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—-“

 

 

Thoughts on screenwriting

I have a friend who is a movie producer. I’ve known him since grade school, (close to 50 years.) When we were young, we made Super-8 movies and waited patiently for them to be developed so we could watch and learn from our mistakes so we make the next one better.

He went on to work in TV and movies, and I went on to acting, and although I had to give that up to pay the bills, I kept writing in order to keep my muse happy.

A few years ago I decided to start sharing the stories I had written and try my hand at getting published. One of the things that had helped my story writing, was my decision to enter short story competitions. Several of my stories won rounds, received Honorable Mentions, and have since been published–including my first fully paid-for story.
Having succeeded at that goal, I’ve decided to try screenwriting.
When the desire to begin writing for film hit me, I did the same thing. I entered a NYC Midnight Screenwriting Challenge. (You can read my first screenplay here, A BARBED WIRE ROSE TAKES ROOT)
Although as of the time of this post, I’m still awaiting the results of that entry, my decision to learn and build my reputation by this method, turns out to be a pretty good idea.

My friend–remember him from way back at the top of this post?–sent me an article to read about the business of screenwriting by Chris Salvattera, an executive with HBO and someone who began his career by writing screenplays.

If you’re at all interested in the business, or wish to try your hand, read the article, it’s very informative.
 
The quote that prompted me to write this post.
 
“One way to help get your script in people’s inboxes is to do well in a reputable screenwriting contest. It’s a level of vetting your work, especially if you don’t have representation.”

Chronology of the Apocolypse release

Teaser note related to my  two stories included in this collection.

Chronology Amazon Link

 

Alex My son,

Today, on your eighteenth birthday, it’s time you knew the truth about your father.  Jason, the man you know as your dad, my husband, isn’t your father. His brother, the man you know as Uncle Jason, is your real father.

I’ve loved Auggie from the moment we met, but time, and the laws of our society, forced Jason and I to stay married.

 

 

 

Love you,

Mom.

 

A BARBED WIRE ROSE TAKES ROOT

2016 NYCM Screenplay challenge. Comments and shares welcome.
Prompts were:

Romance

A factory worker.

An apology.

Logline: A hard-edged woman, following a path to self-destruction, makes a life decision to change, and win back the love of her life.

 

EXT. WAREHOUSE DISTRICT – NIGHT

Red and blue neon reflect the words “GO-GO” off a shallow puddle. The street is illuminated by sparsely spaced streetlights. The building’s signs indicate their use. Fleetwood Bedding. Stewart Sprockets. Dyson Logistics.

Muffled, HARD-ROCK MUSIC is heard coming from a beat-up bar, the sign ‘WAREHOUSE GO-GO,’ flashes above the entrance. Half a dozen motorcycles are parked outside.

The THUMP of a large-bore engine is heard over the music.

ANGLE ON: A CUSTOM HARLEY DAVIDSON TOURING MOTORCYCLE.

The fuel tank on the heavily chromed bike has airbrushed roses with I-beams for stems, and flames for petals.

ROSALITA, 35, muscular body, is leaning back in the seat. Tufts of jet-black hair bulge from under her helmet. She is wearing a well-worn black leather jacket. Covering the jacket is a denim vest adorned with numerous patches.

CLOSEUP: PATCH ON VEST.

An image of Mount Rushmore with the words “STURGIS 2009” above. Below, there are smaller patches stacked: 2010, 2011, then two blank spaces, then 2014, and 2015.

Rosalita parks in front of the bar. Studying the sign as she removes a pack of cigarettes from her vest. She pulls a chrome lighter from her pocket, and lights a cigarette.

CLOSEUP: THE ZIPPO LIGHTER.

A pair of intertwined hearts are engraved into the side. One lace, the other barbed wire.

ROSALITA

(Mumbles)We can do so much better than this, Lou. I just hope you can forgive me.

Rosalita walks to the door.

INT. WAREHOUSE GO-GO (CONT’D)

The pulsating MUSIC is louder. Strobes and spotlights aim on a polished hardwood dance floor in the middle of the bar. A bikini-clad woman works the bar. Two, sans swimsuits, gyrate around chrome poles on the dance floor.

Three private booths take up the far wall. The two closest red-painted accordion doors are closed.

ANGLE ON: ENTRANCE

Rosalita enters the smoky bar. Rising from a barstool, the BOUNCER, 30, juiced up body-builder, stops her.

BOUNCER

Ten dollar cover.

Rosalita removes her helmet, her long hair tumbles out.

BOUNCER

Oh, hey sorry. Chicks are free. Drinks are half price too.

Rosalita unzips her jacket exposing her ample cleavage.

The bouncer’s eyes her low-cut, tight-fitting tee-shirt.

Rosalita smiles, drops her cigarette and cruses it out with the pointed tip of her boot. Leaning over, she places her helmet on the bouncer’s stool as she squeezes her bosom for maximum effect.

The bouncer’s leer deepens, his mouth curves into a grin.

In a flash, Rosalita flicks the back of her hand off the bouncer’s crotch. She grabs his throat with her other hand as he doubles over.

ROSALITA

My eyes are up here, bro. Got it?

The bouncer’s attention is now solely on Rosalita’s face, he nods his agreement and she releases him.

The bouncer is rubbing his throat and crotch at the same time, more embarrassed than in pain.

BOUNCER (COUGHING)

Sorry about that. No offense.

Rosalita picks up her helmet.

ROSALITA

I’m used to it, we’re good.

Rosalita looks around the bar.

ROSALITA (CONT’D)

Is Lucia working tonight?

The bouncer shrugs.

BOUNCER

Don’t know. Most of the girls don’t use their real names. She a friend of yours?

ROSALITA

Yeah. Hopefully more, if I can get her to agree to what I came for.

BOUNCER

What’s she look like?

She scans the room. Her nose scrunches at the stench of stale smoke and cheap cigars mixed with the sweat and desperation of the men paying for a moment of attention from women who wouldn’t glance at them in broad daylight.

ROSALITA

Lucia’s Jamaican. Dark skin, heavy accent. Short. Big boobs–

Rosalita sees LUCIA entering the open booth with an obviously drunk, MAN, 45, stocky and overweight, high-school football star decades past his prime.

ROSALITA (CONT’D)

Never-mind. Found her.

ANGLE ON: PRIVATE BOOTH ENTRANCE — LUCIA’S BACK.

Centered above her bikini top string is a large tattoo matching the dual hearts etched onto Rosilita’s lighter.

Lucia is carrying a small purse to hold her tips.

ROSALITA (CONT’D)

I met that guy earlier today. Seems like a douche. Who is he?

The bouncer looks as Lucia closes the booth behind her.

BOUNCER

The dancer is Kaya, and you’re right about that dude. That’s CARL. Thinks he’s King Shit. He’s the foreman at the sheet factory up the block. I think she works for him up there during the day.

The SONG ends and another upbeat SONG immediately begins.

Rosalita steps toward the booth.

BOUNCER (CONT’D)

Sorry, gotta wait. She’ll be done when the song’s over. Assuming she gets the job done in one.

ROSALITA (SIGHS)

A’right. Where’s the deejay?

The bouncer points to the other side of the bar.

Rosalita nods, then walks passed the seated men who, as if part of a wind-up clock, turn when she passes to check out what they see as “new talent.” Rosalita keeps her fists ready in case any of them have the nerve to say anything.

She hears MUFFLED MOANS when she passes Lucia’s booth.

Rosalita converses INAUDIBLY to the DEEJAY, 25, thin in the malnourished way a man who has an affinity for meth and cheap liquor would be.

After appearing to refuse to do what she’s asking him to, Rosalita reaches into her pocket.

CLOSEUP: ROSALITA’S LEFT HAND

Pulling cash from her pocket, she’s wearing identical silver bands, one each on her ring and pinky fingers.

She hands the deejay twenty dollars, he nods. She takes a barstool, and sits by the Lucia’s booth.

SONG plays as Rosalita sits in front of the booth.

FADE TO BLACK.

INT. FLEETWOOD BEDDING LOCKER ROOM – EARLIER THAT DAY

Rows of drab-green lockers line the walls. Lucia is half naked, changing out of her work clothes.

Carl comes up behind her.

CARL

End of another week, ‘eh doll?

Carl swings his hips.

CARL (CONT’D)

You wanna make some overtime for a little extra, physical labor?

Lucia, surprised by his approach, covers her bare breasts.

LUCIA (IN A HEAVY JAMAICAN ACCENT)

What are you doing in here, Carl! Get out before I scream.

CARL (LAUGHS)

Really, Lucia? You got nothing I haven’t seen in the bar.

Carl pulls out a folded wad of cash. He peels off a hundred dollar bill, and waves it in front of her.

CARL (CONT’D)

C’mon, baby? How ’bout a little of that island sugar? You know the game.

Carl points to his crotch.

CARL (CONT’D)

You keep the little boss happy…

Carl, using his thumbs, points to his chest.

CARL (CONT’D)

…he keeps the big boss happy.

Lucia puts on a multi-colored shirt from her locker.

LUCIA

Leave me alone, boss man. I have to take my boy to the sitter.

CARL

Not my problem your roommate ran out on you so you have to work two jobs.

Carl rolls the bill around in his fingers.

CARL (CONT’D)

Speaking of which, I hope you’re working tonight. I told some biker friend of yours you’d be there.

Lucia stops gathering her belongings from the locker.

LUCIA (PAUSES BEFORE SPEAKING)

I don’t know any bikers.

CARL

Well, she knows you. She’s a big broad, I wouldn’t mind getting a taste of that. I like it when they can put up a good fight.

LUCIA (SOFTLY)

Rosie?

CARL

Didn’t give me a name. I told her if she wanted to see you, to come down the bar later. I said you always do your best work in the dark. Thought she was going to slug me. Kind of turned me on.

LUCIA

Careful what you wish for. She’s more woman than you can handle.

Carl rips the hundred in half and stuffs one half into Lucia’s shirt pocket.

CARL

Take this as a deposit for later. Might be another one in it if we can get your girlfriend into the act.

Lucia looks at Carl with disdain. She’s forced to brush against him as she pushes passed him as she leaves.

CARL (CONT’D)

See you tonight, love.

FADE TO BLACK.

INT. WAREHOUSE GO-GO – PRESENT

Rosalita is sitting outside Lucia’s booth.

The SONG ‘Rosalita’ by Bruce Springsteen begins to play.

LUCIA (MUFFLED INSIDE BOOTH)

Lawd Jesus! That skinny white boy knows not to play that song.

Lucia opens the door. She’s pulling her bikini top back over her breasts.

Carl is standing, buckling his belt and zipping his pants.

Lucia’s expression changes from anger at the deejay, to recognition of her former love. She smiles, but it is quickly replaced by anger at Rosalita’s return.

LUCIA

Rosie! I thought you were out of my life. Why’d you come back?

Rosalita is smiling, happy.

ROSALITA

Lou. I’ve missed you. I’m sorry, I made a mistake, I’m ready now.

LUCIA (SCOWLS)

Empty words from you I don’t need.

Lucia shakes her head and starts to close the door.

Rosalita pushes Lucia inside and closes the door.

INT. PRIVATE BOOTH (CONT’D)

The Music’s volume is muffled by the door being closed.

There is a shiny black upholstered couch in the booth.

ROSALITA

Lou, please, I’m serious. I’m sorry I left.

Lucia slaps Rosalita’s hand off.

LUCIA

Don’t you “Lou” me. You lost that right. I’m just another notch in your leather belt.

Lucia looks defiantly into Rosalita’s face.

LUCIA (CONT’D)

Or is it a soldier belt? Which Rosie stands before me today? You like girls again? Want to prove you’re as hard as boys can be?

ROSALITA (HURT BY HER WORDS)

No, it’s not that. I need to be with you.

Carl steps between them.

CARL

Now we’re talking.

Both women face Carl.

CARL (CONT’D)

Hey, don’t let me get in the way of true love, but I wouldn’t mind watching.

LUCIA (ANGRY)

Shut up Carl. This is none of your business.

Carl pulls the wad of cash from his pocket.

CARL

I’ll make this worth your while…

Carl waves the cash in Lucia’s face.

CARL (CONT’D MOCKING)

Lou.

Carl thrusts out his pelvis and winks.

CARL (CONT’D)

C’mon, throw me a bone and I’ll throw you mine.

Rosalita steps to him and punches him in the face.

Carl staggers, a look of shock and disbelief on his face. He drops the cash before falling unconscious on the couch.

LUCIA (YELLING)

Rosie! That man’s my boss. He’ll fire me.

ROSALITA

You don’t need him, Lou. Him or anyone but me.

Rosalita grabs Lucia’s hand.

ROSALITA (CONT’D)

I’m sorry I doubted my feelings. I really do love you. I was afraid of the person I’d become in the shit. Afraid you wouldn’t want me like that. I know you had to make it by yourself. And then, when you had that kid–

LUCIA

You leave my boy out of this.

Lucia tries to pull away but Rosalita does not let go.

LUCIA (CONT’D)

You think I don’t miss the way it was before you raised your hand to go prove what a big, imaginary dick you have? Maybe if you didn’t go fight in a war that wasn’t yours to fight, I wouldn’t have my boy. Then, when did come back, you wouldn’t walk out on us both.

ROSALITA

You know I tried to make it work, but the baby made me feel I would always be second in your heart. I thought I couldn’t live with that. I was wrong, Lou. So very wrong.

Lucia shakes her head, listening but not believing.

ROSALITA (CONT’D)

I wanted to hurt you. Hurt you bad. So I ran. I was trying to bury myself in booze, and girls, and boys, and the road.

Lucia pulls her hand away, her eyes welling with tears.

LUCIA

I don’t need your history lesson, Rosie. I lived it.

Lucia walks to check on Carl. He’s moaning, but still out.

She turns back to face Rosalita.

LUCIA (CONT’D)

Say what you come to say. What reason you come back to play with my life again? I make do for me and my boy. He don’t need no daddy and he sure don’t need half another mommy.

ROSALITA

I was a mess out on the road, ended up in Vegas and met a man.

Lucia scoffs and tries to head for the door.

Rosalita grabs her by the shoulders to stop her.

ROSALITA

No, not like that, Lou. He helped me get sober. Him, his wife and their kid.

Rosalita begins taking the ring off her pinkie.

ROSALITA (CONT’D)

They were a real family, just like we can be. Like we should be. Something woke in me I didn’t know I was capable of.

Rosalita holds up the ring. She reaches out to Lucia’s left hand.

Lucia holds her hand back, but doesn’t retreat.

LUCIA

No, Rosie. Don’t you dare say what your thinking. Why would doing that make this time any different?

ROSALITA

Because I’m clean now. I’m not angry at the world or afraid to settle down and share your love with that little boy. And that means, you’ll share mine with him.

Rosalita kneels on one knee.

ROSALITA

The man I met in Vegas got me into the MMA. I’m a pro fighter now. I’m good, real good. I can make enough money to take care of all of us. You won’t have to work. You’ll stay home, be a mom to that boy like you always were to me. I want us to be a family.

Rosalita takes Lucia’s hand.

ROSALITA (CONT’D)

Lucia Clarke, will you marry me?

Lucia shakes her head, tears streaming down her cheeks. Lucia begins to nod.

LUCIA

Yes. Oh yes, my Rosie.

Lucia vigorously nods her head.

CLOSEUP: LUCIA’S HAND.

Rosalita puts the ring on Lucia’s finger.

Lucia hugs the still-kneeling Rosalita.

LUCIA (CRYING)

My barbed-wire Rose. My Empress. I love you, you stupid, stupid girl.

Rosalita stands. They embrace.

CLOSEUP: LUCIA AND ROSALITA’S FACES.

They kiss.

Lucia begins to gather the cash Carl dropped. She puts it in her purse, removes the ripped hundred, crumples it, and throws it onto his chest.

LUCIA

Here, you pussy-klat of a man. I don’t need your dirty money anymore. My Rosie is more a man than you’ll ever be.

Lucia goes to Rosalita, they kiss. Rosalita opens the door and they walk out.

The CLOSING STRAINS of SPRINGSTEEN”S ROSALITA rise.

FADE TO BLACK.

EXT. MT. RUSHMORE NATIONAL MEMORIAL – DAY -6 MONTHS LATER

The SOUNDS of motorcycles revving and idling is heard.

FADE IN:

A banner with the words “Welcome Riders. Sturgis Motorcycle Rally 2016” is strung above a parking lot full of motorcycles.

ANGLE ON: ROSALITA’S MOTORCYCLE FITTED WITH A SIDECAR

Arms comfortably around each other’s backs, Rosalita, Lucia, and a small boy stand side-by-side, facing the memorial.

(The SONG ‘KAYA’ by Bob Marley plays over.)

FADE TO BLACK.

The Will to Trust

NYCM 2016  Short Story Challenge.

Round 2, Group 7.

Romance.

Last Will and Testament.

A man with one eye.

Synopsis: A young woman’s accident cements her cynicism with the world, but provides her a way to become a successful lawyer, and break the cycle of abuse.

 

 

The chirping of the awakening birds and the sweet smell of late-spring azaleas accompanied Maria Ruttle as she raced her BMX bike through the neighborhood. She had hoped to deliver the morning’s newspapers before the mere act of breathing caused her to break out in sweat.

Fiery streaks of sunlight cut across the pre-dawn sky, intent upon beating the sun’s crest of the horizon, she sped through an intersection without checking for cross traffic. If she had, Maria might have noticed the taxicab about to run through the stop sign because the driver had been staring at a map.

The impact threw both girl and bike over the car, off the roof and into the street. The collision had spun her handlebars and driven the front-brake lever into her stomach. The damage to her still-maturing uterus was so severe that the emergency room doctors told her she would never bear children.

To Maria, her BMX was more than just a bicycle. Wherever she rode: hot and dry, cold and wet, and every-weather in between, it became her happy place. As long as she had those two wheels and the steady vibration of pedal to chain beneath her, she felt content in the wind away from her home. Already aware, by the age of twelve, that the people who were supposed to care for her could also be the cause of great pain, Maria sought mobile refuge from her abusive family. On that early summer morning she learned a hard lesson: every refuge had a price.

Maria’s parents sued the taxi company. The lawyers handling the case stipulated that Maria’s parents write a Last Will and Testament providing for a trust fund to pay for Maria’s college tuition when she graduated high school. Her parents settled for enough money to pay for a year-long bender, which—to the surprise of no one who knew them—led to their deaths facilitated by driving while blotto. The orphaned Maria was transferred into the state’s foster-care system.

She threw herself into her studies, graduating at the top of her class in both high school and college.

After her accident, she believed that she’d never trust anyone again without fear of betrayal or pain.

For the next twenty years, she was right.

***

Zackary Klein entered the law offices of Dewey, Smith, and Ruttle and approached the reception desk.

Jen Meyers greeted him, “Good morning, how may I help you?” Maria had hired Jen after becoming the youngest woman in state history to be made a full partner in an established firm.

Jen buzzed the intercom into Maria’s office. “Ms. Ruttle, I have a Mr. Klein here for you. He says it’s about the Henderson settlement.”

“He’s expected, send him in.”

Standing when the inner office door opened, Maria said, “Hello, Mr. Klein.”

“Please, call me Zack. No reason to be formal.”

Although they’d never met, Maria had heard of him. She recognized him by the leather eyepatch he wore. Around the local legal circuit, he had the nickname Pirata Per Curiam because he took no prisoners and always returned with the gold. Beyond his reputation as the ‘Pirate of the court,’ she had been warned of his ability to make women swoon. She hadn’t believed the gossip until that moment.

The thought occurred to her, that Zack losing an eye seemed like God’s cruel trick to even the playing field for other men.

“Yes, that’s acceptable. I’m Maria.”

He reached out his hand, “I hadn’t expected you to be so bea—” Zack coughed, “uh young, Maria.”

She shook his hand, a tingle of goosebumps ran up her forearm. A warm rush of blood washed through her. She released his hand and motioned for him to sit.

For the first hour of their meeting—which had been scheduled to take twenty minutes—they spoke about the case between their firms. Since both parties had already agreed upon the terms, there should have only been a few final details in the legalese to hammer out. But as the items on the list dwindled, Maria noticed Zack trying to learn more about her. In the past, she would have ignored the questions, or given misleading answers. She had to be in charge. She couldn’t trust anyone’s intentions, but something about this man seemed different. From the moment he touched her hand, she trusted him. Maybe it was their mutual respect for the law. She didn’t question it, she just accepted it.

They spent the second hour talking about their pasts. Maria talked about the taxi accident and the Will that had provided for her education; leaving out any mention of her family history. Zack told her about his love of riding his off-road motorcycle when he was younger. How the wind and speed helped him escape ‘a difficult family situation.’ And why the loss of his eye cost him more than just half of his sight. Without depth perception, he could no longer ride to escape.

When she asked him about what had happened to his eye, he changed the subject and shuffled the papers around the desk as though he’d remembered some obscure legal point they had missed. They both knew they hadn’t. They were too good for that.

Maria had been stealing glances at Zack across the desk throughout the afternoon. The eyepatch allowed her to look almost to the point of staring without fear of being caught. And a couple of times when she looked up, she saw his head snap back to the desk as though he’d been discovered peeping into a window. She hadn’t looked directly into his remaining eye until Jen asked if they’d be working late and would be needing dinner. When Maria looked at his face for his opinion, the sight of the deep blue of his remaining eye made her sad that the world had been deprived of its twin.

Zack noticed her holding his gaze and said, “How about this? If I make you laugh, we go out to dinner. People eat, and despite what my colleagues say, I refuse to believe that you’re simply a beautiful robot sent from the future to win all the cases you’re given. Deal?”

Maria smirked, outwardly unamused, even though she found the idea charming.

Zack smiled. “I’m not hearing a no.” He cocked his head and pointed to his eyepatch, “I’m winking. You just can’t tell because of the patch.”

Maria rolled her eyes.

“I only have eye for you. Boom-crash.” He mimicked a drummer doing a rim-shot on a snare-drum and hitting a cymbal.

She shook her head, smiled, and laughed.

“Ha!” He raised his arms in a touchdown signal. “Victory is mine. I’ll pick you up at seven; text me your address.” He stood and began gathering his things.

“Wait, I never agreed to your stupid bet.”

“Ah, but you didn’t not agree to it, either.”

“I’ll go under one condition.”

“You want to work out a plea deal for a date? Sure, bring it on, counselor.” He smiled.

Letting her guard down, she studied his face. Looking at his lips, she wondered how they’d feel against hers.

“You tell me how you lost your eye.” She pointed at his chest. “The real story, not the one you tell woman to get them go out with you.”

His smile fell. “Would you believe me if I said that I was running with scissors?”

“No.” Maria crossed her arms. “And may I remind you that you’re still under oath.”

Zack looked around the room. “I’m not sure I was ever actually under oath, but I’ll allow it.”

“Proceed.” Maria expected another cute reply.

Zack settled back into his chair. “Maria, this isn’t an easy tale for me to tell, and even though I don’t really know you, I feel a connection that, frankly, surprises me.”

He took a deep breath, exhaled and began. “I had been riding my dirt-bike in the woods behind my house. The longer I stayed out, the less time I’d have to spend at home.”

His words echoed Maria’s memory of her childhood. She knew how painful that life could be.

“About a mile out, there was a shack where an old homeless guy lived with his dog. A big old mutt of a black lab. He was smart and friendly—the dog, not the guy.”

Zack laughed, but didn’t smile. “I’d bring him food and he’d follow me around when I rode the trails. I made sure to never go too fast for him and always brought him home. He was my bud.”

Zack stared off in the distance, his mind drifting back in time. “I bought him a bright-blue collar, and I’d rub his big, bowling-ball sized head and he’d wag his fat tail. It was heaven being out there without worrying about—” He trailed off.

Although Maria knew it had to be the lighting, the tear that ran down Zack’s cheek appeared to be the same shade of perfect blue as his eye.

Zack coughed and wiped his cheek. “Well, my pop found out about me hanging around the shack and that old ‘flea-bitten mongrel,’ and he said that I brought parasites back to our house. The next day I rode out to the shack and it had been burned to the ground. The old man and his dog were gone. I didn’t know what happened to them, but when I found the blue collar in the rubble of the fire—”

Zack fidgeted in the seat and clenched his fists. “I flew home, smashing through branches and over rocks, didn’t care if I wrecked. Found Pop outside on the porch smoking God-knows-what. When he saw me, he just started laughing. I’m not proud to say it, but I was just a kid. I lost it. I grabbed a monkey wrench and ran at him. He knocked me down, took it away, and yelled that he’d teach me ‘if I was gonna pull a weapon, I damn better well use it.’ He swung for my head and I tried to dodge it, but he caught me in the face and ruptured my eyeball. He raised the wrench again, but as he swung, that old lab came out of nowhere and latched onto Pop’s arm and pulled him off me.”

Zack’s breath caught in his throat. “Pop was a strong, mean drunk and he threw the dog off. I was screaming and half blind, I couldn’t stop him from using the wrench on my friend, the only real friend I ever had who never asked me for anything. I was only twelve. What was I supposed to do?”

Zack inhaled twice in short choppy breaths. “Social Services finally took me away for what he did to me, but I’d trade my other eye if I could have saved that old dog. Hell, I never even gave him a name and he saved my life.”

Her vision blurred by tears of her own, Maria stood, walked around the desk and embraced him. “I’m sorry, Zack. I didn’t mean to make you upset.”

Maria sent Jen home, and then told Zack the rest of her story, details she’d never shared. They stayed in her office for another hour before finally going to eat the most satisfying meal either’d had in a long time.

After that first dinner together, they shared dessert, and a kiss.

Less than a week later, after their third date, they shared his bed.

For her wedding gift to him, she arranged to have a custom prosthetic eye made that matched his unique blue so that their family pictures didn’t need a patch of any kind. And they had many family photographs that included more than just the two of them, because the universe provided a wedding gift to them both. She became pregnant.

In the decades that followed, Maria and Zack lived, loved, and trusted each other in ways neither had thought would ever be possible.

End

https://www.facebook.com/AuthorWayneHills/

NYCM Short Story challenge 2016 feedback

I’ve placed 5th with my story, Quid Pro Quo.
These are the comments I received from the judges. They echo those I heard from readers after my submission.

Thank you to all for their comments.


”Quid Pro Quo” by Miguel A. Rueda – WHAT THE JUDGE(S) LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – …………………Interesting story. I love this bad-ass female cop. I enjoyed following her around as she invetigated the boy’s death. Nice job……………….You displayed very good pacing in disclosing the complexity of Laura Cole’s nature: tough & imposing initially, then missing her late, loving Dad, then her ethnic make-up and personal exposure to bullying: well done! You also did a fine job juggling a large cast of characters without reducing any of them to stereotypes. I was left with sympathy for her isolation and plight, but also a measure of faith that she’d prevail…………….The engaging and powerful dialogue distinguishes the different characters and really carries this piece. There was some serious drama going on here–well done, overall…………………….……………………………………………………………………………………………  WHAT THE JUDGE(S) FEEL NEEDS WORK – …………………I felt the ending could have been stronger. I would have liked to see her prevail somehow. ………………Make your log-line more enticing by turning it into a question: “Can a U. S. Senator secure a future for his daughter by trading favors?” I was at a loss as to how Detective Cole had connected the dots between the suicide-donor and the girl: I assume during investigation of the boy’s death, but include that piece. Finally: I thought the parents were over-the-top arrogant for a political couple who’d be skilled in spinning things to prevent scandal. In fact, let the father reveal the daughter’s nickname BEFORE the detective asks. You should make the couple more slick at first; then, when the daughter spills the beans re: her online bullying they can show their truly venomous natures…………….This is one of few pieces that might actually benefit from slightly more exposition. The ending wasn’t as strong as the rest of the piece. …..