something or…this isn’t how this is supposed to work!”

The homeless man smiled. “Well…maybe you should sleep it off.”

Miles nodded. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, I just need a little sleep. I just need to sleep it off.” He sat down and wrapped his arms around his chest; the wind was icy. He closed his eyes and drifted…

“Kevin?”

He opened his eyes. “Yes, Mama?”

“Kevin, come back to the box where it’s warm; I got a fire going. Who were you talking to, son?”

Kevin’s eyes were confused as if a dream had just ended he couldn’t quite remember. He looked up and down the empty alley. After a moment he said, “No one, Mama.”

Now try this:

The Nihilist

 

Almost Famous – Short Short Story

“Just ahead,” said the scientist, footsteps echoing down the hallway. “Through that door and-”

“Down the hall to the right,” finished the pilot.

The scientist looked up from his clipboard. “You’ve been here?”

“Yes.”

They entered a large auditorium, empty save for a gray, windowless phone booth.

“Tomorrow, this room will be filled. I wanted you to see it before the frenzy.”

The pilot smiled.

“Is something amusing, Mr. Roberts?”

The pilot handed him a textbook. On its cover: “Time Travel’s Founding Fathers” and below that, a picture of the two of them.

“We’ve already done this, Dr. Randolph.”

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

This story is a response to Friday Fictioneers, a 100-word challenge issued by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. Photo courtesy: Amy Reese.