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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.”

 

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

 

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.”

 

 

 

Departure – Short Story

Deep in the heart of the Amazon Basin the jungle is so dense, the canopy so thick, that a person could walk ten feet from a blaze orange battleship and never see it.

It was here that Sheldon Dayleon found himself perilously lost. His native guide had wandered off and misjudged the treacherous terrain. He was swallowed by quicksand with Sheldon clueless as to his whereabouts. For hours, Sheldon had called to no reply and eventually reached the grim conclusion that he had been deliberately abandoned.

Sheldon was no adventurer and it was to his credit he had survived this long, living off questionable-looking berries and insects and the flesh of snakes he was able to catch unawares and bludgeon with a stone.

His compass had disappeared when he tried to cross the river. Frantically scrambling for air, he was tossed about mercilessly by the current which was far more rapid than it had appeared from shore. It carried him a mile downstream before he was able to free himself from its clutches clawing his way to the opposite bank exhausted and relieved.

That was two days ago.

Still, Sheldon remained the blissful optimist hacking his way through the jungle with reckless abandon and whistling to keep his spirits up. After his unfortunate encounter with the river, he retained his machete, his canteen, and one waterproof canister of wooden matches. For the matches he was particularly grateful, fire kept night creatures at bay. Still, even sunny Sheldon had to admit, it was troubling that only five remained.

Unbeknownst to him, he was traveling in a loose, meandering oval. He tried to use the sun and stars to guide him but the earth spins and the sky changes and he had no idea how to adjust his path accordingly. Overhead, the vegetation was so lush that he often couldn’t see the sky at all. All the same, he crashed on telling himself that things would work out as they always do and willing away fearful voices when they whispered in his head.

But by Day 6 of his adventure he was ragged and stumbling and no longer able to whistle. It was impossible to sleep in the rain forest. Not daring to let his fire smolder out, he awoke frequently throughout the night. Each morning he was jolted to life by the loud chattering calls of unfamiliar birds and every day he walked and hacked and walked some more which he was physically ill-prepared for.  He was also eating very little which took its toll as his days in the jungle accumulated.

Sheldon’s tank was running dry.

Leaning against a tree, he found himself sweating and exhausted in the afternoon heat but unwilling to sit. If he left his feet, standing again would be difficult.

An object in motion.

Aimlessly, he lashed out with his machete but the blade struck something solid and ricocheted with such force that it flew end-over-end from his hand. He experienced a moment of panic but fortunately saw where it had flipped into the foliage and was able to retrieve it without much difficulty.

He fanned open the greenery and discovered behind it an insurmountable wall of gray stone. It climbed to the heavens, at least 150 feet, maybe higher. Stunned, he staggered backwards and stared, his mouth agape.

What on Earth?

He followed the wall slowly with his hands until it ended at a corner. Carefully, he rounded the bend feeling his away along the cool, flat surface until suddenly the foliage broke before him giving way to a clearing of perhaps fifty yards square. He wandered into the opening and beheld a massive structure that appeared very much like the Mayan ruins he had seen in Cancun.

Reeling, he stumbled several steps back almost as awed by the massive clearing as he was by the building itself. It had been almost a week since he had seen this much daylight.

At the center of the temple, steep steps laid before him leading to the top of the structure. Under normal circumstances, he would have ascended but he had used the last of his energy fighting his way through the brush to where he now stood and he sank to his knees and then to his side. Within seconds he was sleeping.

He awoke hours later judging by the receding daylight to find himself hungry and dumbfounded all over again by the massive structure that stood before him. As he sat there, legs stretched out before him, a male voice boomed from atop the temple startling him badly.

“SHANTALA QUI CETE OLAGO!”

Sheldon scrambled to his feet eyes darting about trying to locate the speaker. He had learned a few key words when he was in Mexico but was hardly fluent and he had no idea what the voice was saying or if this tongue was even Spanish. It was the first voice he’d heard other than his own in days.

“Uh…no habla,” he croaked. “Me…American,” he said jabbing his thumb into his chest. “Sorry, I don’t know what you’re saying.”

“This is holy ground!” the voice replied in English without a trace of accent. “You are standing on holy ground!”

“I’m sorry, Sir,” Sheldon said backing away, “I’m lost. I…don’t know where I am.”

For long moments there was no response. Then a figure materialized at the top of the steps. It stood, bright and lithe, looking down at him and then descended as though it were floating, not taking the steps at all. Sheldon gawked.

When it reached the ground, Sheldon could see this was an ancient man who looked like a shaman or some sort of witch doctor. He was shirtless and wore a sort of loin cloth. He was draped with necklaces of beads and bones and feathers, his hair jet black and his face crisscrossed with so many wrinkles he may have been 100 years old. Still, he moved with the grace of an athlete and his eyes were bright and alert. He was standing before him in seconds.

“Sir, I’m sorry,” stammered Sheldon, “I didn’t know-”

The shaman cut him off with a wave of his hand and stood staring at him. Sheldon fidgeted uncomfortably.

“You are the one of whom the prophecies foretold,” the old man said finally. “You will come with us.”

“I think maybe you’ve got the wrong guy,” said Sheldon. “I’m an American…a tourist.”

The old man reached out and, obediently, Sheldon took his hand. Together, they floated back to the temple and up the stone stairs. When they reached the top, Sheldon saw a vertical circle of bright light hovering on the roof of the pyramid. The old man gestured towards it and Sheldon stepped in.

He vanished and the old man followed.

The light shimmered and disappeared.

 

 

 

 

 

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