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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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.”

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 in order to 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 life 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 helped my story telling, 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.”

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. …..