The Origins of Spectacles.

2018 NYCM Short Story. Group 80. Comedy-a eulogy-a thrill seeker.
I had a week to write a 2500 word short using the prompts above. I started several times before my muse threw this idea at me on the last day.

 

Synopsis:

Although the mystery of many of mankind’s original activities remain shrouded in the fog of time. This is the story of several of these firsts, including that of the Earth’s first thrill-seeker, Eulo, gee he was great.

 

—-

Long before the planet’s nations were carved from the open earth, before humans planted crops in anticipation of leaner times, and before mankind tracked the seasons or even recorded the passing of time itself people lived in clans. These prehistoric families wore clothes made from the beasts of the land they hunted, or were hunted by.

When not searching for food or shelter, these primitives spent their time resting from their arduous lives.

This is the tale of the first man who felt the need for something more, a reason to roll out of the dark and cold of his cave each morning. He was looking for a thrill. He sought the sheer joy of being alive another day in the sun and to savor every minute above the dirt.

The setting sun cast long shadows across the field where a group of twenty people dressed in fur and hides were gathered around a mound of stones.

Standing at the head of the pile, Barbok, the clan elder held a torch and spoke. His voice deep due his advanced age of twenty-nine.

“What can I say about our brother Eulo, but gee he was great.”  He looked down at the heap in front of him. “The sun warms us and the dark chills us, we pass our sun in the hunt, our dark in sleep, but not Eulo.”

In the first known use of air quotes, Barbok said, “His need was more, he used his sun for what he named, ‘fun.’ We all need this, fun in the sun.”

The people looking at Barbok shrugged and whispered among themselves at this new word and his wiggling his fingers when he said it.

“He now lies below the dirt. Lost to the sun, the dark now to be with him always.”

The people grunted and nodded in agreement. Some continued to use air quotes for no particular reason.

Barbok lead the crowd into a large cave. Each adult carried a torch to light the cavern. Once inside, they gathered around a small fire. A short woman with curly bright-orange hair, periodically stopped sketching on the walls to plunge a stick she was holding into the flames, renewing the charcoaled tip. Next to the fire lay several other burnt sticks of various sizes, and another stuck in a tortoise shell full of crushed red berries.

Barbok spoke, “Our sister, Frudie draws better than any we have known. She show us on the walls the suns of brother Eulo above the dirt.”

Unknown to her at the time, by doing so Frudie created the world’s earliest recordings of epic fails.

Barbok walked to the wall and held up his torch, illuminating the first scene.

It was a mere sketch, not much better than a modern grade-school child could draw with only three colors of crayon: red, black, and slightly less-black. In the scene, a round boulder with a hole through the middle and a thick stick poking through, had what appeared to be a man’s head sticking out of one side while his two legs stuck straight out the other, one of his arms wrapped around the top of the stone.

“Soon after Eulo invented what he name, wheel, he roll down big hill and try to jump over swamp where many-toothed monster live.” Barbok pointed to the next scene. “Here is drawn where he fall off wheel and arm snap like tree.”

Most in the crowd cringed, several snickered.

“Eulo not give up, he wrap arm, make new wheel and try again.”

Barbok steeped further into the cave and held up the torch, showing the next drawing.

The sketch—drawn a little better than the first—depicted a stick-figure Eulo, his right arm encased in a bark textured sleeve, and a large, snake-like, creature with huge teeth intertwined in a battle to the death. Random splotches of crushed berries adorned the drawing showing blood spewing from man and creature.

Oohs and aahs came from the people listening to Barbok. Some pointed to the teeth and shivered in fear.

“Eulo not afraid, he fight the monster and chase it back under water. He crawl out with many marks on skin, but he laugh and he go in search of more fun.”

A couple of the assembled crowd nodded their heads and wiggled their fingers while repeating the word.

Barbok began telling the next story as he moved along the wall.

“Eulo always look for new things to try. When we find the water walls crashing into the end of dirt, all of us run back into trees. But not Eulo, he find split tree and jump into stinging water.”

Frudie’s skill was improving as she drew, her next sketch was of Eulo, his body now drawn with a round body, arms and legs, and a full head of hair and beard, hung upside down in mid-air over a tree split lengthwise. Both were engulfed in crashing waves. His left arm was drawn bent at a 90 degree angle just below the elbow. The waves were streaked with swatches of red.

“We thought brother Eulo was eaten by the water but it spit him back to us with many more marks on skin. His other arm now like broken branch.”

Some in the crowd moved closer and touched the wall, they looked at the waves, the blood and the split tree, and smiled.

Waving them away, Barbok continued his tale. “It take until into dark for Eulo to open eyes and speak. I ask him what happened, how it feel to be eaten by water and given back to us.”

Again using air quotes for emphasis, Barbok said, ““Eulo look me in face and smile, he say, “gnarly dude.””

The crowd begin to jump up and down wiggling their finger and repeating the words “fun,” “gnarly,” and “dude” excitedly among themselves.

“Clan. Clan!” Barbok shouted to quiet his people. “We have many more to see. Listen to story of Eulo.”

The people hushed but continued to mumble among themselves.

Turning to continue around the room, Barbok stopped at a single image. Holding his torch closer, he called out, “Frudie. Come here. What is this?”

The image on the wall was of a woman’s face surrounded by rings of red curls. Her skin freckled with small dots.

Frudie hurried over and looked at the wall, then at Barbok. Her voice full of pride in her accomplishment, she said, “It is self, Frudie. I call it selfie.”

Barbok’s face skewed and he looked between the woman in front of him and the wall. “Selfie?” He asked?

“Yes.” She beamed. She pointed at the wall and her face.

Barbok held the torch closer to the drawing and touched the small red dots, then turned to Frudie and touched her freckles.

“Humph.” He snorted.

Looking at his people he said. “Here is Frudie. Selfie.”

A few in the group clapped and repeated, “Selfie.”

He patted Frudie on her head and continued his tour of the cave.

““After Eulo arm go back straight and he strong again, he decide to cut all branches off tall thin tree to make long stick. He tell me, “Barbok you are brother, I tell you true, I am afraid of fire that flow like water from hole in hill. I must beat fear. I must jump over fire water.” So that what he do.”

He lit the next drawing with the torch; this illustration was the best yet. Eulo’s face looked like Eulo. He was screaming in panic and pain, but there was no doubt as to who was being burnt alive.

At the top of a mountain, Eulo, mouth agape, clung onto a pole hanging over a fiery red volcano. Smoke billowed from the peak, flames licked at his feet and halfway between the ground and Eulo, the pole was on fire. As was the back of Eulo’s zebra-print loincloth.

The people backed away from the realistic drawing in fear. A single voice from the back of the group whispered, “Duuude.”

Barbok calmed them. “Brother Eulo’s stick broke and he fall down big hill. He smell like furry animal held over fire pit to eat, but he here to feel the next sun.”

The crowd breathed a collective sigh of relief and followed Barbok to the next part of the wall.

Stubbing his toe on another tortoise shell filled with crushed blueberries, Barbok looked at the wall and saw that Frudie had drawn and colored a large bright-blue square, in the middle, in stark white contrast, was a side silhouette of a legless bird in flight.

“Frudie.” Barbok called, “What is this?”

She rushed over again and looked at where he pointed.

“It is bird, Barbok.”

“I can see it bird Frudie, why you draw bird, or not draw bird. What is the meaning of shadow of bird?”

She smiled, “I talk to others like me who draw in cave. We decide to leave as message to others like us.”

Barbok studied the design. “What do you call this bird?”

“A tweet.”

“Tweet?” He huffed and walked to the next stop on his tour, “Well, that will never catch on.”

Frudie shrugged and scurried back to her work adding the finishing touches to the final painting. And by now her talent had grown to the point that these were indeed cave paintings. The earth wouldn’t witness another creative genius like Frudie for tens of thousands of years.

Barbok said “My last story of Eulo is the one he best at doing, and the one that end his suns.”

Lighting the wall for his people, Barbok took a deep breath at the sight. His brother Eulo sat as a God on the bare back of a wooly mammoth. Eulo’s features, as were those of the mammoth, were rendered in photorealistic perfection. Each strand of hair was distinct, their muscles seemed to ripple with power. The grass a distinct green although Barbok saw no evidence of any mixture of that color in the cave. Behind the mammoth Eulo sat upon, in seamless distance-perspective, another mammoth was staring at the pair. This second mammoth, in anatomical perfection was a male and he was very excited to see the animal Eulo was riding.

Fighting back tears, Barbok spoke in a thin voice. “Brother Eulo love to ride big furry animal while the rest of our clan run and hide. Every sun we see him on same animal out in grass smile on face. He very happy to risk his suns.”

He coughed to compose himself and continued. “One sun he out in grass and other big furry come near him and take a liking to animal Eulo on.” Barbok lowered his voice, “I mean the way a woman and man in dark take a liking to each other. Wink-wink.”

Since the beginning of time, just as a head-nod stood for yes and a shake of the head for no, the phrase, ‘wink-wink’ has been the universally accepted term for humans in the act of making baby humans.

“Well, the other big furry jump on top of furry Eulo on and squish him flat. We run and grab Eulo while furry animals are busy, and drag him back to cave. Eulo sleep for many suns. We pick him up to put him under dirt, but he make smelly wind noise so we know he be in the sun again.”

The crowd hung on his every word, their eyes glued to the painting in front of them.

“”Eulo rise with next sun. Smile on face, he ask if “his big furry is hurt?” I laugh and say to come and see.”

Again, Barbok’s voice quieted as he looked to the ground. “Eulo so happy he jump out of bed and trip on small furry animal we let live in cave.”

Barbok turned to the last painting. Frudie had just finished the final touches and jumped out the way.

Behind him, Frudie had drawn the inside of the very cave they were in.

In the foreground, a small campfire lit the scene. Eulo was again in mid-air. Below him a sabretooth housecat held a bloody rat in his jaws; its face skewed into a grimace so lifelike one could almost hear its screams. In flight after tripping, Eulo was still wearing the finely bristled cave-bear fur he had been covered in. Below the surface of the blanket, the shapes of his hands were evident trying in vain to break his fall.

Eulo’s head, in contact with the dark brown coloring of the floor, was bent at an impossible angle. Red, deeper than any Frudie had previously used to show blood, poured from his neck.

Placing his torch into the fire-pit, Barbok spoke, “Brother Eulo, had much fun, but at the end of his many suns he passed under the dirt just by getting out of bed.”

Barbok declared to his clan that from this day, when a clansman’s last sun was past, they would gather to tell the tales of the happy suns that came before. This act would serve to honor our brother, always. “Eulo, gee he was great.”

 

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Week one progress.

Reviewed my open projects to decide which to work on. Most of them can be found elsewhere in the blog if anyone is so inclined.

  • A Ghost’s Story. Chapter 1 A story inspired by the thought that if a ghost kills you, then you’re on the same side of the ethereal plane as they are and now you can kick its ass.
  • Nonagad. Chapter 1. A dystopian tale of a community run by an ancient AI left by a long forgotten government to keep the human race going and what happens when humans who had been left to fend for themselves come upon it.
  • I Was: My Prior Life. My longest incomplete work. Several chapters have been adapted into standalone short stories and have been published in various anthologies. A zombie-based tale of love, loss, and betrayal.
  • The Detective’s Nephew. Sorry, no link to this one. Buddy detective story set in noir style of a disgraced cop and his gender fluid nephew in a time when such things were ignored or frowned upon at best. Semi comedic.
  • A Spirit’s Guide To Spirits. Also no link. Another longish start and one of my favorite WIPS, (Work In Progress.) Everyone has a spirit guide, a fairy Godmother type whose only power is to suggest the path people should take in their day to day decisions. Like people, because they were at one time, some are better at it than others. Not everyone can see them, and even less can interact, but Nate Thompson, a hard-drinking PI, can see and interact with all of them ever since he died and was brought back while in the war. I’d like to say hilarity ensues, but it’s a much darker tale.

In addition to going over, and in some cases locating the files for the above, I’ve Beta-read a short story for a fellow indie, Lynn van Lier. It’s not my place to give anything away in her tale, but I can say there is a lot of good stuff there, she’s got a winner going.

I also researched a couple of websites looking for submissions, and am working on trying to revise a 2K hero-based story down to under 1,000. I’ve got a modern political twist brewing but not a lot of time to get it done.

I’ll update my progress next week.

Feel free to look at the linked stories and please share and leave comments.

Thanks all.

 

2018 Literary goals

In order to achieve my dream of writing during my retirement–which in the interest of full disclosure won’t happen for at least another decade give or take–I’ve decided to use this new year for a new plan.
Up until now I’ve written, and had published, a lot of short stories, but nothing that paid me anything needing to be declared on my taxes. In 2018 I want to change that.

Every day this year I will do something to forward that goal: write a bit of substance, edit, read–yes, reading counts as progress–submit, anything to grow and create.
Each day I’ll post what I’ve done.

Today, January 1st–Happy New Year, BTW–I’m re-editing my Romcom ‘Stolen Love’ for submission to a romance collection.

This story has already been published but since I retain the rights to it–and I just heard about this yesterday with a deadline of today–I’ll send it off.

Good luck to all of you in your endeavors and I wish you a Happy, healthy, and safe 2018.

–Edited to include the link to the existing anthology.
The Way To My Heart Anthology

–Edited.
Submitted to Smoking Pen Press.

Smoking Pen Press

Oma’s Cocoon. (2017 NYCM FF. Rnd 2, Grp 34.)

Oma’s Cocoon

2017 NYC Midnight Fantasy Flash Fiction challenge.

Fantasy/a cancer treatment center/a chain-link fence.

A family matriarch takes a walk through her to life to make a fateful decision.

 


 

Martha Lutz knitted while Nurse Barnes hooked the intravenous drip into the PICC line. Martha’s blue and white yarn had numerous dropped stitches and obvious flaws. Following the pattern had been difficult due to the necropathy in her fingers caused by her cancer treatment.

Nurse Barnes noticed her patient having trouble, “Why don’t you take a break. Maybe try to get some sleep?”

“Thank you, dear, but I need to finish this for my granddaughter. She’s having my great-grandson any day, and I’m afraid this still needs a lot of work.”

Nurse Barnes smiled and walked away.

Martha struggled to fix some of the defects, and had decided to give up for the time being when an older nurse approached her and placed her hands on Martha’s. Despite Martha’s loss of feeling, her touch comforted her.

“Hello, Martha.” she said. My name is Nurse Schmidt. I’m going to help you. Let’s go for a little stroll shall we?”

Martha’s eyes brightened, “Schmidt is my maiden name.”

“Oh really, that’s nice. Maybe we have some common relations. It’s a small world after all.”

Martha said, “Thank you for the lovely invitation, but I can’t go anywhere. The medicine, the tubes.”

“Don’t worry dear, I’ll take care of them.”

Before she was even aware that she had been disconnected, Martha and Nurse Schmidt were walking on a great green field along a chain-link fence. The day was overcast, the sun’s rays dimmed by low grey clouds. The field on the other side seemed darker, somehow just out of focus. It appeared as though on that side, it might rain.

Through the steel wire, Martha could make out a familiar house. As they drew closer, she recognized it as her childhood home. They stopped at a locked gate. The silver padlock did not appear to have a slot for a key.

In the home’s backyard, her father played fetch with a black Labrador retriever; her mother and Martha’s twin sister as a young girl were tending to the flowers in the garden.

“I’m the only one who escaped the fire.” She wiped her cheek with the back of her hand. “Momma and Bertha loved working in that garden. Bertha was my best friend, I miss her terribly.”

“She knows, Bertha spoke very fondly of you when we took our walk along this fence.” Nurse Schmidt shook her head, “She was in so much pain. She’s waiting, but is in no hurry for you to join her.”

They stopped at another locked gate, she saw Kurt—her late husband—throwing a football to their son, Max. Tears obscured her sight. “My boys, my sweet, sweet boys. Kurt and Max would play catch for hours, they were so close.”

Martha explained, “My Kurt had heart issues. It was very hard for him to do anything. On the night he passed, he kissed me goodnight, as he always did, and said he was sorry for the times I had to be on my own and regretted that he’d be leaving me.”

She pressed closer to the fence, “He never woke up.” She sniffed back the tears, “And our son Max left his young pregnant wife to fight in the war. He never met his daughter, our only grandchild.”

Martha gazed at the two playing and smiling.

“I wish they could be back with me.”

Nurse Schultz pulled a small golden key from her pocket.

“Some get to choose; others have that decision made for them. You’re one of the lucky ones. You can decide to be with them, but you must be sure.”

The crack of a bat and a cheering crowd behind them caught Martha’s attention. She turned to see a girl, running around the bases, arms waving about her head. “There’s our Ada now. She had just hit her first home run, we were so proud of her that day.”

Martha looked at Nurse Schmidt and said, “She’s pregnant with my great-grandson. I’m making her something to keep him swaddled and warm. But that poison they’re pumping into to me to fight the poison that’s killing me, makes it hard for me to feel the knitting needles.”

“Don’t worry about that right now. I’ll help if you choose to stay.”

They reached the end of the fence line. The final gate closed, but did not lock.

Kurt stood by the gate holding a bouquet of white roses. Martha’s favorite. He smiled despite the tears streaming down his cheeks. He held his free hand out to her.

Nurse Schmidt said, “It’s up to you, Enkelin, to walk through the gate and be with them. It’s your choice.”

Martha reached for the gate.

The musical lilt of a giggling baby stopped her. Turning, she saw Ada pushing a carriage.

Stepping to Ada, Martha peered inside the carriage and saw a smiling child snuggled in a pink and yellow wrap.

Martha said to Nurse Schmidt, “No Oma, I’ve got some knitting to finish. And it looks like I must start it all over again.”

Kurt lowered his hand, nodded and faded into the fog beyond the fence.

A gentle rocking awakened Martha. A very pregnant Ada stood before her.

Oma Martha, I’ve come to drive you back to Shady Gardens.”

Martha eyes brightened as she reached up and touched Ada’s face.

Ada noticed the knitting on Martha’s lap. A flawless, pink and yellow baby-cocoon. “Who is this for?”

“For your little liebling, of course.

“It’s beautiful, how did you manage with the numbness?”

“A nurse helped me.”

Ada looked at Nurse Barnes unhooking her grandmother.

“Not her my dear, Nurse Schmidt. The older one. She has my maiden name.”

Nurse Barnes shrugged and whispered to Ada, “We don’t have a Schmidt. The chemotherapy sometimes gives them very vivid dreams. I wouldn’t worry about it.”

Ada looked back to Martha, “Oma, I thought that I had told you the doctor said our baby would be a boy?”

Martha laughed, “Trust me, Enkelin, Omas know things.”

Stolen Love

Written for the 2017 NYC Midnight Short Story challenge, round one.

I was tasked with writing a complete tale in a week given these prompts:

Romantic Comedy, a baker, kleptomania.

I’ve read two of the stories in my group, (Grp. 23,) and both follow the same logic, one is somewhat similar to mine, the other is, unfortunately for me, hilarious. Thankfully at least three of us move on to round two.

Comments and shares are welcome.

Stolen Love

By Miguel A. Rueda (Wayne Hills.)

Synopsis:

A shy woman pilfers items from a local baker to satisfy her desire to be with him. Meanwhile, a lonely baker allows a woman to steal from him in order to keep her close to him.

Luciana ‘Lulu,’ Migliaccio’s home resembled the aftermath of a small Midwestern town following a level-5 tornado crammed into a twenty by twenty studio apartment. But the objects on the table near the door were arranged in precise, matrix-like order.

Stale cookies—sugar and with various fillings—lined the front edge; dehydrated donuts—previously jelly or crème filled—occupied the next row; and several small display signs—one declaring a “2-for-1” sale, another a “Baker’s Dozen” special—were against the wall. The arrangement created a tiered effect around the table’s focal point, a framed newspaper clipping.

Picking up the picture, she gazed at the man standing in front of ‘DaVinci’s Italian Bakery.’ The article’s headline read, “Enzo DaVinci Carries on Family Tradition in Brother’s Memory.” She held the thin wooden frame with her fingertips so as not to dislodge any of the paint pulled from the wall when she had stolen it. The memento, along with everything else on the table, had been taken from DaVinci’s.

The smell of anise floated into her apartment. “Enzo must be making biscotti,” she muttered.

When baked, the extract produced a distinct aroma that comforted her. She loved to dunk the oblong biscuit in coffee and let the hard shell soften. She closed her eyes and imagined the texture of the dough melting against her tongue, the feel of the softened hazelnuts filling her mouth. She smiled at the thought. It was heaven.

She opened her eyes, kissed the glass, and placed the frame back on the table. She put on her bright-red overcoat and left her apartment. Which was one floor above the kitchen of DaVinci’s bakery.

Enzo was indeed making biscotti. He had just pulled out the long flat loaves to let them cool before slicing them into their familiar shapes and returning them to the oven. This process gave the twice-baked cookie its literal name.

DaVinci’s front half had tables and display cases with a one-way mirror separating it from the kitchen so that Enzo could see what was going on while he worked. The entire store took up a third of a block with the entrance to the apartments above the stores at the opposite end.

He inhaled deeply and let his mind return to the small town near Sicily where he grew up. His grandmother had lived in the tiny kitchen of the apartment on the second floor of his parents’ home. She gifted him his love of baking, especially bread and desserts.  Food made her happy, which made him happy. In his mind, the scent was the smell of home—of love—of eternity.

“Uncle Enzo.” The squeak and subsequent thud of the door separating the kitchen and retail spaces broke Enzo’s daydream. “She’s back.”

Even though he had lived in the United States for the last decade, Enzo spoke with a thick Italian accent. It added a poetic lilt to everything he said. “Who is back, Gio?”

“That woman who keeps shoplifting. The fat lady….”

Basta, Giovanni! Do not disrespect anyone. Your Nonna looks the same way, no?”

Gio nodded, “Yes uncle, you’re right.”

Enzo peered into the shop. She stood by the door like a mouse poking her head through a hole checking for a cat, ready to flee at the first sign of danger.

Enzo said, “That woman is the perfect woman, Gio. She is, eh, Rubenesque.”

Gio’s face skewed. “Ruben-who?”

“Rubenesque. Like the woman’s body painted by Rubens? You are not taught this in your fancy college?”

“Do you mean, Rubik’s, like a Rubik’s cube?”

Enzo glared at Gio. “Si’, nephew. I mean she is a Rubik’s Cube.” Shaking his head he looked back at her, “She is not a square. What person is square?”

Gio mumbled, “Well, you’re a bit of a square.”

Enzo threw a handful of flour at Gio. “Kids today, no respect. What with your, eh, Facepage and constant tweetering.” He pointed to Gio, “Go out there. Apologize to that pretty lady.”

“Um, no uncle. I’m not doing that. What would I even say? I’m sorry I think you need to lose a few pounds but my uncle thinks you’re cute?”

Enzo blushed, “No, no, no, do not mention me!” He thought for a moment. “Ah, tell her she won something. A, eh, free coffee for being our hundredth customer today. Go. And ask her name.”

Gio smirked, “You want me to ask her name? Why would I….” Realization came to him. “Oh, you do like her. That’s why you let her get away with taking stuff.”

“Gio, stop. That is absurd.”

“Oh really, unc? I’ve known you ever since my pop got sick and you came to help us keep the bakery. You weren’t married in Italy, and you’ve never dated here. You’re always in here, baking. You took care of us when my dad passed away, but we’re good now. I’ve seen the way you look at her. Go ask her out.”

Enzo looked at Gio, then back out the window, “Okay, nephew, I will do that.” He wiped his hands on his apron, then ran his fingers through his hair, adding in more flour than he wiped away. He took a deep breath and walked out.

When he opened the door, Lulu was trying to slide a plate of cellophane-wrapped cookies under her coat. The hinges’ squeal drew Lulu’s attention. When she saw Enzo looking at her, she dropped the cookies and ran out.

“Wait!” Enzo rushed after her.

He picked up the plate and followed her. He saw a flash of red as she ducked into the entrance for the apartments. Hurrying through after her, he found a second, locked door leading into the building.

He looked around and saw an intercom unit. A quarter-sized glass bubble sat atop a mesh grill covering the speaker. Four handwritten name tags sat beneath it: Sam Cohen, another with indecipherable Chinese lettering, a third that had several small bats and a skull sketched onto it, and finally, in perfect script, the name Lulu Migliaccio.

Guessing that it had to be her, he pushed, and believing it was necessary, held the button next to her name. The electronic ringing from the speaker stopped when a small lightbulb inside the button lit up.

He heard a woman’s voice, out of breath, quiet and sounding far away, “Hello, can I help you?”

Ciao. Eh, hello Signorina Migliaccio. This is Enzo DaVinci from the bakery. You dropped your struffoli.” He released the button.

She had heard him speak in the bakery, but he’d never said her name. When he pronounced, Migliaccio with a proper Italian accent, it sounded operatic. She stared at Enzo on the small monitor set into the wall above her shrine to him. His voice, deep and exotic, wrapped her in a warm blanket of love. Her mind drifted on the possibilities.

Enzo placed the cookies on the package shelf below the mailboxes and pushed the button. “Hello. Eh, Miss Lulu, are you still there?”

His voice pulled her back to the present.

“Yes, I’m here.”

“Your cookies are left by the door. Eh, if you are free, I would like you to join me at eight o’clock tonight for coffee and dessert.” He released the button. Then quickly, and unnecessarily, he pushed it again, “My, eh, treat.”

He stepped back and waited for her response.

Lulu watched him fidget. In the mirrored wall of the lobby, he noticed his hair was speckled with clumps of dough and streaks of flour. He licked his fingers and tried to brush it away, succeeding only in making it stick out at odd angles in some places and plastering against his scalp in others. She laughed at the short, chubby man on the screen who had no idea she could see him.

“Enzo, yes. I would be happy to.”

She saw him smile and reach for the button. He paused and, unaware she could hear, whispered, “Vincenzo DaVinci, you are going to marry this woman.”

He pushed the button, “Thank you. I will see you tonight.”

In the weeks before that evening, Enzo had watched her from behind his mirrored partition. Every morning as she walked past the store to the bus stop on the corner, she glanced in. If it were empty, she would open the door and grab anything close enough to steal without having to enter. Enzo began to leave items near the entrance, each day moving them a little farther inside. One day, she had made it halfway to the counter when someone walked in behind her. Startled, she turned and scurried out, only stopping long enough to grab a framed newspaper article off the wall.

Since that day, he had vowed to confront her. Not about the thefts, but about his feelings for her. Despite her size, he knew she was invisible to all those around her but him; he saw her as demure and fragile. They had to be alike: lonely, but too shy to do anything about it.

Enzo closed early that evening, returned home and showered; making sure that his hair was combed neatly and remiss of extraneous baking supplies. At eight o’clock, he walked to her apartment and pressed the intercom. It rang only once. “Hello, Enzo. I’ll be right down.”

“Si’, I will wait.” He released the button and waited a full fifteen minutes before reaching to press it again.

A familiar fragrance stopped him. He caught a whiff of Biagiotti Roma, the same perfume his grandmother wore. Lulu opened the door. The voluptuous beauty he had been searching for all of his adult life stood before him. Her eyes sparkled in the dim light. His voice barely audible, he said, “Buona sera.” He coughed to regain the power of speech. “Eh, good evening, Lulu.” He held out his arm for her to hold as they walked back to the bakery.

He had set a table up in the center of his kitchen; he always felt most secure surrounded by the equipment and tools he loved. They talked, nervously at first since they knew virtually nothing about each other. Neither could admit they had secretly been stalking the other.

He had made mini-cannolis overflowing with a vanilla-bean-infused ricotta filling. By the end of the evening, they had made plans to meet the next night.

Enzo walked her home and returned to his kitchen. He wasn’t surprised when he found that one of the espresso demitasses was missing. He looked up toward the apartment above him and blew a kiss.

“One day, all of this will belong to you. No matter if you take it piece by piece or all at once.”

They continued to meet every night at the same time. Enzo would make special versions of the desserts that made the bakery popular. Cannoncini filled with dark-chocolate mousse, linzer cookies with raspberry jam that had a perfect balance of sweet and tart, each tiny seed exploded with flavor. Enzo always served them in odd numbers so that Lulu could have the last one.

At end of their first week, Lulu stopped stealing from the bakery. That evening, she had snuck out with a half-filled silver creamer in her purse. She had been nervous, and secretly excited, as he walked her home. Inside her apartment, she looked at the table she had piled with everything she had pilfered and realized that she no longer needed that thrill to feel connected to him. She now had all of him.

She threw away everything with the exception of the framed newspaper. She had other plans for that.

On their one-month anniversary, Enzo set the table with a pure-white tablecloth, linen napkins, and two slender ivory candles in silver candlesticks. He replaced the usual porcelain plates with fine Italian china that he had shipped from his hometown. In the center of the table sat a plate of seven pignoli cookies. He baked the patterns of the small pine nuts into the cookies in pairs: two stars, two squares, and two circles. The seventh unique shape lay hidden beneath the others.

Lulu arrived, carrying a flat, rectangular box.

When she saw the special setting, she said, “Enzo, this is beautiful, I mean, bellissimo.” She had been studying Italian using a book that she had actually paid for. “Is this a special occasion?”

Si’ Lulu, it is.” He pointed to the package. “You have something special for me?”

“Oh, this? Yes. Perhaps we should sit.”

Enzo held the chair for her—just as he did every night—then sat and poured them both coffee.

“Enzo, before you open this, there is something you need to know.” She handed him the box. “I have a problem that I’m working on. I steal things. Little things, nothing big or expensive.”

Enzo chuckled. “Mio amore, eh, my love, I know. I have always known.”

He opened the box. He saw the picture she had taken from his wall.

She had reframed the clipping in an ornate gold frame she had purchased from an antique store.

“This is beautiful. Grazia.

“But Enzo, I…. “

“No.” Enzo reached across the table and placed his finger on her lips. “No more talk of the past. Tonight is about the future.”

Embarrassed to make eye contact with the man to whom she had just confessed her darkest secret, a secret he had accepted without question. Tears welled in her eyes. She tasted a cookie. The inner dough was soft and moist, the pignoli supple on her tongue. They reached the seventh, hidden cookie. Slightly larger than the others, the toasted nuts were set in the shape of a heart.

Enzo smiled and played the game he did every night. “I am full, Lulu. You take the last.”

She looked at the remaining cookie, the candlelight flickering off the glaze baked onto its surface. She knew that each pine-nut had been touched by Enzo’s loving hands. She began to cry.

Enzo’s smile fell, he started to stand, “Mio amore, what is wrong?”

Lulu stopped him, “Sit, I’m okay. It’s just so beautiful, everything. You’re just so lovely to me.”

She picked up the cookie and bit it in half.

She chewed once. Stopped. Looked at Enzo.

He rose and stepped around the table, kneeled and took her hand.

Signorina Luciana Migliaccio. Mi vuoi sposare? Lulu, my love, marry me.”

The musical poetry of his words, spoken with his beautiful accent, overwhelmed her. She began to shake. Between the excitement and emotion of the moment, she started coughing. Then she swallowed.

Enzo jumped up. “Lulu, did you…?”

Lulu grabbed her throat. She looked as though somehow she could find a way to jump back in time.

He took her hand. “Don’t worry, we will get help.” He led her to the door, stopping before opening it. “Lulu, I have to know.” He looked into her eyes, “Will you?”

No longer concerned about her predicament, she calmed. “Si’, Vincenzo DaVinci. Ti amo.”

My 9-11 memory

Cloudless blue sky, comfortable temperature, low humidity. The kind of day that when you walk outside, you place it on your mental, Top-10 days of the year. That’s the way my Tuesday, September 11th, 2001 had started. That’s the morning everyone in my town, fifteen miles due west of midtown Manhattan, started that day. We live within view of the iconic New York skyline, so close we took it for granted, we believed that since it’s always been there, it always would be.

At the time, I worked for ADT as a Systems Manager. That’s a fancy name for the one in charge of large integrated security and fire alarm installations. We had been at the Sheraton hotel across from Giants stadium for a couple of weeks. The hotel is ten miles from New York.

One of my guys told me that a plane had hit one of the towers. We thought it had to be small plane, like a Cessna, anything bigger would be impossible. The TVs in the hotel lobby were switched to a local news channel and the reporters were trying to make sense of it. No one could confirm what size plane had hit the tower, but from the smoke and flames, we all knew it had to something bigger. It occurred to me that we would be able to see it from the roof. The hotel is 21 stories, there are none taller between it and New York. From the roof, there is an unobstructed view to the city.

We took the elevator up, then climbed the two flights up to the access door. We reached the east corner and saw the smoke, could make out licks of flame from the edges. I called my wife, she worked at a building in Newark that I thought might also have a clear view. I regret this, because she too saw what happened next.

My call-waiting beeped and I saw it was my boss from the ADT office. I hung up with my wife and picked him up. He said they had rigged up a TV with rabbit ears and although the reception was grainy, they were watching the news cameras of the fire. He told me that the news report was that it was a big plane, a jet out of Newark airport. We talked about how crazy that was, how there’s no way that could have been an accident. In the distance, south of where we stood, I saw a jet flying toward the smoke. I began to narrate on the phone what I saw.

“There’s another jet coming.

He’s heading toward NY. Maybe he’s trying to get a better look. Not that makes sense but why else would he be going that way.

He’s still going that way, he’s heading right toward…”

I fell to my knees, I’d always seen that in movies and thought it was a contrived reaction, but I couldn’t hold up my own weight. My brain couldn’t handle what I had just seen.

A jet flew into the side of the second tower, and a ball of flame came out the other side.

You’ve seen the video, or maybe watched it happen live on a newsbreak on a small screen with just the plane and the building. We saw it in context of a beautifully clear day, the sun on our shoulders standing on that roof  with the rest of the New York skyline in view. A panorama of peaceful beauty framing the senseless horror of innocent people being sacrificed for what we didn’t know.

The next day my boss told me that he had put me on speakerphone so everyone could hear me and my voice reminded him of the reporter narrating the Hindenburg exploding. He said they felt the emotion and the whole office was in tears.

I looked behind me and my three coworkers had split as soon as the plane hit. They were getting out of the building. I stayed. I watched.

I called my wife and she was in tears, she had seen it too. I wish I hadn’t called her, maybe nobody there would have told her to look, maybe she wouldn’t have it engrained in her mind the way it is in mine. Maybe her dreams would have been spared.

I told her to go home. I was going to wait. Worst case I could walk home from there, only five miles, that’s nothing on such a beautiful day.

From other calls to and from my boss, I learned that there were other planes, other targets, other deaths. The FAA ordered all planes down wherever they were. Which means something unique about where we live, this close to three major and several minor airports.

You know how in movies that want to show how the future skies around big cities have spaceships flying to and fro, as though these aircraft have taken the place of earthbound vehicles? Those depictions crack me up, because that’s already our present. At any given time, we can look up and see no fewer than four, sometimes as many as ten airplanes and/or helicopters zooming along. We don’t even need to look to know they are there, even on the cloudiest of days we hear their rumbles, sometimes right overhead, other times off in the distance like a faraway thunderstorm. The sound of them is ever present. Mix that sound with NJ State Route 3 less than a mile from my house, it’s a main highway between the Lincoln tunnel carrying thousands of cars a day in and out of New York City, and the entire country to the west, and it’s never quiet here.

Except on this day. Silence. I remember thinking that must be what it’s like for most of our country on any random Tuesday afternoon. I’m not one for clichés, but in this case it’s appropriate, the silence was deafening. There were no planes, no cars on the highway, people didn’t know where they would strike next so nobody was on Rt. 3.

I watched a helicopter try to take off less than mile from where I stood, from out of nowhere a fighter jet swooped down from the sky forcing the helicopter back down. As swiftly as it appeared, it shot straight up and was gone into the clear-blue sky. It vanished.

Then the first tower fell. Collapsing into itself as flames, smoke, dust cascaded up into the sky. I knew there had to be firefighters and police in there. They would be trying to put it out, trying to save those trapped. When the second mimicked the first, I left. There was nothing left to see, no hope of the smoke suddenly stopping and then everything would be okay. And I was still standing on the tallest building for miles.

They burned for two weeks, we saw the smoke every day, when the wind was coming in off the Atlantic we could smell it. I knew guys who were there, I wanted to go, to help. But I knew there were men more qualified than I helping, and I suspected that the news reports that claimed the air was safe were bullshit. I have friends who went anyway, they’re all gone now. Victims of mysterious cancers and lung infections, years after they went to help people they didn’t know.

I had a couple guys in a training class in California who were supposed to come home later that day. With all flights cancelled indefinitely, they drove their rental car back. They called Hertz and said that’s what they were going to do, the agent told them they couldn’t, to bring the car back. My guy told me he said, “Sure, it’ll be in New Jersey tomorrow, go get it.” They drove straight through in a day and half.

Since then, we’ve learned who did it. The heroes who perished in New York, DC and in a field in Pennsylvania. Ten years later we got the man behind the attacks, but we’re still fighting, our boys are still dying. Two days ago a 29 year old neighbor, a veteran of Afghanistan, killed himself in his backyard. His mother found him.

I heard an NPR report that said the people in charge think this may go on for another ten to twenty years. Two more decades of our children and children’s children fighting to overcome this threat. There’s got to be another way.

Peace to you all, never forget.

2016 NYCM FF Round 1 Group 20

This is my entry for the first round of the 2016 NYC Midnight Flash Fiction challenge.
My prompts were, fantasy, a garbage dump, a pack of cigarettes.
Feel free to comment and share.

_______

One Brother’s Future.

Synopsis: Brothers Matt and Nate scratch out a life on their small island of garbage. Through tragedy, their mother’s wish for her son to find a better life is given another chance.

 

Nate jumped at the rumble of a fresh load approaching.

Content, knowing they had time before the truck reached their end of the dump, his brother Matt mumbled, “Chill, Nate.” Matt licked his paws and washed his black snout. “When the truck crosses the creek, he’s in our territory. Until then, it belongs to Rocky and his raccoon brethren.”

Nate circled the den, his thin tail slapping Matt as he poked his pointy head out through the hole they had gnawed into the discarded end-table.

“But Matt, Matt, what if he stops close? He does that sometimes. And it’s daytime. Daytime, Matt. We can run over and snatch something sweet. Just a treat, Matt. Something sweet.”

“Nathaniel.” Nate stopped fidgeting at the sound of his full name. “If it comes, it comes. If not, it wasn’t meant to be.”

Listening, Matt followed the truck’s progress. First the crunch of gravel as it entered through the rusted metal gate that marked the edge of their world.

He’d never been beyond that point. He’d only come close once.

Near the gate were the recyclables: plastic, glass, and large metal boxes that had once housed hundreds of their rodent relatives, deserted now that Dog lived there.

Dog’s shouts lived in Matt’s nightmares. “Rat-Rat!” Matt shivered in his matting, willing the memory of the day he saw Dog’s face up close from his mind.

The truck engine droned in waves as it wound passed the cement mountains where the birds lived. “Truck coming. Truck. Truck. Truck coming.” The birds talked a lot, but never really said anything.

Behind their end-table home lay a swamp. Throaty bullfrogs serenaded the dump with low-slow blues, and gators called like sirens, enticing the residents with the deceptive promise of an easy meal on fish and shrimp. Sometimes, the sly gators hid in the creek to catch an unsuspecting creature taking a drink. Fear kept Rocky and the other raccoons on the far side of the water.

Matt knew there were only three things the raccoons didn’t do: cross the creek, come out during the day—unless they were foaming at the mouth, and speak in the common tongue.

When the drawers of the end-table rattled. Matt opened his eyes and stretched in anticipation of the truck’s fat tires splashing through the water meaning there was only one possible destination left, Matt and Nate’s doorstep.

When he heard the engine roar and then stop without the splash, Matt settled into his bedding and mumbled, “It’s Rocky’s trash now.”

Over the incessant nattering of the birds, Matt heard Nate call out. “Candy box!”

Matt spun as Nate’s tail slipped through into the daylight. Rushing to the opening, he watched as Nate swam across the creek. Matt saw the human driver standing by the truck, a white and red box at his feet.

He reached the water just as Nate cleared the other side and grabbed the box. Instead of returning, Nate began to tear it apart.

“Nate, get back here!”

The moment he shouted, he realized his mistake.

The indecipherable chatter of the raccoons preparing to defend their land started as quietly as the romantic chirping of the crickets calling out in the night for a mate. By the time they were loud enough for the human to hear—and dash for the safety of his truck—Matt reached his brother.

Nate’s mouth was full of white paper and brown leaves. Filters hung from the ends of the cigarettes he had pulled from the pack.

“Matt, Matt, this candy isn’t very good. Matt, try some, Matt.”

“No Nate. We’ve got to—“

In a flash of brown and black fur, Nate vanished.

Matt panicked, his mind returning to another sudden swatch of brown fur at the main gate. Instead of the incoherent clicks and chirps of their attackers, he heard Dog’s shout of, “Rat-Rat,” just before their mother disappeared.

Between the raccoons forcing them into the swamp, and Dog terrorizing them when they went near the gate, they were the only three left of their kind.

She had brought him to the gate to tell him to leave. “Your brother Nathaniel’s a sweet boy,” she had said. “But he’ll never make it out there. One of us has to stay here with him.”

Nate’s screams broke his trance. “Matt, Matt, Rocky’s got me. Matt.”

Matt attacked the larger animal. His claws and teeth gnashing with a fervor that took Rocky by surprise. The sight of their leader releasing Nate made the other raccoons stop long enough for Matt to latch onto the scruff of Nate’s neck and drag him into the water.

The raccoons rushed to the edge and stopped, too wary to try to cross.

Matt dragged Nate back to their den, accompanied by the high-pitched buzzing of the flies as they called in the swarms. “Fresh blood. Fresh blood…”

Chunks of red, black, and white flesh hung from Nate’s belly.

“Nate, what were you thinking?”

Blood seeped from his mouth. “Matt, Matt, I’m sorry, Matt.” He clutched his prize, unwilling to release it. His eyes focused beyond the walls of their discarded home. “Matt, Matt, do you ever wonder if there’s anything on the other side of gate?”

“No Nate, not anymore. We’ve got each other, that’s all we need.”

“Matt, but isn’t mom out there?”

Matt’s chest tightened at the question.

“Yeah, Nate. She is.” He hadn’t the heart to tell his brother exactly what happened the day he’d seen Dog up close.

Nate’s breath began to come in short bursts. Matt knew the end was near. The end of both their lives in the dump.

Matt licked Nate, cleaning the blood from his brother’s whiskers. His vision blurred by tears, Matt smiled, “So, how’s that candy?”

“M…, Matt, it tastes better with a little spit on it.” His eyelids fluttered and closed. “Don’t eat the furry end part, makes your mouth dry.”

Nate’s voice, already small and weak, faded into silence. “Matt, Ma—-“