Conquer [Repost]

Prompt: Senses

yin yang fish

Beth wondered how much to tell him, as she snuggled close, her arm draped over his waist and her middle finger idly stroking his breast bone while he slept.

It wasn’t love. It wasn’t just lust, either, exactly. It was an almost Zen contentment, a match, a yin and yang, a yearning perfectly met. Theirs was a playful relationship, without intimacy, but with good food and fun and flirting and far too long in bed. Beth was reeling from the intoxication of it, she walked just a bit above ground, she was just a bit too forgiving, a bit too ready with a smile that couldn’t be contained.

There was no reason she should feel ashamed of anything in her past. Ok, her military husband left her for a man while she was pregnant. Ouch that did hurt, but didn’t really reflect on her, since in the end she was well rid of the bastard.

A single mom then, basking in the attentions of a rich man, who some might say bought her “services”. She didn’t look at it that way. Roman was lovely, attentive, in love, and Beth was young and desperate and tired of the struggle. Who could condemn her for that?

And Deborah. Beth had never really approved of Deborah’s husband, Vincent, but Deb was like her father— there was no stopping her when she wanted something. They shared a healthy ego, confidence, and the sense that the world owed them a happy life. He hadn’t met Deb yet, hadn’t heard the story of Vincent’s murder. How would it sound to him?

Vincent was out walking late at night (why?). He was robbed. It happens. But how often does the robber shoot their victim in the face? It was more than a robbery; Beth could feel it. No one had ever explored any other motive for the crime. But Beth could add. She knew Vince. Something happened that night.

And Beth didn’t know how to explain it to Geoffrey, or even if she should try. She longed to talk about it with someone. Geoffrey, deep in a dream adventure, was breathing heavily next to her, smelling strongly of his cologne, Makizmo.

Yes, and that scent had to go. It had been Vincent’s cologne too. Very musky and sweet. The smell of it upset Deborah, and even Deb’s strange friend Leep noticed it.

Beth had a little gift for Geoffrey on the night stand. A new cologne. Musky, grassy, citrusy, fresh, and not Makizmo. It was called Conquer.

A new cologne. Beth knew how foolish it was to set landmarks in relationships, but she set one anyway.

Conquer meant both defeat and victory.

Beth moved even closer, and Geoffrey, in his peace and comfort, started to quietly snore.


  • Original Prompt: Conquer, March 19, 2017 
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Terror

Prompt: Nightmare

shadowy-figure

The terrorists were successful. They created an atmosphere of abject horror and fear which was exacerbated by the fact that no one knew their agenda. They made no political, social, or personal claims or aired any such grievances. They seemed to have one goal, which they accomplished efficiently. One of their kind had been pursued and killed but there were no clues, no leads, no trails to follow—just a tall, unkempt figure with half his head blown away.

The terrorists murdered one young blonde woman every night, and left her beheaded body on the lawn outside the homes of innocent people.

The bodies were collected and stored in a repository as identification procedures were set in motion and evidence was gathered. While the external investigation continued, the repository was fitted with audio and video monitoring. Why? It was believed no one, not even the staunchest or bravest, could stomach duty in a building that housed such a number of dead young women.

So when sounds began emanating from the repository one night, those tasked with monitoring the site were alarmed. What were these sounds? Muffled, but human. Were they calls for help? Cries of pain or despair? The live video was blurred and only fixed on the entryway, not inside where the dead lay in rows.

The first moving figure on the video monitor was a hazy figure that emerged from the locked room. An intruder? Impossible. The alternative was equally impossible.

So possibilities were set aside, with no reasonable impossibilities to take their place. Those tasked with monitoring stood and stared at the monitor, immobile, in a void empty of ideas or consequence.

Another unidentifiable figure appeared behind the first.

It was a tall man, unkempt, bloody, his pupils surrounded by whites, emitting primitive howls of rage directed explicitly at the camera lens as he approached it. Women, whole but blood-soaked, appeared like an army behind and around him.

An army of the dead, recruited by their murderers, and as full of rage.

Nightmare.



Yes, that was a dream I had last night. I honestly have no stomach for gore in movies (or in the world) but somehow there was a dream logic that allowed horrifying images to direct whatever narrative there was in this story.

The White Ribbon [Repost]

Prompt: Halloweeny

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Carmen’s hazelnut cake did not take first place at the bake-off, nor even second place, but that was not the strangest part.

She knew the secret ingredient (ginger) and she used fresh hazelnuts from the tree in Paul and Ruth’s backyard; the batter was fluffy and light and the cake perfectly risen and golden tawny in colour. But the usual Hazelnut Cake won the contest yet again. It was allegedly a blind tasting so Carmen couldn’t cry foul. The second best cake came from Cheryl-Ann something, who squealed like an orgasmic pig when her name was announced.

No, the strange thing was, shortly after she returned home and put the coffee on, she heard her beloved Uncle Matt and Auntie Thomasina knocking shyly at her back door.

She knew it was them before she saw them through the glass panes. Auntie as plump as ever, he with a stern angular face masking a tender heart; in the same homely clothes they’d worn when she last saw them, so long ago, in the church.

She asked if they would like some cake and coffee and they happily agreed, and sat at the kitchen table while Carmen sliced her hazelnut cake and poured hot coffee from the electric percolator on the counter.

Auntie Thomasina and Uncle Matt chatted about their dogs, and the possibility of a thunderstorm, and about the potholes on the road leading to their home, which had lain abandoned for over twenty years.

Uncle Matt still had that exceptionally persistent cowlick in his hair, now grey, at the back of his head, only kept in place by some kind of hair shellac that Auntie Thomasina used to pick up at the pharmacy. He’s too old to worry about cowlicks, she laughed. In response, Uncle Matt took out a small blue velvet box and opened it to reveal an engagement ring, one small diamond in a setting of white gold. Would you do me the honour? he asked Thomasina.

They told Carmen who murdered them. It was their neighbour, Clement, who had been in a dispute with them over an easement. He was a nasty sort, they told Carmen. Was he still alive?

Carmen said she would definitely find out, and refilled their coffee cups.

This cake is delicious, said Uncle Matt. Is there ginger in it?

Perhaps you could bake our wedding cake?  said Auntie Thomasina.

Her cake had only taken the white ribbon, but Carmen said: “I would be delighted.”

They didn’t hear her. They were gone.


  • Original Prompt: Ghost, August 17, 2016
    Reposted with minor edits.
  • Cartoons return tomorrow!

Rash Decisions

Prompt: Home

Colorbock-Wide-Brim-Summer-Hat-Boardwalk-Style

“But I just started moving in here!” cried Envy. She removed her hat in a dramatic gesture and flung it across the room. It was straw and had a floppy brim and soared like a frisbee, landing gracefully on a stack of unopened cardboard packing boxes.

They’d spent the day at Spanish Beach, lounging and cuddling and eating the picnic Bob had prepared and transported in an old-fashioned basket, where the plates, wine glasses, cutlery and other accoutrements all had their special storage places. He’d made, of course, fried chicken and potato salad. Envy’s contribution was a cold bottle of rosé.

Envy’s skin burned easily. She found hats uncomfortable, but she needed to wear one in sunny weather even as they sat in the shade. Now, that hat had found another use.

Drama.

Bob purported to hate drama. But, Envy found, all drama-creators hated the drama they created.

“And it’s a pretty nice apartment,” said Bob, strangely calm in the face of Envy’s outburst. “I like the big windows and the balcony. Nice crown moulding. What’d you pay for this place again?”

Envy gritted her teeth. Ok, they were engaged now, but she hadn’t ever told Bob what she paid for the condo. He continued to open his mouth and spit out whatever was closest, no matter how intrusive or bad mannered it was. Well, she could be radically honest too.

“I never told you what I paid. And I don’t intend to.”

Bob shrugged. He always said he wouldn’t be radically honest to others if he couldn’t take it himself. Envy didn’t know if that was true or whether that shrug was a carefully crafted and honed reaction that hid outrage or hurt.

She sighed heavily. “I don’t want to move into your house. I don’t like the location. It’s suburban, miles from everything.”

“There’s that giant park next door, the outlet mall is only a five minute drive, and there’s a satellite college campus—“

“Whatever ,” said Envy unpleasantly, wondering absently when had been the last time she’d been so rude.

“It’s not like you to be so abrupt,” said Bob.

“We’ve had this conversation. I don’t want to move, I haven’t even moved in here.”

“You’ve been living out of cardboard boxes for six months. I took that as a sign of your reluctance to settle in here.”

“I don’t need your amateur psychology, Bob.”

“I’m glad we’re having this conversation,” said Bob.

Envy stifled a scream.

Why hadn’t she unpacked properly though? This was the apartment of her dreams, light, bright, with high ceilings and polished wood floors, plenty of wall space for her art— yet none of it unpacked.

And what was the real reason she didn’t want to move in with Bob at his suburban but otherwise charming Victorian reno home right beside the park with the rose garden, which she adored and remembered visiting as a child? Bob even wanted to get married there.

Envy said, “I’m not ready to move.”

Bob nodded. “Not ready to move on, you mean. From Marcus. From all that.”

She thought of the last time she saw Marcus. In prison, when her leg was still in a cast, and he didn’t even have a lawyer. She got him one, and he pleaded guilty to the arson but not to the attempted murder.

That was love. That was passion. That was simpatico, trust, joy, heart-stopping sex, loyalty, even fealty. It was impossible to pinpoint the day when their connection began to erode. If there ever truly was a connection. If.

She was twisting the ruby engagement ring round and round her finger. She and Bob noticed this gesture at the same moment.

“No rash decisions,” he said.

“No rash decisions,” said Envy.

Leep the Outsider [Repost]

Prompt: Fly on the wall

wash-hands-sign

Franco the Barber had a maddening (and probably unsanitary) habit of waiting until he was out of the toilet to zip up his fly. It was as if he was in such a rush after peeing, Leep thought, that he couldn’t stop— no, he had to walk and zip; and peeing is normal and everyone knows he has to zip up so why worry?

So he was in the hallway to the living room, zipping away as he approached them where they sat in the living room, all except Leep who leaned on the doorway to the kitchen. He never felt he quite belonged. He was ever the outsider, and sitting down would mean he was part of this family group of Uncle Alberto, his nephew’s widow, Deborah, and her mother, Beth. Franco the Barber had no qualms about joining them, he exhaled heavily as he dropped into an armchair, simultaneously grabbing a handful of salted peanuts from a dish on the glass-topped side table beside him.

Did he wash his hands? Leep had a craving for something salty but would avoid the peanuts.

There was another outsider in the room: Deborah’s lawyer, Carmen.

“I don’t know why we need a lawyer here,” said Uncle Al. “We’re family.” Even though he wasn’t family, Franco grunted in agreement, which was another maddening habit, though Uncle Al didn’t seem to object.

Uncle Al was casual today. No tie, but the same dark suit and white shirt which designated him the boss of the room, over Franco’s somewhat rumpled striped suit and cobalt blue polo shirt.

Carmen had her hair in a ponytail and was clad in a cranberry red suit and black pumps. To Leep she looked a bit intimidating, so was the lawyer he might hire if he ever needed one, which wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility.

Deborah and her mother were jean casual, as was usual for them. Deb had taken to wearing Vincent’s old jerseys, this one turquoise trimmed with black, number sixteen.

Deborah’s mother Beth, or Lizzie as Leep called her (in his head) had the courtesy to look embarrassed. She rustled up a smile for Uncle Al and said, “I was visiting Carmen on another matter and mentioned the annuity, she just offered and is not looking to make anything difficult.”

“Certainly not,” said Carmen, and she smiled at everyone in the room individually, including Leep the Outsider. He squirmed, just a little bit. She had an air about her, as if she could read your mind. Leep resolved not to gawp at Lizzie for the rest of the meeting, or think about how he wanted to frame Alberto for Vincent’s murder.

“It’s just an allowance for Debbie,” said Uncle Al, who was the only one to use her childhood name. “My nephew was a good boy and a good husband but was not good with money.”

Leep remembered Vince bragged about using a credit card for his vacations and the 46” flat screen TV and the new steering wheel on his Taurus. Poor old Deborah was probably up to her ears in debt.

“He was always on the verge of growing up,” said Lizzie.

“Mother.”

“May he rest in peace,” said Franco the Barber.

Lizzie said, “We are so grateful, Al, but I was wondering about the um…”

“Non-disclosure clause,” said Carmen.

“That is in all my documents, for business reasons,” said Uncle Al. “My lawyer insists. If he insists, I insist.”

“It’s no big deal,” ventured Franco the Barber.

“Shut up, Franco,” said Uncle Al amiably. “You’re no lawyer.”

“True,” said Franco with a chuckle.

Carmen continued. “And the visitation clause?”

“If I’m paying is it such a hardship that I see the girl and her mother once in a while?”

The discussions continued, and Leep slipped away for a few minutes, going to the toilet and fully zipping his pants before he washed his hands thoroughly, with lots of soap.

When he returned there were handshakes all around. Uncle Al looked victorious, though Leep suspected that was a strategy he employed at the end of every negotiation. Even Franco the Barber was shaking hands and grinning at Carmen the lawyer. She had probably shaken hands with worse, in her career.

Lizzie went into the kitchen to make coffee, and Uncle Al got on his cell phone to his legal adviser requesting minor changes to the contract. He wanted the revised document by six pm that evening.

Good, thought Leep. He leaned against the wall in the doorway, watching Uncle Al take Deborah’s hands and carefully kiss her on both cheeks. She blushed, but was used to his quirky formalities by now. What was important was that she and Lizzie would be looked after, no matter what happened to Alberto Demarco.


  • Original prompt: Maddening, December 16, 2016.

Surrender [Repost]

Promtp: Guilty

thomsons-gazelle-2

Leep couldn’t believe it. He used the remote to turn up the volume.

He was sitting in his lounger, the comfortable one, with a pad of art paper in his lap, sketching ideas for his latest book, The Fog Monster. It was challenging, trying to illustrate fog, especially since he was not a trained artist. Did he give the fog a face? Did he give it a form? In his head the Fog Monster was unseeable, but children might need a monster they could recognize, a human-style monster that they could understand and relate to. After all, the Fog Monster wasn’t all bad. Leep didn’t want to scare his potential readers to death. But kids should know that life wasn’t all a bed of roses. That wouldn’t help them in later life.

He had the evening news on the television. He liked the news readers: Hal and Denise, and the pretty weather person, and the sports reporter who made all the jokes. He felt almost like he would be comfortable with them, you know, going out to dinner or something. They seemed like they would be easy to talk to.

He only half-paid attention to the broadcast as he contemplated his drawings, his mechanical pencil in hand. But he heard something that made him stop cold, as he was erasing the Fog Monster’s eyebrows, on the grounds that they were a bit too much.

Something terrible had happened. Denise was announcing that a man had been arrested for the murder of Vincent Demarco.

Leep could not feel his heartbeat, nor that he was breathing, nor his toes. He only felt a cold finger of sweat creep up his his spine, as he watched the police spokesperson speak in front of a gathering of news reporters.

He tried to concentrate, to really listen, but it was hard.

We have a suspect in custody, said the spokesperson. He has confessed to the crime. His name is Anthony Gizmodo, of no fixed address.

They showed a picture of him they’d taken after he was arrested. He was unshaven and unkempt, his eyes open a little too wide. Leep leaned in a little closer to the screen. Oh no. It was Tony, the homeless guy he passed every morning on the way to work.

Leep used to drop change, a few coins, in Tony’s hand or his hat as he passed, but he had to admit, Tony wasn’t the friendliest homeless man on the block. But, Leep guessed, he had no reason to be friendly. He was homeless, and neither Leep nor any other person with a home understood what his life was like. He regarded the passers-by, with their homes and lives, with a palpable resentment.

Tony was angry and sad, but he was no killer.

Why had he confessed? Was he coerced? Did he need attention? Was he hungry? Was he crazy? Leep knew only one thing: Tony was innocent of the crime.

He spent the rest of that Friday night, and all of Saturday, trying to figure it out. He was frustrated and confused. But he really knew what he had to do all along, the second he heard about Tony’s arrest.

On Sunday night, after dark, Leep put on his black ski jacket. He got the gun out from its hiding place. He felt numb. Once he’d seen a film of a gazelle, on the National Geographic channel, stare down a leopard. They’d locked eyes, and, Leep thought, reached a cosmic truth. The gazelle had no escape. It surrendered, and was chased down easily by the leopard.

Leep knew he was not the leopard. He was the gazelle.

He pulled up the collar of his jacket, opened the front door, and headed out into the night. There was a light mist, a fog, that lay as light as a baby’s breath on the streets and homes and businesses and pedestrians. By the end of the night, they would know that Tony was innocent.


  • Original Prompt: Fog, April 20, 2016.

Alarm [Repost]

Prompt: Observe

 

diamond cross 2

“You have to know I would never harm you,” Marcus said.

“Setting fire to the house with me in it kind of belies that statement,” said Envy.

Twice he had tried to reach across the table to take her hand, and twice had been rebuffed, once by the guard, and once by Envy herself.

He didn’t look like a prisoner waiting for a trial date. He looked like he had just turned up from a round of golf: a little tanned, a little tired, wondering what was for lunch. In fact, an outsider who observed just the two of them, seated at a small, pine-veneered table, would have pegged Envy for the convict; her hair was tangled, she was pale and nervous, and there were dark circles under her eyes. She was still a little battered from the fall from the balcony. Never a famous beauty to begin with, Envy was not at her best.

“The smoke alarms should have warned you,” said Marcus. “Why didn’t they?”

“That will remain a mystery for the ages,” said Envy, “since they were destroyed in the conflagration.” She wore a white gold chain with a diamond-encrusted cross pendant. She was thinking of returning to the church.

“You saw how upset I was,” said Marcus.

“That I survived,” Envy said.

For the third time, Marcus tried to take her hand. This time she slapped it. She was surprised to see his face contort in something that looked like pain. Existential or physical? she wondered.

“When did you stop loving me?” Envy said at last.

Marcus fiddled with the little sign in its plastic casing, propped up on the table. No touching. it said. No item exchange. No food. No shouting. Visitors and/or residents can and will be removed at any time at the guards’ discretion. No smoking.

Marcus looked out the window to an empty field, then back to Envy. “I never stopped loving you,” he said. “That’s why I asked you to come. I need your help.”

“Carmen got the police to describe you only as a ‘person of interest’,” Envy said.

“Carmen?”

“Your lawyer.”

“Ah.”

“That is the help I am giving you,” said Envy. “Take her advice. Tell the truth for once in your fucking life.” She stood up and leaned on her crutches. “And I’ll pray for you.”

“Jesus Christ,” said Marcus.

“Exactly,” said Envy.


  • Original Prompt: Burn, July 2, 2016

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