The goal of this workshop is to give the participants an opportunity to share honest, friendly feedback that can lead to a well-critiqued and edited anthology to be proud of. Remember – Your work may never be seen by the devoted readers, agents or publishers who are looking for good writers, if their attention is lost before they get to your story. It’s in everyone’s best interest to help each other have fun and create stories the readers can’t put down.
There are a lot of inside jokes in this story. My wife and I watched our nieces for an afternoon, this is the story that came out of it.
When something doesn’t make sense, it’s one of those inside comments. In general, it can be followed. Just accept the things that seem a little off.
Puppies and Rainbows. The unexpected agents of the apocalypse.
By Wayne Hills
“Booo-hoo. My puppesch are schtuck in that building.”
The young girl, dressed in a black and red frilly dress, cried outside a nondescript warehouse. The child’s thick lisp, made it difficult for the policeman to understand what she was saying as he tried to comfort her.
“It’s okay little girl, we’ll find your dogs.”
“Schaank you, mischter polischman.”
Eve was frustrated that it took, this particular dolt, five minutes to figure it out. Conquering the world was becoming time consuming.
The policeman patted her on the head, turned on his flashlight, and walked through the rusted door.
The hallway was pitch black. Walls, ceiling, floor, all covered in some sort of light-absorbing paint. The strong beam of light didn’t reflect off any of the surfaces. The point that the spot hit, was where it stopped. Aiming it straight in front of him, the light seemed to disappear into the distance.
Turning to leave, he heard a faint whimper in the distance.
“Here pup.” He called into the dark. “C’mon boy. Or girl, whatever. Come here pup.”
He began feeling his way down the hall into the void.
That’s when he heard the snap. And the floor beneath him opened.
Flailing, his hands couldn’t grip the walls of the chute as he plummeted downward. Shouting as he fell, his voice joined that of others pleading for help. Many others.
Eve smiled. She removed a small remote control from her pocket, pointed it into the adjacent parking lot, and pressed one of several small buttons on the device. A hot-pink helicopter shimmered into view. On the tail, the call sign ‘DOMIN8 WRLD’ painted in bold block letters.
This is how it always started, one policeman will disappear into her trap. Two more will come to find out what happened to him. The only thing they’ll find is a ten-year-old girl crying over her lost puppies. They’ll go through the same door hundreds of others had entered. None of them had ever returned.
Those two will be followed by four more, than eight, and so on. Each group will find the girl and her tears.
Eventually they’ll all be gone. And Eve Lucinda, will be one step closer to her dream of world domination.
That is, unless the world can find a hero to stop her.
“Tacos” Quinn said as she sniffed the air.
“No, Miss Bowe. It’s cereal.”
Quinn halted raising the next spoonful of Lucky Charms to her mouth and looked at her assistant. “Not now, Maeby.” Her nickname for her assistant, Maybelline. “In the future. The tacos are less than a day out.”
The ability to smell was what yet to come was Quinn’s unique super-power. She’d been able to do it for as long as she could remember. It came in handy in surprising ways as she fought global crime.
The emergency phone rang.
Maeby picked up the bright red handset. “Yes, Madam President.” The leader of the world was the only one with the secret number, and therefore, the only one to ever call. And then, only when there was a threat to the planet.
“Yes ma’am.” Maeby tapped notes into a tablet as Quinn finished her breakfast. “Yes I see. Very good ma’am. I’ll let Miss Bowe know.” She hung up the phone, and brought the pad over to the table to show Quinn.
Using her free hand to switch between screens, she read Maeby’s notes and the global news reports as she finished her breakfast.
Quinn said between bites, “Looks like we have a new foe. Someone named, Eve Lucinda. She’s built herself a new helicopter. Bright pink, exploding cannons, ultra-speed capability. Nice vehicle for spreading mayhem.”
“Madam President said that she is suspected to be responsible for the disappearance of the police forces from New York, Paris, London, and they’re beginning to be reported missing in Mexico City.”
“Mexico?” Quinn dropped her spoon into her empty bowl. “Tacos are Mexican food, aren’t they?” She smiled at her assistant. “Is the sun up yet?”
“Just rising now Miss Bowe. Shall I prepare the uniform?”
“Yes, Maeby. Happy birth of a day. I’ll be riding rainbows today. I’ve got a fiend to catch.”
Minutes later, Quinn Raine Bowe, was dressed in her signature outfit. Sky-blue leotard, shiny-white spandex tights, multi-colored striped leg warmers. And her most recognizable accessory, her rainbow cape.
Quinn opened the massive doors to her patio overlooking a vast mountain range. Waving her hands, she summoned a rainbow to transport her across the globe.
“Maeby, alert the president that I’ll be going to Mexico City. I’ll be having tacos, and Eve L., for lunch.”
Eve watched her captives milling about the cell she had her minions build in the center of the Earth. The uniformed men and woman cried out to her for food and water.
She walked over to the captive nearest her.
“I have good newsch for you. Tonight you’ll have schefood.”
The man’s eyes lit up as he reached through the bars towards her.
She pulled an apple from her pocket and showed it to him.
“Scheee? Food!” A high-pitched maniacal laugh echoed through the chamber as she put the apple back into her pocket.
As she walked away, her assistant, and lead henchman Gizmo asked, “Wh-wh-why not just kill them-m-m-m all at onc-c-ce?”
She replied “I prefer to nibble on my prey.” And laughed some more at her own wickedness.
While analyzing a pile of nachos for the most efficient starting point, Quinn sat in a small plaza café waiting for her entrée’ of chicken tacos. This was her third restaurant of the day. The first was a lunch truck parked in front of the main police department. Those tacos smelled good, but were too spicy. The second, a restaurant named, ‘Just Salads’. This name turned out to be the literal description of what they offered. You’d order, pay, and hold out your hands in a bowl shape in front of the cashier. They would then place the salad into your hands. There were no bowls, no silverware, no napkins. Just salad. Although tasty, the messy taco salad smelled too much like the melted cheese that was poured over her hands and halfway up her forearms. Maeby was going to be angry at having to clean the stains from her outfit.
Quinn had to continue to look for a match to the smell from breakfast. Until she found the right taco, she wouldn’t be able to act. Her power was never wrong, the scent had to be the same or else she was in the wrong place, or there at the wrong time.
As she began picking at the warm chips of her nachos, balancing the bean, to meat, to cheese proportions perfectly, a police car sped past. It was heading towards the factories and storage buildings near the outskirts of the city. She listened in on the local emergency radio-bands for any suspicious announcements.
A plate of tacos was placed in front of her.
“He-he-here you are ma-ma-ma-ma’me.”
“Thank you.” Quinn said, unaware of her waiter’s true identity.
She leaned over and inhaled deeply. The smell didn’t match.
“Oh well.” She said.
The waiter asked, “Is th-th-there something wro-wro-wrong?”
“No, everything is fine. The tacos just don’t smell the way I need them to.”
“Sorry. I-I-I forgot the li-li-lime.”
He took the lid off a small bowl on the tray he had carried to the table, removed a wedge of lime, and squirted it around her plate.
Quinn leaned over and sniffed again. The scent matched. She had found the location.
As she stood, two more police cars sped past heading in the same direction as the first.
“I’ve got to follow those cars.” She said to the waiter.
“Not schoo fascht.” A small voice said from behind her.
Quinn turned to see a child, a girl standing behind her chair.
“Who are you?” Quinn asked.
“You’ll schee schoon enough. Did you know that gullible isch written on the scheiling?”
Puzzled, Quinn looked up. Before she realized that she had just fallen for, perhaps, the oldest trick in the book, Eve L. shocked her with a Taser, knocking her unconscious.
Quinn awoke tied to the spire on top of the city’s tallest building. The metal antennae was used for the Government’s police and military radio communications. It was dark, well past midnight.
She saw the same girl from the plaza. Realizing who she was, she said, “Eve L., I should have known it was you. Our intelligence warned me that you only employ minions with speech impediments.”
“That’sch right, Misch Rainbow. You’re not schow schmart are you?”
“Why are you doing this Eve? What do you hope to accomplish?”
“Puppesch, of coursch. They muscht be schaved.”
Quinn’s brow furrowed, “Shaved? You capture policeman because you want to shave all the puppies?”
“No. No. No! Not shaved. Schaved. I want them to be schafe.”
“Oh.” Quinn said, realizing that Eve’s lisp could really confuse some things. “You want to, save, them. Protect them from harm. Now that makes sense. But why capture all the policeman? Won’t they want to help you?”
“I tried that, I releasched a video of my manifeschto, aschking for people to schtop being mean to puppesch.”
Eve pulled the remote device out of her pocket and pressed a button as she pointed it in front of Quinn. A holographic image appeared of Eve holding a pair of dachshund puppies. She was standing in a room with black walls. On the wall behind her, written in dripping red letters, were the words, ‘Zombie Party’. The 3D image began to speak.
This is what Quinn thought she said.
“Hello, what’s up? This is fun. Chiefs chill stun chill chill. Faculty still rtffmm. Do Dublin cleric oque. Couch grew cup. Haw haw.”
Eve shut off the projection and looked at Quinn.
“Schee, it kchouldn’t be kchlearer.”
Quinn knew she was dealing with someone who would be hard to reason with. She also knew that Eve didn’t know how the rainbow ability worked, and although tied up, she would soon have the upper hand. The sky was already beginning to lighten, Quinn just needed to stall until the sun broke the horizon.
Quinn said, “I know what you mean. I can help you. I love puppies too. And kittens.”
“No kittensh!” Eve’s eye’s glared at Quinn. “Kittensch grow up to be catsh. And catsch are mean to puppesch.”
She turned to her minion Gizmo. “Gizscmo, releasch the toe fungisch.”
Quinn shivered. Eve did know something about her after all. Toe fungus was her weakness. If allowed to infect her, her rainbow power would become unstable, she wouldn’t be able to control it.
“Wait. I’m sorry.” Quinn said. “No kittens, I don’t know what I was thinking.”
Eve held her hand up to Gizmo to stop him from opening the vial containing the fungus.
“Why schould I believe you, Rainbow?”
“I can help, I can protect the puppies, but I have to know why you’re doing this. Why do you want to defend them so badly?”
Eve paused, her hand holding Gizmo in check wavered slightly. Quinn held her breath. Not much longer until the sun’s first beams broke into a new day.
“Becausche of my speesch impediment. Puppesch are the only thingsh nicshe to me.”
“Oh, I’m sure that’s not true.” Quinn was bluffing. “I can get you help for your speech too. You don’t have to be evil.”
“But thatsch my name. Eve Luschinda. Eve L.”
Quinn shook her head. “No, not Eve L. You are Eve L., you don’t have to be evil, Eve L.”
Eve thought about what Quinn had said. She waved Gizmo off and he returned the vial to the small case at his feet.
The sun’s first beam reached across the sky.
“Happy birth day.” Quinn said.
“Itsch not my birschday.”
“Not Birthday.’ Quinn replied. “Every sunrise is the birth of day. Happy birth day.”
“Sunrisch?” Eve realized that Quinn had been stalling. “Gizschmo, the fungisch!”
It was too late for them. Quinn twirled her finger creating a tiny rainbow that untied her restraints.
She yelled to her captors, “Hey, what’s that over there?”
Falling for the oldest trick in the book, Eve turned to look behind her. Quinn spun her hand in a circle creating a rainbow lasso that ensnared her foe and her henchman.
A year later, Quinn and Eve were best friends. Quinn had released all the policeman from their prison. They promised to protect the puppies of the world from harm. And secretly agreed to watch over kittens too but thought that it would be better to keep that information from Eve.
Eve and all her minions had begun speech therapy paid for by all the people who also wanted puppies to be safe. Turns out she was a bit of a folk hero.
Early one morning, Quinn signed Eve out of her world-court assigned jail cell to take her out into the world for her first day back into society.
Quinn said, “Happy birth day Eve. Where should would you like to go for lunch?”
Eve replied, “I know a good place for salads. A little messy, but they make a good taco.”
For Eva and Julia. By Uncle Miguel and Aunt Susan.
My step-father passed away recently. I felt compelled to write this piece.
I had a dad for the first ten years of my life; I don’t remember much of the man.
He was tall, granted I was a child so everyone was. He had a permanent 5 O’clock shadow. He kept a collection of electric razors next to his mahogany-red leather recliner, he’d sit in the chair buzzing away at the stubble whenever he was home. And he drove a dark blue ‘66 Corvette, which sparked my love of muscle cars. I remember riding in that fast, loud, sports car as he sped through a toll booth and threw change at the basket without slowing down.
That’s about it. Not much to go by as far as fond memories of my father.
When he passed away in 1970, he left our mom alone with six children, three older, two younger. For the next seven years our mom raised us without help.
During these formative years, we had a lot of unsupervised time to ourselves. I for one, and I don’t think I’m going out a limb when I say I was not unique, did things that I’m not proud of. Made a lot of dumb choices, went down some roads that I wouldn’t have if there were a strong male figure present during my teenage years.
When I was a junior in High School, our mom adopted a boy who needed a stable home. We already knew him, and he was my age, so he fit right in. What’s one more when you’re raising six already? Seven teenagers, one house, one parent working full time. Although we did bicker and play hard, we learned to look out for each other.
That’s about the time our mom met John. He had two children of his own, (cue the Brady Bunch theme music here.) The youngest of the pair, a boy, was named after him. So we, the wise-asses that we were and continue to be, called the son, Little John, and our mother’s new beau, Big John. A name that stuck with him for the next four decades.
A paragraph ago, I mentioned that we were a group of seven fatherless children growing up in the early ‘70s. Let that sink in for a moment. The 1970’s in the United States. There was a lot going on in this country back then. When mom and Big John met, we were a rock and roll, authority thumbing, foul-mouthed group of teenagers. Although we loved and feared our mom, each of us at some point realized that we were bigger than her, a stern smack on the butt no longer held us in check. I should also point out with some personal embarrassment, that I began to like the taste of soap. That punishment no longer worked either.
Big John worked for the telephone company in a management positon. I don’t think we ever knew what he did for a living. Whatever it was, that job wasn’t the relevant information to a bunch of wild long-haired kids. Big John’s previous job was. He was a Drill Instructor for the US Marine Corps. (Cue the Halls of Montezuma music here.)
You can see our dilemma.
“Feral, (in a suburban neighborhood kind of way,) teenagers, meet, (stereotypical symbol of authority,) USMC-DI Big John. Our first few years were not smooth.
Despite the rough introduction, this was the family that Big John met, and still decided to marry into. A year later, we had an addition to the family when mom and Big John had a baby of their own. In a way, our little, ‘Buglet’, pulled us together. But this story’s not about her, or us.
It’s about how a man, who after devoting himself to our country, devoted his life to a woman with seven children, to our family. And as we learned more about what drew our mom to him, we found out that his desire to help others extended beyond our combined home.
Big John was a volunteer fireman in our town, and an active member in the BPO Elks, serving as the Exalted Ruler in the local lodge. He was a good man to all who knew him.
He was our step-dad for longer than my father was my dad, four times as long. He was with me through the years following high school when I was deciding what to do with my life. Helped me go to a trade school, without which I wouldn’t be where I am today. Introduced me to slow, odd-looking Swedish cars. I’ve owned six Volvos since then, and was proud to show him every one of them.
When any of us got married and had children of our own, he was the man they knew as grandpa. When we lost the youngest of our original six in a car accident, he was there for our mom. And when we lost our mom to cancer, he was there for us. And we were there for him. Mom took care of all of us, and when she was gone, Big John needed us to help him. He was more than just a step-dad or Big John, as endearing as that nick-name had become. I’m sorry now, that I never said it to him, but he was my dad.
Big John passed away this morning. We’ll miss him in our lives, and keep him in our hearts.
Rest in peace dad.
John J. Kmetz, 04/20/1939 – 02/11/2015.
My first round entry in the 2015 NYC Midnight short story competition. Feel free to comment.
Genre = Drama
Character = A juggler.
Vietnam veterans, Mick and Felix, spend a typical day living on the streets of New York City in the early 1970s.
“Grass—dime bags—loose joints.”
Although well after lunchtime for most of the city’s residents, it was ‘up at the crack of noon, first-thing in the morning’ for the pushers in Washington Square Park.
The buyers and sellers did a brisk business during the final year of John Lindsey’s tenure as New York City’s Mayor. Their dealings were tolerated as long as everyone got a taste. The mobs, dealers, and beat cops all got a piece of the pie.
The park’s residents, bums as they were known in those pre-PC days, who couldn’t afford anywhere else to live, spent their days around the circle of the long-dry fountain. Martha Mumbles talked to herself and the pigeons. Nate the pharmacist held court by the public restrooms. And Vietnam veterans, Mick the tunnel rat, and Felix the sniper, moved as the sun did; shifting their locations to stay in the shade. Always keeping their backs against a wall or fence to, ‘cover their asses’, in case of attack.
They all lived below the line that society set for the lower class. Way below it. These were the cast-offs, the losers in life’s game between the haves and the wish-they-hads. Wish they had a home, had a dry bed, had a warm meal. Their days spent squirrel-like, storing up supplies to get them through the nights.
The sun shed light on the hiding places of the monsters, human and imagined, that would soon be hunting for provisions of their own when darkness shrouded the park.
The vets were sitting in the shadow of the triumphal Washington Arch studying the sidewalk scenery.
Without turning, Mick said to Felix, “Let’s jump on the subway and crash at the old World’s Fair site in Queens, I met a guy who’s got a still like we had back in the Delta.”
Both men had volunteered to fight the Viet Cong. Mick, believing the rhetoric about the domino effect of communism, joined to fight for democracy. Felix chose the war over going to prison for stealing a car in order to run away from his abusive father. The friends met during a tour in the Mekong Delta, where they had learned to survive on C-rations and whatever mind-altering concoctions they could find.
Mick thought Felix’d had it easy when they were in-country.
“Death from afar man.” He’d said. “Line up the crosshairs, squeeze the trigger, and poof, look for the pink mist. Easy-peasy kill. I had to get in there on my belly and find them by touch.”
Felix had acknowledged that Mick had a point, even though he had more kills, more than five times as many, without a doubt those that died by Mick’s knife and modified Model 29 Smith & Wesson, were enemy combatants shimmying through the same dark burrows. Felix’s were judgment calls. Killed from as far as a mile away, a lot of doubt can exist in that distance. Several were children unfortunate enough to have been carrying weapons. Add in Felix’s abuse of substances taken orally and intravenously, and he was never in the mood to belabor the point with his only living friend.
Mick stood. “If we’re getting on the subway, I needs me some anti-bumming meds. I’ll get our rations.”
While Mick headed for Nate’s illicit pharmacy, Felix sat by Martha and helped her feed the flying-rats.
“Hey Martha, you’re looking good. How are your birds this fine morning?”
“’Snot mornin’ fool. Damn near evenin’” She continued to speak under her breath as Felix fed the birds from the bag of crumbs next to the disheveled woman.
“Now, don’t get uptight Martha, I’ve got some bread for you. And it’s not the kind your pigeons would eat.”
Felix pulled a ten-dollar bill from the breast pocket of his drab-green Army jacket and placed it into Martha’s crumb bag. “I had a good month. Buy yourself something pretty.”
The park’s people had a bond stronger than any traditional family. Looking out for each other, each shared what they had in good times, in the hope that someone would have their back in the bad.
Martha snatched the money and looked at Felix. “Don’ tink you’re gettin’ anyting from me for dis. I’m a honorable woman.” Stuffing the cash into her ample cleavage, she returned to her task.
Felix heard a quiet, “tank you,” in her next stream of indecipherable speech.
Mick, his empty hands held open at his sides, approached Nate and said.
“Hello my black brother from another father. I think we had the same Celtic mother. What looks good today?”
“What you say about my mother, cracker?”
“Chill Nate. It’s not like I don’t have black friends. Granted they’re all dead in the mud back in the jungle, but we got along fine when we were together.”
“The hell with you Mick. Playing that, Lucky-Charms leprechaun shit whenever it suits you. You’re as Irish as I am African. You gonna buy or talk? Ain’t got time for your bullshit.”
“Whoa, hold up Nate. I’m just making small talk my friend.”
“I ain’t your brother and I certainly ain’t your friend. So put up or walk away.”
“All right man, I’m just ball-busting, one vet to another.”
“Mick, I served just like you and your degenerate friend over there. At least I make a contribution to society by providing a needed service. You two just feeding off the city’s tit. I don’t take none of that welfare or food-stamp shit. I make my own money, pay my own way.”
“It’s cool Nate, I get it. We appreciate your service to the community. I just need a dime and an eight-ball and I’ll be on my way.”
To anyone passing within earshot, what seemed like a tense confrontation was just the way they had to play it. Man to man trying to make it on the street. Money was swapped for dope, then they shook hands in a soul handshake, the accepted way to show respect to another member of the second society.
Mick signaled to Felix that the deed was done and they walked to the south end of the park. They shared a joint, Mick took a bump of coke, and they descended the steps into the darkness. Even though it had been years since Mick had gone underground in anger and with deadly purpose, he still couldn’t go into a tunnel, even one as large as a subway, without hitching his brain up a few notches.
They reached the bottom of the urine-stained and acrid entrance, jumped the turnstiles and hopped onto the first of several trains they’d need to get to Flushing Meadows. The site of the abandoned 1964 World’s Fair.
They traveled with hippies looking to score in Greenwich Village, and respectable types dressed in their fine clothes heading uptown to the theaters and pricey restaurants of midtown. Only the punk-rockers, heading for CBGBs in the Bowery, dared make eye contact. The others, each in their own way, thought themselves better than those poor dirt-bags, in the worn fatigues.
Their final train emerged above ground as the sun set behind the sky-scrapers of Manhattan. They watched the orange light reflect off the mirrored glass facades of the buildings they would never see the interiors of.
Mick said, “They look so small from here, man, can’t even see the tops when we’re below them. It’s like they’re a painting when we’re far away.”
Felix laughed the way stoners do when something simple strikes them as profound. “That’s really deep Mick my tunnel-rat friend. Profoundly deep.”
They rode their buzz in silence as the buildings and graffiti slid by. The iconic flying-saucer towers drew close as the train rocked and bumped along the tracks. Their destination was a twenty-minute walk from the train platform. Stopping at a corner bodega, they picked up a quart of beer and pint of Jack Daniel’s. As they walked through the busy streets, they were invisible. Their existence in the world ignored.
When they reached the chain link fence surrounding the abandoned landmark, Mick said, “There’s a maintenance shed near the east tower, the guy I met has the still set up there. I met him at the VA hospital when I had to be recertified as unemployable.”
Felix replied. “What, you? I know I got no marketable skills; what use is a long range shooter stateside? Other than, maybe, popping rats in the dumps of Staten Island. But you’re perfect for the underground sewer arts, man. Put you down the pipe with a scrub brush, and you’d clean this town out faster than a Godzilla-sized enema up the ass of Jersey.”
Mick didn’t laugh with Felix, his high was gone.
A subway he could handle, the thought of going into a tight, dark, hole drew him back to Nam. His eyes wide, unfocused on anything near them, his gaze far off into the night, he began to shake.
“Dude.” Felix touched his friend’s shoulder.
He knew that Mick wasn’t in New York anymore, he wasn’t even on the same plane of reality. Felix pried the brown paper bag from Mick’s hand. Losing the beer wouldn’t help their situation, he had to be practical.
“I’m sorry man. Mick, buddy. You’re safe. We’re home.”
Mick came back to Felix, tears rolled down his cheeks. His eyes, already bloodshot from smoking grass, reflected a dark crimson in the final shafts of dusk’s light.
“C’mon Mick, let’s find this party. We got dope, liquor. We’ll try this hooch and see if it’s as good as he says.”
It took the two stoned men an hour to find an opening into the deserted grounds. They walked through a decaying reminder of a government’s wealth spent on a showcase of tomorrow, while the men who served that same nation, lived in squalor.
Passing the twin pinnacles of the observation towers, they spotted a low flame under the Unisphere, the skeletal globe of our planet. A group of a half-dozen men, all dressed in the same tattered remnants of their uniforms, were sitting around a fire in a sawed-off steel drum.
A gruff voice called from beyond the fire, “Hey Mick, glad you could make it.”
Mick said to Felix, “That’s Gunnery Sergeant Bob ‘Gunny’ Baxter. Met him at the VA while I was getting…” Felix cut him off.
“I know man. We been over it a few times. I got it.”
“Gunny, this is the best Scout Sniper to ever pop gooks in the Delta. My friend, Lance Corporal, Felix Bukowski.”
Like a failed Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, the group said in unison, “Hello Felix.” And burst out laughing.
Felix nodded, returning the group’s greeting.
They found places around the fire and Felix began rolling a joint as Mick started tapping out lines on a broken piece of glass.
Gunny said, “It’s nice that you didn’t show up empty handed like some jamokes. You want to try some of my Ho Chi Minh hooch?”
Reaching behind him, he pulled a white plastic bleach jug from a duffle bag.
Mick and Felix stared.
The original group laughed. Gunny almost fell off his battered folding chair. “Gets ‘em every time. It’s just the bottle I use. We kept breaking the glass ones. I don’t even rinse them out anymore, the leftover bleach gives it a little extra punch.”
He twisted off the blue top and raised it to his lips. “Death before dishonor boys!” The other men cheered as he took a long pull. He passed it to the man next to him, who repeated the toast to another round of cheers.
Gunny jumped from his seat and said, “Hey. I got a new trick to show you guys.”
As the drink passed amongst the group, each reciting the requisite chant, Gunny fumbled around in the duffle bag.
“I got these from a buddy stationed at Fort Dix. Snagged them from the practice range. Bet’cha you guys didn’t know I could juggle.”
He produced three hand grenades and proceeded to spin them from hand to hand.
With the exception of Mick, the rest of the scared-sober group scattered.
“Ha-ha you motherless bastards.” He continued to juggle them without any apparent effort or concentration. “These are just training pineapples, they’re probably duds.”
He began to work his way around the fire, stepping towards one or another of the group making them jump away. His eyes watching the top of the arc of the objects, he tapped his foot trying to locate the jug. Finding it, he lowered himself into position to pick it up.
Mick hadn’t budged. He sat transfixed on Gunny’s juggling.
Felix shouted, “Dude, don’t be a hero. Get back.”
“Now for my next trick.” In a remarkable display of dexterity for a drunk, Gunny began spinning the three explosives with one hand, throwing them higher into the air than the reach of the light from the campfire. With his free hand, he picked up the bottle.
Several of the men had run for the fence line, the others backed up a safe distance to see what would happen. Living in the open may be dangerous, but at least this was entertaining.
As the bottle reached his lips, there was a hitch in the spinning of the grenades. A momentary stumble as one of them left his hand on the way back up.
The hand holding the jug stopped.
In the split second before the next grenade was caught, Felix saw a glint of silver falling towards the ground.
“Grenade!” Felix shouted as Gunny dropped the hooch and dove back towards his duffle bag.
In quick succession, the grenades hit the ground by Mick. The jug landed on the opposite side of the drum, splashing liquid onto the open flame producing a fireball that shot twenty feet up into the hollow globe above them.
Felix grabbed his friend by the shoulders, tossed him away, and dove belly first onto the grenades.
Nothing happened. No flash. No boom. No guts blasting through the air in a bloody, heroic, end to Felix’s life.
Gunny began to laugh as he looked up from behind his bag. “Ha. Told you chumps they was duds.”
Felix lay still.
Mick eye’s regained focus as he saw Gunny laughing from beyond the fire, then to the grenade’s pin lying on the ground next to Felix. He squeezed his eyes shut, shook his head, then rose and walked to help his friend.
Mick helped Felix stand and knock the dirt off his coat. Felix took the whiskey out of his pocket, opened it, and drained the bottle onto the ground.
“Felix. That was heavy, man. You okay? You good?”
“Mick, I’m gooder than I’ve been in a while. Maybe we should talk to those dudes at the VA about getting straight. I think I’m done with this life.”
“Can’t hurt. Gotta be better than a grenade hole through your chest.”
Felix put his arm around Mick’s shoulder. “Yeah dude, sounds like a plan.”
Just in time for Halloween, Witty Bard Publications announced the release today of their 2014 collection.
My story, Juggling Memories, about the un-dead return of Babboo The Magnificent is included.
Location: Foreclosed home.
Object: A rabbit’s foot.
I received zero points for my round one story. I thought well outside the box and I believe that plan worked against me. I went with the most obvious story that came to me this time, let’s see how it does.
As always, thank to my lovely Mrs. Susan for letting me bounce ideas off her and get some good ideas. And thanks as always to Laura Matheson in the wilds of Canada for her editing help.
A young woman, forced out of her inherited family home, finds something forgotten from her past.
Martha took a last look at the only home she’d ever known. Today, her thirty-fourth birthday, the bank officially foreclosed. She had to leave.
Responsibility for the mortgage had become hers after her father’s death a decade ago. He’d tripped in the shed and been impaled by a pair of garden shears. Ten years earlier, her mother fell while cleaning a second floor window, breaking her neck.
Owing more than it was worth, Martha’d struggled to make the payments. A year ago, she gave up, choosing to stay until the bank forced her out.
“Happy Birthday to me,” she said to the snowflakes falling around her.
Standing on the sidewalk, she tried to recall a happy time. Whenever she tried to recollect anything from her early life, her mind’s eye turned to static. While she clearly remembered a birthday with two cakes, she had no idea why there were two.
Her ‘S-Mart’ brand galoshes left tracks in the snow as she circled the house, determined to find at least one good thought from her childhood. As she neared the garden shed, a neon-green object caught her attention.
She tremored at the thought of the shed where her father would lock her when she was disobedient. After his death, she’d avoided it, hiring a lawn service to maintain the yard. Now, she couldn’t afford to have a neighborhood boy mow the lawn.
As she drew closer, she saw a keychain. A dyed rabbit’s-foot keychain.
The moment she touched it, the static that obscured her memories cleared,an image of her father’s face as the points of the clippers pierced his chest flashed before her. She could feel the thick wooden handles in her hands as his ribs cracked. She’d felt the same sense of resistance and release when she’d used the broomstick to knock her mother off the windowsill.
When her sight returned, any memory of the vision vanished.
Looking towards the shed, she saw small barefoot prints. Martha’s tracks were the only others in the fresh snow.
I can’t just leave a barefoot child to freeze, can I?
A gentle arc of snow, pushed away from the door, hinted that it had been opened. A rusted lock hung from the latch, snow piled in a delicate heap on the top of the loop. Locked, just like her father had done to her so many times.
The neighbor’s boys, Martha thought. It’s a prank.
She looked toward the next house, suspecting that, somewhere out in the falling snow, they were laughing their fool heads off.
As she stepped away from the shed, she heard crying and dropped the keychain.
Martha was unique in the way she felt fear. To some it’s a gripping in their gut, to others a tightening of the shoulders as the hair rises on the back of their necks. For her, all her strength fell away. Her body, sensing she couldn’t control the outcome, would give up trying.
They’re using a radio to make that sound. They don’t want the joke to end.
“You’ll be rid of me soon enough!” Martha shouted into the storm as she took another step away.
Then, in the hush of the snow, she heard a small voice. “Marta, please don’t leave me again.”
Her legs gave out.
Kneeling in the wet snow, her faulty memory finally delivered. Thirty years ago, there really had been two birthday cakes: one for her, and one for the only person to ever call her Marta.
“Berta,” she whispered her twin sister’s nickname into the storm.
How could I forget her?
Pinching her eyes closed, she blocked out the cold, the sound of the wind, the fear that gripped her. Martha focused on the small voice crying out to her.
When did I see her last?
Night, moonless and still. Quiet but for the sound of Bertha whimpering from the other side of their father as he dragged them both to the shed. Even then—we couldn’t have been more than four or five—Martha’d learned to not fight back. That always made it worse.
“Just go limp, Berta. Daddy will be done quicker.” She tried to teach her sister to be compliant, but Bertha always fought back, she never gave in.
Martha opened her eyes. The boot-prints that led from the house were still there, but where there had been one set of bare prints, now there were two.
She ran back to the shed and picked up the rabbit’s-foot. The lock popped open despite its decade of dis-use.
“Berta! Oh, Berta, I’m so sorry. I won’t leave you.” Martha dragged the door open and stepped through, returning to the memory of that night.
Martha stood flaccid, watching her sister struggle, helpless to stop their father as he pummeled her twin. The beating ended only after Bertha too had become limp, the fight permanently squeezed from her small neck.
Martha looked at the workbench, the last place she had seen Bertha alive, and saw her there, face bloody and broken, the purple outlines of her father’s hands visible on her neck. Martha walked to the tool-covered wall, picked a dusty hacksaw off a hook, and clamped the tool, blade up, into the jaws of the vise. Looking at Bertha, she turned her head and placed her neck on the jagged blade.
“Berta, I tried to keep the house as long as I could so we could be together, but the bank has taken it. Remember how I took care of Daddy for you? And Mama? Remember how I pushed her from that window? She should’ve protected us from him. I will never leave you again.”
Martha leaned into the saw, and in a swift sideways motion, tore open her own neck. Blood from the ruptured carotid artery sprayed onto the dark cement floor.
The storm outside intensified, covering the single pair of boot prints that lead from the house. The blizzard muffled the sound of children singing Happy Birthday.
Genre: Rom-Com. Blech, my least favorite genre.
Location: Under a Bridge. Has to be predominantly featured.
Object: Must have a passing mention but must play a part.
A Dental Connection.
By Wayne Hills
An eccentric dentist and his lovelorn assistant fall in love while performing oral surgery on an unusual patient.
Or: A horse walks into a dentist’s office. The receptionist says, “Why the long face?”
They worked through the night, and well into dawn of the next day. Preparing the pontics for the proper alignment and placement of the span meant to close the edentulous gap. In order for the bridge to be perfect, the doctor was their only hope.
Dr. Mark Zahnarzt was the leading dentist in the region. An introverted genius, when not treating patients he kept to himself experimenting with the dentition of mammals of all kinds. He was devoted to the care of gums and teeth. The fact that they were attached to living humans was merely a necessary annoyance.
His assistant, Ethel Jungfer, hadn’t gone on a date during the decade she worked for him. She only had eyes for the eccentric doctor, who in turn only had eyes for the mouths set before him.
Until the fateful day their office received an unexpected patient.
The door burst open at four O’clock, the time Ethel usually closed for the day; and Dr. Zahnarzt began experimenting with his anatomical models.
“I’m sorry to barge in ma’am. My name’s Wes Kuhhirt, you’ve got to help me.” The man stopped just inside the doorway, he held a weatherworn Stetson in his clenched fists.
Ethel said, “I’m sorry sir, but the office is closed.”
“But it’s an emergency, you’re our only hope.”
Hearing the commotion, the doctor opened the door to his private office. “Our hope, what do you mean? I see only you in my reception area.”
Ethel turned, “I tried to stop him doctor. I know you don’t like to be disturbed when you’re tinkering.”
“It’s all right Miss Jungfer; he needs dental assistance, that’s why we’re here.”
In truth, Dr. Zahnarzt didn’t care about the man with the faded jeans and tattered flannel shirt; it was the urgency in his voice that excited him. A dental emergency, something other than filling cavities and applying tooth whitener just walked in. He had to find out what it was.
“Thank you sir, I’m mighty grateful.” Accompanied by a jingle of spurs, Wes spun on his boot-heels, and walked out the door. They barely had enough time to look at each other in disbelief when they heard the clopping.
“Thanks again doc.” Kuhhirt said as he returned leading a miniature horse behind him.
Ethel shrieked as she ran and hid behind her employer. “You can’t bring that filthy animal in here!”
“Please, this is urgent. Sebastian here’s got a sweet tooth for candy apples and it got the best of him. His teeth are practically rotted out and we’ve got a show for some sick kids tomorrow. They’ll be mighty upset if we don’t make it. His smile is one of his signature tricks. Look.”
Wes patted the horse and said, “Smile for the good folks boy.” In response to the command, Sebastian shook his head and lifted his front lip. Ethel shuddered at the sight of the decayed incisors. What was left of the center pair were black and badly chipped.
Something sparked in Dr. Zahnarzt that he hadn’t felt in years; the thrill of a new challenge.
“Of course we’ll help. Ethel, prepare my instruments for surgery.”
Ethel’s heart skipped a beat when she heard him say her name. She couldn’t recall him ever using her first name before. The expression on his face, the excitement in his voice, he was different somehow. He was happy. Eager to be able to work with her secret love, she quickly dismissed her fear.
Wes helped the doctor set up the dental chair to hold Sebastian and returned to the waiting room. They had removed the chair’s arms and opened it flat. With Sebastian secured to the cushions, they raised it to its highest point allowing access underneath to perform the surgery. After rigging the nitrous oxide mask over the horse’s muzzle, they were able to survey their task.
Dr. Zahnarzt said, “The outer incisors appear solid enough; we’ll remove the damaged center two. I’ll need you to work with me underneath him to build the bridge to span the gap.”
Although Ethel was excited to be in close proximity to him, she had reservations about the procedure. “It won’t work doctor. The amount of material we’ll need to use will be too heavy.”
“We’ll have to be economical Ethel.” He used her name again. She felt flush.
Together they worked under the jaws of the sleeping animal, meticulously constructing the new teeth. They checked each piece as they fit them into the horse’s mouth.
Dr. Zahnarzt carefully shaved bits of porcelain from the prosthetics. He’d never made anything this big before, but thanks to years spent in his private lab, he had a plentiful supply of the resources needed to make the bridge.
Ethel carefully set each giant tooth onto a small scale used to weigh gold for human fillings and caps.
As the hours passed, and the work continued, their hands would periodically touch as each piece was weighed, modified, and checked again.
It might have been the late hour, maybe it was the lack of sleep, more likely it was the leaking nitrous oxide canister slowly filling the room with laughing gas, whatever the cause, the tooth fairy borrowed a pair of cupid’s arrows, and shot them squarely into the couple’s hearts.
At one point, Sebastian briefly awoke and whinnied, this surprised Ethel causing her to jump into the doctor’s arms. They laughed at the absurdity of it, their eyes met, he leaned down and kissed her. Their relationship would never again be simply doctor and assistant.
The procedure successfully completed, they were holding hands as Wes led a groggy Sebastian out of the office. “I’m eternally grateful. Those kids are gonna get a hoot of a show thanks to you two.”
“No, thank you Wes.” Ethel said as she looked at the doctor. “I think we’ll be putting on a little show of our own. Don’t you doctor?”
“Please, call me Mark.” He said as he closed the office door.