Unspecified

 

A mailbox with a bridal bouquet on it.“Good morning, my name is Tabatha, I’m sorry for your wait. How may I help you?”

“Oh.” Frank was startled back to the present.“Yeah, jeeze, I’ve been on hold for like twenty minutes.” His voice was edged with anger.

“I do apologize for that sir. We are experiencing heavier than usual traffic volume following the holiday.” Tabatha’s voice remained upbeat, if not downright perky. “I’ll be happy to assist you now. Can you tell me the nature of your call?”

Frank glared across the room at the Christmas present he had bought for himself. She blankly stared back at him.

“Well, yeah.” Now that it came down to it he found it hard to talk to the woman on the other end of the line. Why couldn’t he have gotten a man? “I’m not happy with this item I purchased from you, and I’d like to return it for a full refund.”

“I see, sir. Can you give me your purchase ID?”

“Purchase ID?”

“It’s in the upper right hand corner of the invoice.”

“Oh, sure.” He fumbled with the phone as he sorted through the paperwork. “Yeah, here it is. ZB104-2271953.”

There was some quick keyboarding on the other end of the line.

“Yes sir. I see you purchased Anna Marie, from our line of Eternal Bliss Instant Brides. Is there a problem sir?”

“Well, yeah!” He kept his voice just below a shout. “I don’t want her. She’s creepy. And she stinks!”

“I’m sorry you are disappointed with your purchase, sir. I’m afraid all our reanimated brides are non-returnable items. Failure to rehydrate is the only acceptable reason for a return. Did she rehydrate?”

Frank shuddered at the memory. He had been so excited when the package arrived, could hardly believe there was a real woman in a bag no bigger than a loaf of bread. Like they say, the Human body is something like 90% water. The instructions said to place Anna Marie in a bathtub full of warm water, wait twenty-four hours for complete re-hydration, carefully assist her from the tub, gently pat dry, and then wait twelve hours before use to allow all of her systems to properly stabilize. He’d gotten a boner just drawing the tub.

Then, around midnight, he’d woken up to the most god awful smell. At first he went to the front door, but stepping outside made it clear the smell was coming from inside the house. His nose led him to the bathroom. When he looked in the tub he almost lost it. The ‘loaf of bread’ lay at the bottom of the tub, completely submerged, and had expanded into a grotesque approximation of a woman, about three feet long, curled in a fetal position, shriveled skin, and with dead looking eyes staring up from under the water. It was all he could do to keep from hurling. He’d bolted from the bathroom, slamming the door behind him.

“Well, yeah.” He hated to admit it, but she had rehydrate properly. When he looked again in the morning he saw a drop-dead beautiful woman laying in the tub. She now floated, her face, breasts, and thighs just breaking the surface. But she still had that vacant stare and the stench had not gone away. “She rehydrated.”

“I’m glad to hear that, sir. As indicated before, if the reanimated bride properly rehydrated we cannot accept it as a return.”

“But she stinks!” Now he did shout.

Tabatha remained cheerful in the face of his distress. “I am sorry sir. The catalog did discuss that particular limitation…”

“It said there was a slight odor the user could easily mask!” He rubbed the back of his neck in frustration. “I sprayed her with about a half a can of Lysol, and it hasn’t helped much.”

“The odor will dissipate over time, sir. You can speed the process with frequent showers, and we recommend Fabreeze. It also helps to keep the windows open.”

“It’s 38 degrees outside. I can’t open the windows!”

“You can place your bride outside while you wait for the smell to dissipate…”

“In the cold?”

“She’s already dead, sir. I assure you, the cold won’t hurt her.”

That reminded him of something else he hadn’t considered when he’d made the purchase.

“Uh, so what does she eat?”

“Oh, no worries there sir. All of our reanimated products have been modified to turn off the appetite. She doesn’t eat or drink anything. She’s completely safe.” He could almost see Tabatha smirking at the other end of the line.

He looked at Anna Marie sitting there naked, dripping water on his couch. God, what a mistake. Still, he had to admit, she was beautiful, if slightly gray.

“Her color’s awful.” This, almost to himself.

“I can recommend our Eternal Bliss body make up and perfume kit, sir. It comes highly recommend by others who have bought this product. It’s just $59.99.”

Frank dropped his head in resignation as he reached to get his credit card from his wallet.

He could kick himself for not just settling for the blow up doll.
~

© 2014 by J.M. Strother, all rights reserved. Photo © 2014 by J.M. Strother, all rights reserved.

 

A cartoon picture of Frankenstein.I let out a quiet curse as I stepped to the windows to draw the curtains for the evening. Dave’s car was just pulling into the driveway. My dear sweet brother, Dave. Goddammit.

Not bothering to close the curtains I made my way to the front door. I opened it just as he was about to knock. He stepped back, a little surprised, and flashed me his best car-salesman smile.

“Whoa! You startled me.” He took another step back to make room for the storm door as I swung it open for him.

“I saw you pull into the drive.” He nodded in understanding. “So, what’s up?” Like I didn’t know.

He gave a slight shrug as he stepped inside. His eyes scanned the hallway and the living room beyond. “Just wanted to drop by and say hi.” He started toward the kitchen. “Got any beer?”

We settled at the kitchen table, each nursing a bottle of lite beer. I opened a tin of nuts and we nibbled at them between sips.

“Haven’t seen you in a while,” Dave said. In fact it had been three months. “What you been up to?”

“Nothing special. Still the daily grind, down at the office.”

He bobbed his head up and down in commiseration. “Yeah, no rest for the wicked, eh? Can’t remember the last time I had a Saturday off. The car business has certainly recovered, I can tell you that. I’ve sold over a million dollars worth already this year.” He beamed with pride.

“Congratulations.”

“There’s going to be a banquet for all the million dollar dealers around Christmas time. You want to come?”

I frowned a bit. “Is it a good date?”

His smile looked somewhat forced. “Not sure yet.”

“Well, that could be awkward.”

He took a large pull off his beer. “Yeah, the 6th would be bad. Hopefully they’ll pick the 13th or the 20th.”

“Thirteen’s bad luck,” I observed. “Aren’t you lot a superstitious sort? And the 20th is awful close to Christmas…”

“I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.” His good spirits seemed to be waning. His eyes darted around, not focusing on anything. He does that when he’s trying to change the subject. But what he wanted to change the subject to wasn’t much of a change at all. Not really.

“So,” he began, “we going to see you next Wednesday?”

Dive right in.

I sipped at my beer. Frowned. “I don’t think so.”

I saw the anger flash in his eyes.

“I’m really sick of Randy,” I said. “And frankly, the others aren’t much better.”

“You going out by yourself?” he asked, incredulous. “Lone wolfs don’t fare too well.”

“Wolves.”

“What?”

“It’s lone wolves, not wolfs.”

His face contorted into a grimace. “You and your freaking grammar. It’s shit like that that gets you picked on.”

“No, it’s Randy being a prick that gets me picked on. Alice and Fredda eat it up, which just eggs him on. I’m not doing it anymore, Dave. I’m done with the pack.”

He almost rose out of his chair.

“You can’t run alone. It’s too damned dangerous.”

He was actually concerned about me. How touching.

“I won’t run alone—.”

“You found another pack?” He was dumbfounded.

“No. I just won’t run.”

He stared at me in silence for a good thirty seconds, the veins in his neck visibly throbbing. He turned in his chair and looked at the basement door. “You don’t have a freaking cage down there, do you?”

I said nothing.

He jumped up, pulling at the hair on the back of his head and let out a howl toward the kitchen light. He slammed his fist down on the table so hard his beer bottle fell over. It was nearly empty, so no mess made. “No brother of mine locks himself up in a cage for a full moon! No, dammit! No!”

I shrugged, but made no reply.

He started toward the basement door, then stopped and whirled back toward me. “I can’t look. Shit, Tim, what will Mom say? It’ll kill her.”

“Not if you don’t tell her.”

He paced back and forth.

“You can’t do this. You’ll bring shame on the whole family.”

“I’m going to live my life the way I see fit, Dave. I’m done running. There are more of us then you realize, and we get along just fine without the pack.”

“What? You got a freaking support group?” His voice was heavy with sarcasm.

I nodded. “Yes, as a matter of fact we do. We meet the day before the full moon, eat rare steaks, have a few Margaritas, and give each other the kind of support a pack ought to give. We don’t have to bare our throats to some stupid asshole who thinks he better than everyone else. We just have a good time, help each other through, and go back to work the next day.”

He stood there, wild eyed, panting. You’d think the Moon was raising.

I gestured toward his chair. “You’re welcome to join us if you’d like.”

At that he spun on his heel and headed for the front door. As he jerked it open he snarled over his shoulder, “Mom’s going to have a fit!”
~
© 2014 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.

Image used by permission, © by Angie Capozello, for use with the #FridayFlash Halloween Humor and Horror contest.

 

He slipped from one back yard to the next, trying doorknobs as he went, casting furtive glances over his shoulder to check if he’d been spotted. They were close, way too close for comfort, and he needed to find somewhere to go to ground for a while.

His heart skipped a beat when the knob in his hand actually turned. He held his breath, hardly daring to believe his luck. If luck held the house would be empty, and there wouldn’t be any ugly complications. He turned the knob slowly until he could tell there was no longer any resistance from the bolt before pushing gently inward.

A little light shone from an above-counter fixture in the kitchen. There was the slight hum of the refrigerator, but otherwise the house was quite. Best of all, no barking dog to give him away. Please let these people be out of town, he silently begged. I just need one night for things to cool off. He stepped inside and carefully closed the door behind him.

He took a moment to look around, to get his bearings. Nice place. Attractively decorated, with all the latest in electronics in the adjoining family room. Whoever lived here did all right by themselves. A momentary thought crossed his mind, to lock the door, but he shook that off. Maybe they always left it unlocked, and to find it locked would send up a red flag. Judging by the amount of swag, he doubted it, but people are funny.

After checking the garage he was able to breath a little easier – no cars present. These folks must really be gone. Out for the evening, or out of town? Probably not out of town. Surely they would have locked up tight if they were leaving for more than a few minutes.

That thought got his heart racing again. He needed to find somewhere to hide in the event they did come home.

He silently crept deeper inside.

~

“OK, sweetie, I want you into your PJs and your teeth brushed, like pronto.” Marybeth gave little Pete a playful swat on the butt as they came in from the garage. “No arguments, and no more candy. It’s late. Mommy’s tired.”

The Halloween party at Rachel’s had been exhausting enough, but then she had to also swing by and pick up groceries or there would be no milk in the morning.

Pete, still in his cowboy outfit, rushed off but paused in the middle of the kitchen.

“Can I have some chocolate milk?” He gave her his best puppy dog eyes and all so innocent smile.

“No, you can’t.” She juggled two bags of groceries onto the counter nearest the fridge. “And leave that bag on the table, you’ve had enough for tonight. Now go brush your teeth. I’ll be in to tell you a story in a minute. Go on. Scoot!”

He reluctantly put his bag of goodies on the table, then spun and rushed off for his room.

By the time she had the groceries put away Pete had on his PJs, and had brushed his teeth. When she stepped into his room he was in bed with his covers pulled up to his chin.

“Mom! There’s a monster under the bed!” His eyes were wide with fear.

Not this again.

“There is no monster under the bed, Pete. We’ve talked about this over and over—”

“Yes there is! I really saw it this time! There is!”

She let out an exasperated breath. “Stop. Just stop, or there will be no story time.”

“Mom.” His plea was heart-wrenching. “Please look! Please!”

“You have got to get over this.” But how could she ignore such a plea? Against her better judgment she knelt down and stooped to look under the bed.

Her scream was cut off by the hand that shot out and grabbed her by the throat.

Pete’s screams died a few moments later.

~ © 2014 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.

 

Bob Steel looked at her through the one way glass. She looked to be all of 15 years old – white, slight of build, and under-dressed for the weather. Not slutty streetwalker under-dressed, simply lacking the proper outerwear for a 12 degree St. Louis night. To think it had been 50 just a week ago Wednesday.

“A patrol picked her up near Olive and Spring.” Captain Johnson shook his head as he gazed through the window, his face a mix of sorrow and resignation. He had seen too many runaways in his time. “She was squatting over an exhaust vent at the public broadcasting building. A security guard chased her off from there two nights ago.” He turned and handed Steel a brown paper bag. “She had these with her, apparently selling them on the street to get by.”

Bob took the bag and peered inside. Instead of pills he saw bangles, cheap multicolored metal bangles like his twelve year old niece would wear.

“Bangles?”

Captain Johnson shrugged. “Hey, I was just relieved it wasn’t dope. Christine could get nothing out of her, so I’d like you to give it a try. We don’t have much to hold her on but I can’t let her go, not in this weather.”

“Got an age?”

“Got nothing,” Johnson answered. “No age. No name. No nothing.”

~

 Melissa looked up as the door opened once again. The police officer by the door sidestepped to allow that Christine woman and a new guy entry. The new guy was carrying a brown paper bag, which she suspected held her bangles, and a tall foam cup of hot coffee. It smelled wonderful.

The guy took the chair just opposite of her and plopped the bag down. The metallic clatter it made confirmed her suspicion. His casual disregard for all her worldly goods annoyed her.

Christine sat to the guy’s left.

The man surprised her when he slid the steaming coffee across the table toward her.

“I hope it’s not too sweet,” he said. “I just guessed at three sugars.”

She looked at the cup with some skepticism. Coffee was a regular feature of police interviews, always for the cops, she supposed as a taunt.

“My name’s Bob Steel,” the man said. “You already know Christine.”

The squat black woman nodded at the reintroduction.

“Christine is just about the nicest person on the face of the Earth,” Bob went on. “I’m a little surprised you haven’t taken to her.” He nudged the coffee closer. “Go ahead and drink it. It won’t do you much good once it’s cold.”

She took the cup, at first reluctantly, then wrapped her hands around it eagerly. The warmth of it seeped through the polystyrene. It was the first time her hands began to truly feel warm in three days.

“So,” Bob said as she sipped at the hot liquid, “you know my name. How about you tell me yours?”

“Uh-uh.” She blew on the coffee and took another sip.

“You a runaway?” Bob asked.

Her eyes darted down.

“Don’t want to go home? Is it awful?”

“This is good.” She raised the cup toward him in grateful salute.

“Yeah, best coffee in the Department. You chose a good place to get picked up.”

“It wasn’t exactly a choice,” she said.

“You’d rather freeze to death over that exhaust grate?”

“I was doing OK.”

“It’s going down to 7 tonight,” Bob informed her. “If the boys hadn’t picked you up you’d be in the morgue come sunrise.”

“I can think of worse places,” she said.

“Really? Was it that bad at home?”

“Mister, you have no idea.” She dared a larger gulp of the coffee.

“I think I do,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot. Bullying at school. Parents fighting. Domestic violence, verbal and physical.” He watched her as spoke. “Domestic sexual abuse.”

Her hand jerked and coffee sloshed over the rim.

“Jesus Christ,” Bob said, almost to himself. He resisted the urge to reach across and take her hand. “Listen, uh… I’ll call you Jane, we won’t let that happen to you again.”

Melissa struggled to keep her hands from shaking. “I’m not going home,” she managed with a strangled voice. “You can’t make me,” she said with a bit more control. “I turn 18 tomorrow. I’m an adult. You can’t make me go home.

Christine leaned forward, taking her hands in her own. “We won’t send you back into a dangerous situation.”

“But we can’t help you if you won’t let us,”  Bob said. “Come on, you have to help us out here.”

“Melissa.”

“That’s your name?” He cocked his head.

She nodded, disentangled from Christine, and wiped away the tears that began to run down her cheeks.

Bob leaned back and signaled the officer to fetch some tissues. “Thank you for that, Melissa. If you really do turn 18 tomorrow you are quite right that we cannot make you go home. I can hold you overnight if you want. You get a warm place to sleep and turn legal in one fell swoop. But we’re going to need a last name to verify that, maybe a place of birth?”

Melissa stared at the coffee cup.

“If your story pans out we can even get you into the New Genesis Shelter in time for a nice Christmas dinner. Come on, help me out here, Melissa.”

“Chambers,” she said. “Melissa Chambers.”

Bob relaxed a bit. At least now they had somewhere to start.  “Thank you.”

~

© 2012 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

A hedgehog dog toy with red eyes“Well, he got Hedgehog out into the yard today.”

“Did he bury it yet?” For whatever reason, Abe felt compelled to take his favorite toys outside. If he tried to bring them back in before they were covered with dirt, we’d give in and allow him to bring them back in. If they were buried and nasty, he’d just have to put up with them becoming outdoor toys. I hoped Hedgehog was still clean enough to come inside. It might be starting to lose all the fur on one side, but Abe had used it as his favorite for longer than any other toy. I was hoping we’d find an identical replacement before he got it out so he wouldn’t miss it as much. Sure enough, the dog was already searching desperately for the friend he forgot wasn’t hidden in the house.

“I don’t know,” said Mom. “I haven’t seen any sign of it.” As if on cue, Abe turned his big, brown eyes toward me as though he thought I knew where his buddy was. He stretched his neck forward and wagged his tail expectantly.

I sighed and walked to the back door. “I can let you out to look for it, but if it’s too dirty, it stays out.” Abe trotted into the yard, sniffing the air. When I let him back in fifteen minutes later, the beagle still did not have his toy.

By suppertime, Abe was pacing around. He always carried the ratty old Hedgehog around in his mouth for half an hour or so after he ate, looking for the best place smack in the middle of the floor to hide it. He nosed Bunny and Skunk but didn’t pick either of them up. It was his own fault for forgetting he took his buddy outside, but I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. Dad let him out, but the dog still returned empty-mouthed. The moisture in the October air was not a good sign. If it rained tonight, Hedgehog would probably be too muddy to bring back inside, whether it had been buried or not.

“You always bury the ones you love,” I said as Abe nudged my knee with his snout for attention. I scratched him behind the ears, which flopped around in reaction to my hand motions. He panted, temporarily satisfied, until I withdrew my hand and he prodded me again. He whined and looked at me.

“I know what you want. But you’re the one who knows where it –” A loud thump against the back door cut me off. It obviously wasn’t Abe asking to come in because he was here, pressed against my leg. I squeezed my way out from the chair and walked to the back hallway. I looked through the glass on the door’s window and saw nothing but the empty porch. The wind picked up as I stood there and pulled the screen door ajar for a moment before it dropped back into place with a bang. Well, that explained it.

Clouds covered the sunset as I let Abe out once more before it could rain. He did his business and returned to the shelter of our home, still Hedgehogless. The first brown marks of raindrops dotted the porch behind him. Oh, well.

I had trouble sleeping that night. I threw the covers off because it was too muggy only to reach for them again as a chill set in. Thunder rumbled in the distance, just loud enough to disturb my attempts to drift into dreams.

As I should have expected, my dog was soon standing by my bed, whimpering. He hated storms. I gave up on sleep and reached over to pet Abe between the shoulder blades. He clung to my left leg when I got up to get a glass of water from downstairs. Careful not to trip on the shivering body beside me, I looked out a window to see a steady downpour. What leaves had been struggling to remain attached to the trees were being dragged to the ground one by one by the rain and wind.

Poor guy, there was no way his favorite toy would be in any condition to be brought back in by morning.

Another thud shook the back screen door. I knew it was just the wind again, but I decided to look anyway. A black and brown stuffed toy lay on the porch. Other than a dead, brown leaf stuck to its matted fur there were no signs it had been buried. It was even sheltered from the rain by its location under the awning. I couldn’t imagine how we’d missed it the last time we let Abe in.

I decided that waiting for morning would only cause the wind to draw the rain onto the remaining dry areas on the porch, leaving Hedgehog soaked and undesirable as an indoor toy. I fumbled for the keys and unlocked the door. I stepped back when a flash of lightning lit the sky.

“You’d better appreciate this, dogface,” I muttered as I pushed the screen door open. Abe stayed put as I walked out into the rain to pick up the ratty old toy. The thunder from the latest flash echoed across the sky the same instant my hand touched the soft form of Abe’s buddy. I jumped at the sound, letting go of the stuffed animal.

Surely I must have imagined Hedgehog walking on its own through the propped open door. It just bounced in because of the way I dropped it, right?

I locked the door behind me and picked up my glass of water from the counter. Abe stuck to my leg again the whole way. Maybe he’d be more appreciative of his rescued toy once the thunder died down.

I’m certain I only misinterpreted the beagle’s suspicious glances over his shoulder toward the motionless Hedgehog on the way out of the kitchen. He was only worried about the storm.

Right?

© 2012 by Emelie E. Strother, all rights reserved.

Photo  ©  by J. M. Strother, October 26, 2012.

 

I look up at the leaves turning – the bright hues of the red-orange maples mixed with the yellows of the ash, the russet of the oak – such beauty, if only fleeting. Within a few days all the leaves will fall, left unraked to become sodden, brown; decomposing back into dust. The last of their kind, nature’s final contribution to the soil under my feet.

There is a tap on my shoulder through the heavy radiation suit. I turn to see Captain Jones jerking his thumb toward the Hummer.  “We need to get moving, soldier.” His voice is small and flat through my tiny earpiece. “Levels are too high here.”

How long, I wonder, before this valley sees green again?

~

© 1012 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.

Photo Autumn Hill by Anton Lefterov, via Wikimedia Commons under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Autumn-hill.jpg

 

A ladder rasing up into the skyI killed Sam Spade today. No, not that Sam Spade. I mean the guy up in Apartment 3B. Please believe me, it was an accident. I liked the guy.

Truth be told, I did not actually kill him. He did that all on his own, sort of a Darwin Award type of moment. I simply pointed out that Glenda Murry’s tabby cat was up on the roof, and could not get down. The cat probably used the sugar maple then freaked out when it saw how far it was to the ground.

By the time I got out there with Sam the poor thing had worked itself into a frenzy, darting about in small, tight circles, yowling its misery to the world. I suggested we call the fire department. I knew Sam well enough to know that would be a non-starter – he would want to play the part of hero. See, he has a thing for Glenda and I was pretty sure he would want to impress her. Or should I say “had” a thing…

I also knew full well that with all the rain we’ve had over the last month the three-story ladder the landlord keeps in the basement would be, ah, how shall I say it… a bit risky?

Sam was nearly to the top of the ladder, oh thirty or thirty-five feet up, when the left leg started sinking. I did try to hold the ladder, really, but the more it slid along the gutter the harder it became to brace. It just kept picking up speed. Then Sam let out a little yelp and… well you know the rest.

I spent all evening across the hall in 1A comforting Glenda Murry. Of course it wasn’t her fault. No, it wasn’t the cat’s fault either. He should have called the fire department. She was so upset she asked me to stay the night. How could I refuse, considering the circumstances?

I’ve got a call into the landlord. I’ve been waiting for a third-floor apartment to open up for years now. Sam’s seems to be available – it has a terrific view of the park.

~
© 2011 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.

Photo by Christop Brooks-Booth, via Flickr Creative Commons, attribution, non-commercial, and share alike terms apply.

 

Our houseIt was like a stab in the heart seeing that For Sale sign go up.

Hank pulled Mandy, his wife, closer so they stood hip-to-hip. She melted into the contours of his side. They stood in the front yard of the old two story Victorian, the house they had lived in since before the kids were born. The real estate agent, Anne, came over to shake Hank’s hand. She gave Mandy a sympathetic look.

“You’ll miss this place,” Anne said leaning in toward Mandy. “But I’m sure you’ll love what I find for you.”

Mandy gave a half smile, disengaged from Hank, and accepted a little hug from Anne. “I know.” They watched Anne drive away and then turned back toward the only house they ever owned.

“Funny,” Hank said as they approached the newly painted front door, “how you finally get everything the way you want it just so you can sell it.” They spent the last three months and a considerable sum of money whipping the old place into tip-top shape.

I thought they were doing it because they loved me.

Anne took them out on trip after trip looking for their new home. They wanted everything on one floor, like so many retirees. Nothing too big, but with enough space so as not to feel trapped. Hank insisted on a basement, so he could set up a work shop, and they wanted a two car garage even though they only had one car.

“One of my rules of life,” Hank told Anne. “Always build an oversized garage.” They had gone for twenty years with no garage at all. Once they finally got around to building it the contractor convinced Hank to build big. One of the best decisions they ever made. Plenty of room for all that accumulated clutter of life.

They come and go. But I thought these people were different. I thought it was real.

“No,” Mandy said walking from the empty living room to the empty dining room. Even without any window treatments the place was dark. “Our house has those nice big windows – so bright and cheery. This place is just too dark.”

Anne plastered a smile on her face and nodded in complete agreement. It was always something.

Kelsey’s water broke right here, on this landing. Don’t you remember?

Mandy paused as she pulled the curtains open. The bright sunlight washed over her just as it had twenty-three years ago today when she felt that first painful contraction — three weeks too early. She sat down on the steps suddenly awash in the memory of it. Oh how they’d rushed to finish the nursery – that little awkward room on the second floor. She stroked the banister rail idly. God she would miss this place.

She was roused by the sound of the doorbell. It was her neighbor, Betty. One in the long stream of visitors they’d had since putting up the sign. They drank coffee in the bright kitchen and reminisced about all the good times they shared bringing up kids together.

She stood at the front door for a long time after Betty was gone looking out at the only real neighborhood she had ever known.

Are you sure you want to do this?

“These people are driving me nuts!” Anne hung up the phone, having set up yet another appointment with the Murrays for house hunting. It was always something. Too dark. Not enough space. Too big. Don’t like the location. And her favorite – not enough character. She held up the half dozen fliers and waved them in the general direction of her coworker, Al. “I bet I can peg which excuse they’ll give for each one of these.”

Al shook his head in commiseration. “I know. You can’t get some of those old folks out with dynamite.”

If it wasn’t such a depressed market she’d tell them to find another agent.

I am your home. We have bonds, you and I.

Hank stood in the back yard and surveyed the memories. Mike’s tree, that little Arbor Day twig they stuck in the ground twenty-eight years ago now shaded the patio nicely. The stone they hauled up from the creek to mark Dorango’s grave sat near its base, now moss covered. He could still imagine the old lab’s wet nose playing off his fingers, seeking attention. How Kelsey had cried.

Last night they turned down a very good offer. Anne had been furious. She hid it well, but he could see it in her eyes.

Mandy came out and pulled him into herself. “What you thinking?” she asked.

“That side yard… you know, it’s probably big enough for a bed room, full bath, and laundry room.”

She looked up at him. “You don’t want to move?”

He shook his head ever so slightly, no.

She wiped away a tear. “Me neither. I’ll go call Anne with the bad news.”

I love these people.
~

© 2011 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.

 

I wondered why he had placed me there. Usually my sort is treated quite badly, in my humble opinion. I mean seriously, it’s not our fault that we exist. We are the remnants of what others consume. We are victims of circumstance and mass-consumption.

Nevertheless, there I was, ruminating while waiting for discovery. I’d heard of these types of shenanigans before. Some find it funny to trap us and put us in sacks for this sort of thing. I’ve heard of tales from the old ones, we call them “Black Bananas” since I was a youngling.

We all come from the same place. We call it, “The Land of Unending Turns.” Then the day comes when we are pushed forth to enter the watery depths in the cases of those poor unfortunate keester cakes. Though I’m told they have found ways to thrive. I was hoping to land beside a tree, so that I could find out what life is like on the outside.

The Black Bananas say it is wonderful.

Instead, I am here inside this sack with the oddest of smells around me. I am somehow aware that I am not alone, and whatever is out there makes me feel faint from their scent.

It’s horrific and it is my only hope that it is not what I think it is, because if that’s the case, then I am doomed to oblivion.

But tis, all too true, for when my bag was opened, the odor was undeniable.

“What in God’s name were you thinking?” she shouted.

“April fools? You know, a joke.”

Humans.

There were to be no trees for me, only the sound of my own retching as I was flushed down to the watery depths.

© 2011 by Rachel Blackbirdsong, all rights reserved.

April Fools! The story you just read appears here on my blog as a part of the Great April Fool’s Day FridayFlash Blog Swap, organized by Tony Noland. You can find my story for today, Brown Bag, at Rachel Blackbirdsong’s website, Ravenwood. To read all the dozens of stories swapping around as a part of the GAFDFFBS, check out the GAFDFFBS index over at Tony’s blog Landless. For hundreds of thousands of words of fantastic flash fiction stories, check out the FridayFlash hashtag on Twitter. It happens every Friday!

 

I work for a rather enlightened company. It has a gym on site, complete with an Olympic sized swimming pool and a jacuzzi. It’s a nice fringe benny, considering the price fitness centers charge these days. And it’s a lot more convenient, being right on site and being open 24 hours a day.

I used to try and work out right after work. But the gym is pretty crowded then (it’s the most popular time according to the attendant). Plus I soon leaned that I really just wanted to go home at the end of the day and found it harder and harder to get up the energy to face the weights and treadmill after a hard day at the office. So I dropped it for a while.

A recent glance at the scale told me that dropping the gym was a mistake. So I decided to try working out before the start of the day instead. It was hard to force myself up at 5am, but I found a predawn workout much preferable to a late afternoon one. And as a side bonus the gym is virtually abandoned at 6am. It’s usually just me and the attendant.

It’s so abandoned, in fact, that sometimes it gets kind of creepy. Occasionally I seem to catch some movement out of the corner of my eye, but when I look, no one is there. There is the occasional odd noise too. The sound of a door closing. The isolated clank of metal as if someone just set down the weights.

It got really creepy last week. I was in the shower and I could swear that someone was out in the gym using the weight machines. I could definitely hear the rhythmic clank clank of someone pressing iron. But when I dressed and went back out into the gym to leave, no one was there. It was dead still. As I went through the anteroom I asked Charlie, the attendant, who else was in the gym. He shook his head. “Just you, bud.” I started to object, but then shrugged and went on to work.

The next day I could have sworn I saw the door to the women’s locker room closing just as I got there. I went to the men’s and changed out, but found no one in the gym when I came back out. As I was about to go on and start my routine I heard a distinct splash from the pool. It is on the other side of the pass-through locker rooms, so I went back the way I had come and stepped out on the deck to the pool.

No one was there. There was only the gentle lapping of the water in the side gutters. Very odd.

I don’t use the pool myself. I’m not a good swimmer, and would never dream of swimming alone. Since I’m usually the only one there in the early morning the pool is out of the question for me. In a way I was relieved that no one was swimming. I would have been sort of worried about them the whole time. Face it, swimming solo is dangerous.

But no one was there, so I went back to the gym for my work out. Just as I reentered the gym the door to the anteroom was closing and I smiled. So that was it. Charlie was trying to spook me, the nasty trickster.

“So, we got ghosts?” I jibbed on the way out.

He just grinned. ‘Gotcha!’, I thought.

On Thursday last I was just getting ready to strip for my shower when I heard a splash out in the pool again. This time I was closer and there could be no doubt. I quit unlacing my sneakers and dashed to the pool entrance to catch the culprit red handed – or wet handed.

But there was no one there. “I’ll catch that bast…” Wait a minute. I took a few steps out onto the deck. Wet foot prints on concrete. Petite foot prints, like those of a woman. I glanced at the women’s locker room and scratched my head. Who the Hell was trying to spook me? I started to turn back to take my shower when I thought I saw something in the water. My heart jumped to my throat and I dashed down the side of the pool, yelling for help. There was a body in the water!

But as I drew near what I thought had been a body melted away into just some odd reflections from the overhead lights. I cringed and hoped Charlie had not heard my frantic cries for help. Damn, I was starting to scare myself!

As I gazed into the water someone gave me a shove from behind. I hurtled into the water in a panic. I was fully dressed, except for the left shoe, which came off and floated to the bottom. I’m a terrible swimmer in the first place and my wet clothes were dragging me down.

As I drifted towards the bottom of the pool I looked up and saw a woman standing poolside. I reached out, beseechingly, silently begging for help as I sucked water into my lungs. She dove in! She was going to save me. But as she approached I saw the bloated face of a dead woman. She grinned with lifeless eyes, her long hair twining around her face and shoulders. My vision went white then, and I blacked out.

The next thing I knew I was coughing up water and struggling under Charlie’s face. He dropped back and gave me room. He had indeed heard me cry out, but by the time he got there I was already in the water and flailing away. He had pulled me out with the dead-man’s pole and administered mouth-to-mouth, and just in time.

I’m told there was a woman that used do an early morning work out with the weights, and then do laps in the pool. She swam alone and drowned.

I still exercise in the mornings before work. I jog my neighborhood. You’ll never see me in a gym, any gym, ever again.
~
© 2011 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.

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