Teaching And A Frayed Mind
“Your assignment today class, for you now 5th grade, is to describe 3 places at school but don’t mention names, nor classroom numbers or teachers nearby to identify. Be cool. Descriptive writing is the game. They’re building a new annex. Keep it in mind. Makes it look a little spooky. Unusual for daytime, but where could it be? Will we know from the words we see?”
I walked in. The smell was too much. It reminded me of a corpse. I hadn’t seen one in so long. My stomach rumbled. “Hold on, stay strong. A fresh corpse is better if one’s rotting here. Stay strong. Dear, dear.”
I peeked around and pushed the door to the booth, but to my dismay a ghoul had shed in an unusual way.
Kind of gross!
That’s all I could say.
Or Maybe This
So many books
That I don’t know where to looks
My mind a befuddled maze
Genre’s what they says
A green hand offers a tale
Of a Zombie Killer Whale
But I read that one yesterday
Magazines are good too
As it waves a stumped finger
‘Tsk, tsk’ on you
The teacher won’t let me
Magazines won’t do
Must be a book
I’ll log in
Can read them there too
That’s what I’ll do
Yet Another Possibility
I want to play but I hit a force field that keeps me away
Bull dozers and diggers, jackhammers too
This orange stuff like net I’ll trip over I bet
Crack my head on a rock they dug up underground
Should have left it asleep
What’s that in the concrete?
Is it my friend Pete?
Guess it was too wet for footprints that day
Wrong decision to play
Now smooth, marble-round
Nice and sound
It was the best place for something to do
Well, there’re swings over there
I could go on them too
Can’t wait till they finish
Will they clean up today?
Tomorrow no force field
Then safe we’ll shout “hurray!”
The teacher came home from her day, poured a deep glass of sherry, the creamy kind while peeling the clothes stuck to her from heat. One, no actually two of the students thought her place in school was the dumpster with the first one. There was one who did figure out bathroom. Library is almost a no-brainer when talking about books but some of the teachers have extensive libraries in their classrooms… still, no one was confused with that one. The third one was a good one presenting a toss-up between the playground and the construction going on for extending the school. “Not a bad day with those. That one student, the one who read his last really has a knack for descriptive writing.
Where did these temperatures come from so late? Early fall approaches as summer exits out but not yet I guess, though should have been in July not now. This sherry is too warm a drink but I’m out of gin. No ice-cold martini for me. Now that’s serious sin.” She took a mouthful letting it fill her senses on the way down. In a light dress and a top loose underneath, she walked into the kitchen. “Oops forgot to clean. Ok broom, do your stuff. I’ll get out of your way.” She grabbed hummus, a pita and an old movie too. The classroom couldn’t touch her now. Relaxing time to do as the kitchen fixed itself.
“If they only knew. How do I come up with these examples to teach? A little macabre magic so true. Shhh – it’s between me and you.”
White Noise Again
A Background Hum:
“It’s been one of those sweltering days good for a workout. When I get home I’m going to peel and drop clothes, shower, then grab something in the fridge to have with the last of my cold white wine and relax.” Gillian hit send on her cell and picked up the pace but slowed to a stop when she reached the railing overlooking an old pier of uneven posts shaped like people walking up from the sea. They’d wake when the sun was down. “Such a beautiful sunset. Better hurry.” Anyone still outside would become one of them.
“Monica, hurry home! We need you to put a stop to this curse.” She hit send again. It wasn’t a totally bad curse in a sense seeing everyone in the town got to live forever almost like Brigadoon. They didn’t fall asleep at night and wake 100 years later, they slept and woke normally but without the aging thing and there were the people on the partially collapsed dock who woke at night fated to wander through the town no longer able to be a part of it and take with them anyone who hadn’t followed curfew caught outside. No one took it all seriously at first, which is how the dock became loaded with posts – people posts – well, anyway.
If only they hadn’t held that séance trying to contact old lady Murrone.
OLD LADY MURRONE:
She’d lived in that town over 30 years and had become recluse to avoid the ridicule. Not knowing it was a mistake she’d said she thought she had stopped a heart attack one day by calming and centering herself causing the pain that was traveling up her arm to reverse. She’d tried to encourage people to use natural remedies and described how touch could cure. When she’d go to Joe’s Place it’d spread faster than wildfire and many would meet up with her exhorting her to tell them, to teach them, about healing and meditation having no idea all the while she was their object of ridicule until one of the older kids who’d stopped in could no longer contain himself causing the entire room to burst into laughter. The owner of Joe’s packed up her dinner along with a few other things in the picnic basket she used for shopping helping her to leave, but when she stepped outside to head home some of the townspeople threw rotten tomatoes and eggs. How archaic in these modern times one would think! Watching from the kitchen Joe’s wife jumped into their car and screeched to a halt alongside her and drove Candace home while her husband cleaned out his café. Anyone who’d assaulted his friend Ms. Murrone could not come back. In spite of it his place always prospered. When she’d died, they closed up shop and left town.
Or at least the town thought she’d died.
It Happened That:
A stranger had stopped at Margo’s Café and overheard people laughing about a séance. “Old lady Murrone tell you how to cure athlete’s foot? Wouldn’t want to lay my hand on that. Maybe you should wash your socks.”
“A town of witches and warlocks? I didn’t know they needed séances to contact their dead.” The stranger smiled as she walked to the counter to pay. Everyone’s chest puffed with pride. “It’s been a month since her funeral. Wanted to wish the old girl happy anniversary. Just passing through, ma’am?” “A month’s anniversary is almost romantic… not the impression I had. If I understand you correctly, I’ve just moved into old lady Murrone’s house. I’ll let you know if I find any treasure hidden in the walls or under the stairs.” That was enough of a distraction. “Hah! Or people living under the stairs!” A stranger shouldn’t know much one way or the other. “We didn’t know anyone’d bought the old place. Thought it was going to forever remain the town’s wart. Welcome! Maybe this time around it’ll have some life to it or at least in it. Our high school’s yearbook committee could use a donation if you do!” The stranger smiled back. “Oh, I spent my first night at the house last night. A lovely place with great ambience. All her original furniture is there. A real find if you like antiques. I’m a writer and have been at ease about it since the first moment I saw it. It’ll be a place of great inspiration. In fact, I feel a short story coming on as we speak.” She threw her head back and laughed. “Oh, before I forget the reason I stopped in this morning, it was the strangest – I’m not one for this kind of thing, but old lady Murrone said you’ve brought a curse upon yourself. Something about your own doing and when this used to be Joe’s Place? Don’t know… just got here.” She shrugged, shoulders still trembling amusement. Her eyes twinkled. “If you stay inside from sundown tonight to sunrise and reflect on the town’s unkindness to her it will pass. Interesting woman. Knew a lot about healing. Can really talk up a storm.”
A shocked dead silence had fallen over the entire place. There was something about her, like she was a young Candace Murrone. They gaped out the front window as she headed home, carrying a picnic basket with delicacies from the market. It was eerie like they had seen it all before. Johanna Scarlett was the first to break the silence. “A clam bake tonight celebrating our curse and the beginning of summer?” Everyone erupted into laughter.
They should have made a better decision.
Old lady Murrone’s house was set back far enough up a hill offering a view of the town leading down to the shore. That evening the stranger walked out onto the balcony from the master bedroom and watched the revelry on the beach, the one with a dock partially collapsed into the sea. Old Man Jenkins, one of the tomato throwers, saw her and hollered, “Come join us! Hank’s the best cook in town!” She cupped her hands around her mouth and hollered back. “Thank-you! But, I feel another chapter coming on! Enjoy!”
She turned to walk back inside, her heart heavy.
“They really don’t get it. So be it then”, Monica sadly exhaled. “I’m so sorry grandmother. So be it.” “Don’t worry my dear. They did it to themselves. Can you believe there’s still no remorse? If any of them had at least attempted to come to the funeral even out of curiosity they’d’ve found out there wasn’t one but instead they throw a community séance after only a month no less. I’d planned to play it up like I wanted to throw the town a party. It would’ve added to my eccentricity. How old did they think I was? Old Lady Murrone indeed! All those people who used to smile big at me. Too bad it wasn’t in friendship. Anyway, I told you it’s a great place to write. How about we let them off the hook when enough people in town put these few in their place, no, no vengeance, how about when someone realizes it wasn’t the best way to behave. I wonder how long it’s going to take this group to realize what’s going on. Probably keep holding clambakes toasting friends moving out of town…” “You’re too much of a softie Gramms. Sounds like a game plan to me!”
“Are we packed? Joe and Cindy are looking forward to our visit.” “Yea, we’re good. I thought whatever I forgot we could pick up there.” “Love to shop just like your grandmother!”
No, they didn’t cast a spell to make things shrink into a carpetbag and get on their brooms. Monica had the luggage in her Jeep. She locked up while Grandma Murrone stood back from the windows giving one last look at the revelry, then they left through the back door and drove along the coast away from the party. Joe and Cindy were heading to Europe next month and they were going to housesit until their return or the town, even if it was only one person, had a change of heart.
That was mid-June. It was early September. Gillian had gotten a job at the high school and moved into the house on the grassy-rocky hill above the tideline beginning of July. In the moonlight looking out the bedroom window her house seemed like it was floating on the sea and she could see the empty dock that was covered with posts come morning. Recently that number hadn’t been increasing. Each morning she took a walk for the purpose of counting.
“Now we’re getting somewhere.”
His name was Ralph, an appropriate title for the condition he left most people in after they met him. He was too much businessman and not enough human meaning with everything he saw a dollar sign. He had a girlfriend, very pretty, very sweet, how he got her was a mystery, who many of his friends liked, which gave him the idea that somehow he was going to arrange it so she’d turn a profit for him whether she liked it or not.
The first part of his plan was easy enough to implement, separate her from them figuring it’d give him a leg up on coercing them to bid for her. “Bid for an angel.” He liked it. Who would’ve ever fathomed, how could anyone have ever expected what Ralph wanted from her? When it became clear and she could no longer deny what was taking place in her life, she told him she was leaving him. She became more and more stunned as she thought of how everything had been unfolding and faced the fact he’d never loved her, in reality not once, not even genuinely liked her since high school where she’d first met him, while he continued on with his plotting certain it wouldn’t be much longer before he’d have his friends giving him as much money as he wanted for her “company”.
It was after that it happened.
Ralph went out to meet up with them at their usual hangout, this time bringing photographs of a vacation to Ocho Rios where for the most part she lived in her bikini. Now it was his friends’ turn to be stunned as Ralph moved in with the final pitch revealing his plan to them carrying on about how Angel was agreeable to what he had in mind, how much she’d always liked them all, how she couldn’t wait. They fell silent glancing at each other, but he never doubted they’d go along with it. “That samba of hers is going to make me rich.” He smiled to himself.
“Let me buy another round” and he walked to the bar.
None of them liked the idea and didn’t believe Angel agreed. “Do you think she’s going along with this?” “No way. I’ll bet she doesn’t even know what he wants.” “Is he out of his mind and how does he think he’s going to get away with it?” “How’s he’s… aaagh… how he’s going to make her do it is beyond me.” “I almost feel like going along to see what he’s got in store for her and get her out of there.” “Poor Angel, right!” Ralph came back. “So”, he said with a self-assured grin, “who’s first?” “I am”, but the voice came from behind them.
They turned to see a tall, well-dressed man standing close enough it wasn’t impossible he’d overheard. “I heard you talking while your friend was ordering refills,” he said nodding a smile. “She must be something else if you all want to be first in line.” They glanced at each other again but for whatever reason felt compelled to go along with what the stranger was saying. There was something about him. By the time he’d decided to leave, Ralph had given him his address and a time for later that night. As he walked out the door, a couple of friends quickly bade goodnight and caught up with him. ”Don’t worry. I work with vice. I’m going to be watching your friend Ralph. I intend to put him away for a long time. This isn’t a first offense.” Eddie and Hank looked at each other but when they turned to ask when he’d started listening to their conversation, how long he’d been standing there, the stranger was gone. “Gives a new meaning to undercover.” “You think?”
When Ralph got home he burst through their bedroom door. Using the alcohol Angel would be able to smell on his breath as a front, he began ranting about if she was going to leave him he was gong to ruin her life. He grabbed her twisting her body around and pulled at her clothes. Although she fought him for a while, he’d managed to at least loosen his pants and wasn’t about to back down, kept twisting her back and around and then stopped at the sound of someone at the door. “There’s an eager individual and he’s never seen you!” Better than certain it was the stranger from the bar and of his impending success he pushed her onto the bed and commanded, “You’re going to do what I say.”
He opened the door to the stranger, “I never did get your na…” who yanked him off his feet. “You like to use people. I have a coven that could use you… as a snack. Not much of a human anyway, hmm? Wonder how you’ll taste.” Ralph was lifted straight into the air. His head snapped back and he felt a sharp pain. The ground disappeared beneath him as large drops of blood splashed on the front steps. Angel had jumped up when Ralph’d left, locked the bedroom door and dialed 911. She’d pushed a dresser in front of it. Within minutes there was a loud banging. “Ma’am, police! Are you in there?” “Yes! Yes! I’m here!” She moved the dresser back, cracked the door and peeked out then ran through the living room throwing the front door open to two officers standing on the sidewalk below spatters of blood, one holding a shoe in his hand. “Does this belong to Ralph?”
Ralph’s friends were more than happy to cooperate with the police and give statements about what they’d learned of his plan expressing the usual surprise so many do when they just would never have expected “he” or “she” was like that, sufficient enough that a warrant was issued for his arrest.
Chained in an old dungeon not used since the Inquisition, no one could hear his screams. Once his blood was completely drained, his body was burned to ash. “He was dead, right?” Gabriel and Bartolommeo looked at each other bursting into laughter that drifted musically through corridors as they finished rinsing the chamber floor.
There was a hand-written sign that said, “DO NOT ENTER” but she ignored it. She looked around to see if there were houses anywhere. The beach was deserted, the sand perfect, the sea calm with the tide going out. “Probably someone trying to reserve it for themselves. I can write here. What an inspirational spot.” She walked around the sign, spread out her blanket and took out her legal tablet she used for rough drafts.
‘The Sea And Me
As the sun sparkled on the water I rubbed more lotion on my skin and flipped sides. Lying on my back I kept its image vivid in mind. I nodded off, woke then checked the time. Sitting up I watched the tide play sparkling still as waves folded up then back, up then back. I imagined molten lead foaming from heat as the sun began to set. If I walked out would the sea still me? Make me part of its landscape permanently?
I rose and walked toward the waves imagining I would be covered in thick liquid. The tide had come in and it didn’t take long for waves to cover me when they rose, then slid down, my body silvery as sunlight hit. I took a handful, splashed my face as excess trickled off leaving highlights, defining shape. It became sticky as a thrill shot through. “Will you keep me forever part of you?” Suddenly drowsy I fell asleep as ocean solidified around and me.’
“And on that note” she thought as she tucked her legal pad away and ran toward the sea.
“You see this?” Jocelyn ran ahead and bent picking up a painting face down in the sand. It was of a woman playing, almost frolicking at the beach. Her eyes were closed as she splashed water in her face. Brent ran up beside her. “I pulled the sign up and threw it behind the weeds. If someone shows up we can play dumb.” He took the painting shaking off the excess. “I can’t imagine someone standing like that to be painted. I’d love to meet the artist. Look at the detail. How’d he do it!” “He, huh. A woman could be this talented.” As they spoke the artist behind the dune off to their left was painting fiercely. There were more teeth than were natural making up his grin.
“I’ll bet he or she could paint a portrait of us finding a painting on the beach…”
The painting dropped onto the sand.
Just Passing Through
She’d seen him on what she thought was another uneventful walk home from work.
“Where is he running to?” She watched him tear down the street his feet almost not touching the ground. When she’d crossed to see if she could help he was gone. “Guess I was too slow.” Twenty-four hours later she saw him again but this time stood still in front of him as he was barreling in her direction. “This’ll get his attention – hope he isn’t in too much of a hurry and knocks me out of the way.” He didn’t. She braced herself as he ran right at her, through her and kept running leaving her with a sense of energy like a body’s circulation returning after it’d gone to sleep. “He passed through me. What on earth? Might not be on earth. He’s dead?” She’d spun around but not quickly enough. At that point some of the strangest thoughts began running through her mind. “He still needs help then if he’s reliving the same thing over and over. Huhmhm… reliving… not exactly… but if he has to repeat the same action from when he was alive something’s up. Purgatory or hell? Listen to me as if this is all normal! I guess it is. Probably should transfer off the Psych Unit. PT would be less… eventful.”
Not giving a second thought as to why, May wanted to help though she couldn’t imagine how.
She decided to run with him whether it’d turn out to be after him or beside him, “as long as it doesn’t spook him – not funny”, maybe that would give her a clue as to what’s going on and who he was. Around 5:30 a.m. she positioned herself off to the side of the sidewalk and watched. “This isn’t the best neighborhood… pff, so wha…” then she saw him, as he passed fell into a sprint beside him, and hoped he wouldn’t vanish or something like that before they reached wherever he was running to.
He darted into an alleyway toward the end of the block. He stood still then walked almost cautiously as if he were listening for something. May was dying to ask but didn’t dare speak. Overpowered with a sense of urgency, whatever it was, whatever he was doing, she didn’t want to cause it to take another day. They came to a door that was partially boarded. He grabbed at the knob but his hand reached through it. “He’s not solid.” He grabbed, he grabbed, he grabbed again. His face contorted as he grabbed frantically. May reached hoping it wouldn’t send him away. It turned. She pushed in. “What if someone’s here – this wasn’t smart” but he stepped through listening again. She peered in seeing it was like a basement with barely enough light beginning to break through dirty windows. May pushed the door open a little more and pulled a piece of board away to make more space. She didn’t take her eyes off him.
She thought she heard a cat. He stopped and listened. May stood still. It wasn’t a cat but it was behind a wall. “How?” May walked toward the sound forgetting all about him. There were boxes, some pretty heavy but she’d managed to shove or lift them out of the way then began knocking on the wall. “Am I in the movies? Do I know why they do thi…” She’d knocked a piece of wall that wasn’t wall but thin plaster making a large crack and a small hole. “No way.” With her heart pounding she began carefully pulling small bits out using one finger then grabbing handfuls.
Her jaw dropped as she blindly felt for her cell and speed-dialed 911.
When she was questioned all May could say was on the way home from her shift she’d spotted what she thought was a friend’s cat, followed it trying to coax it to her, then heard another sound mistaking it for kittens. There’s no way she could explain she’d seen the child’s dad’s… essence… running down the street trying to… rescue or get help for his son? While the boy was being examined and cleaned up she’d run upstairs to pediatrics and rummaged through the collection of extra clothes kept on hand for something for him to wear. After he’d changed they went to the ICU together to check on his dad who was awake and preparing to be moved to a private room. She lifted the child onto his bed. “Hey sport.” He looked from his son to May as if he were studying her face through his tears.
“Have we met?”
“I take something to relax me at night” she way saying. “There’s something in this house. We hear weird things and I see stuff especially when I’m about to nod off. I talk to it sometimes. The kids hear me. I tell them it’s the pills.”
Magda took what she was hearing with a grain of salt. Nothing’s unusual about mild hallucinations as sleeping pills or muscle relaxers begin doing their stuff. Not the least bit concerned about any of it, she’d agreed to help out with babysitting so Bernie could play at a revival meeting. She’d bring her son so he could play with her two kids and then tuck the three of them in and watch movies. It should be a good time.
It was getting toward 11 and the kids were asleep in the one bedroom off the living room within eyeshot of the couch. It was a wonderfully warm summer night. “A perfect party night” Magda’d thought as she turned off most of the lights leaving a stove light on in the kitchen and one nightlight. It was peaceful and of course she’d found a horror movie to watch. She loved them. As a rule horror was what lulled her to sleep. As she was watching she caught something from the corner of her eye and looked up at what seemed like two tiny white eyes looking down at her. Rubbing her own she looked again but there was nothing. She turned back to the television but became distracted catching another glimpse. “Just like in the movies.” As Magda turned her attention away she began to feel uneasy. “Maybe I should watch something a little happier” and went around turning on the lights. “Hmm. Creepy tonight.”
Looking around in approval of how cheery the room had become, her attention was unexpectedly drawn to a sound like a locked doorknob being turned side to side. At first she thought one of the kids was having a hard time opening the bedroom door and began walking toward it. “Bathroom call.” As she approached, the wood grain turned itself into a face. “A diabolical face? No!” Her insides quaked, “What the…” and Magda kept walking, the only thing on her mind was the children on the other side of that, her son being one of them. It remained, causing her another shudder as she reached for the knob. As she opened it the image dissipated and she checked the children. They were sleeping peacefully looking just like angels. “What time is it?” She left the door open.
It wasn’t long before there were sounds of a key in the front lock and Bernie walked in. “Everything go ok?” “Yeah, kids were great. No problems at all” but Magda wasn’t about to hang around to chat over coffee, though that’s what they normally did any chance they got time be damned, about the night’s events or anything else, and hurriedly grabbed her son, the few things she’d packed up, politely said bye and left. Bernie’s face changed to a somber acknowledgement. She knew.
“Hey, do you think you could watch the kids again? I’ve got a function to play at and I’d rather they didn’t have to come. It’s going to be late.” “Sure”, Magda told Bernie. “I’ll come pick them up and they’ll sleep at my house. Would you mind picking them up there?” Bernie’s tone changed to somber acknowledgement. “Not at all. Can you stop by around 6?”
THE INNER PSYCHE
She was becoming obsessed and she knew it but he excited her that much. It’d been a while since she’d concerned herself with why. Ruth conceded they somehow were meant to be even though she couldn’t be sure he knew she was alive.
After work she’d poured her usual glass of wine and settled in with a book while supper simmered away. After reading chapter five’s first paragraph over for the fourth time Ruth turned the book over on her lap and gave in to the image that wouldn’t leave her mind. He’d spent more time in the gym than usual today and she got to watch. How she loved her company had built an employee gym right across from her office but better yet, how she loved her picture window and that the equipment he used was always in view. Heaving a sigh heavy enough to make her light-headed and closing the book, she placed it on the coffee table and walked into the kitchen. Turning off the stove, her mind still elsewhere and forgetting there was no back deck because of remodeling, Ruth unlocked her back door, stepped through and fell face first in the mud, thank-goodness it was mud, but still managed to catch the corner of a rock with the side of her head. Everything went dark.
She came-to with a gentle nudge… nudge… nudge, and a voice softly calling “hey… hey… hello there… hey”. Leaning over her was a T-Rex with long arms; at least that’s what she thought she saw. He smiled with a lot of teeth that were very white. “I’m your neighbor Cole. Are you ok?” “Huh?” Still a little too stunned by the fall to make a lot of sense she slurred, “You talk… y-yh-hhh… yhoo tahl… k.” As she exhaled her eyes rolled back and her body went completely limp. She dreamt of falling in and into darkness, as if an uncomfortable slumber were taking hold. As Ruth fell faster her body jerked suddenly, she opened her eyes with a start and after a few moments became aware she was on the ground staring up at a t-shirt, from the local museum’s paleontology exhibit, with a smiling Tyrannosaurus screen printed on the chest. The long, very well toned arms she’d seen were attached to something else, or rather, someone else. Raising her eyes, her stupor began to clear with the realization the very man she’d arranged her lunch schedule around, the object of her desire, was holding her in his arms. “I’ve died and gone to… a Harlequin romance… my neighbor?” Adolescent glee shot through every crevice of her body as she silently ordained it could take a long while to get back on her feet, how long wouldn’t be negotiable. “Could life get much better than this?” shot through every single facet of her being as he offered to help her get cleaned up and take her to the E.R. if she needed it. Cole wrapped her arm around his neck as he put his around her back, lifting her up for support, which couldn’t stop her knees from buckling not so much from the fall but from the sheer pleasure of his touch, his smell, being glued against the side of his body, his everything. He didn’t stumble as she shakily hobbled around her house to the front door, which luckily had been left unlocked. “Look, I hope you don’t mind, but…” and he gallantly swept her into his arms carrying her through the front door.
Her inner Psyche could barely stifle a squeal as it smiled large and thought, “Yes!”
Angel was kicked-back on a pile of hay in a field she was crossing when he happened by, a farm hand maybe, she didn’t know. He started up a conversation nice enough but it wasn’t going to last. He tried to get a little too cozy and as she struggled the hay ignited. He jumped up hollering running away with his back pocket and the cigarettes in it billowing streams of white smoke – comical but not really. She jumped up unscathed, her skin naturally cool as if nothing’d happened at all, which was distraction enough that gave her something to think about. The fire was curiously concentrated in one spot so she instinctively began patting it out, cautiously, trying not to touch it directly, then realized it wasn’t burning her at all and she was actually able to put her hand directly on it to extinguish it. When she’d finished everything looked normal. Her grandmother had a knack with fire. She remembered seeing her touch foods cooking in oil on the stove without burning her fingertips. Of course she’d never seen her stick her hand in the oil, still, her grandmother’d said it was from years of cooking and practice, some day she’d do it too. There were other things, small things grandma could do she never gave a second thought to, but now that she was thinking about it, like how she’d wipe stove fires away without the dish towels getting burned telling her that they were damp enough not to catch, “Shouldn’t they at least’ve gotten some browned spots on them? What if there’s more too it?”
She decided to pay her grandmother a visit.
Angel climbed the wooden fence from the field to the road. Walking along a man stopped by offering her a ride, which she refused. He was insistent and so was she with her refusal though she tried to be polite about it. Finally he left. As she rounded a corner he stepped out from behind a tree and grabbed her around the waist holding a stinky smelling cloth over her mouth and nose that burned her throat a little and caused her to get dizzy. She stopped struggling. He dragged her to his car parked up ahead and threw her into the back seat. He pulled into a warehouse, got out and walked toward some other men counting money stacked on a table.
“I brought us some company”, he roared over music blaring. “She’s the prettiest one yet!”
Angel’d slipped out of the car, and looking around found a weapon but was grabbed by the arm. She held onto it as he spun her around. Pulling the trigger she consumed them all including her fleeing captor. “Shouldn’t’ve kidnapped me”, she thought and looked down at her hand. “A flame thrower, wouldn’t you know it. Does it just shoot? Guess it goes off when you pick it up.” Thinking of the movies she’d seen where the end has to be lit first she dropped it on the ground, got as far as the doorway, then turned to watch the flames. “I need to get to Grandma’s.”
The sign on the outside of the building said Benton Storage and across from it was a pay phone. She dialed the operator to place a collect call. “Grandma? Yeah, it’s Angel. Do you know where Benton warehouse is? Can you pick me up?” “How’d you get there? Get lost walking?” “I’ll tell you about that in the car. There’re some things I really want to talk to you about.” “I wondered if this time would come. Wait there, I’m on my way.” “Well, I’d like to start walking and meet up with you on the road if that’s ok.” “Of course! You’ve loved taking walks ever since you could walk.” “Yeah, I know. Ok grandma, see you in a few minutes.” “On the way!”
Angel looked across the street. Flames were licking at one of the back windows. There was no smoke. “Fire burning without smoke… that’s supposed to be significant for something.” She turned and started walking.
“Finished? Am I too late?” “Ha! Under the circumstances that’s funny. But if you must know, no, haven’t ordered yet. I was waiting for you. See anything strange on the way? You walked as always?” “Yeah, no sense in trying to drive just yet. People are still jamming the streets.” “Wonder where they think they’re escaping to.” “Maybe those rocks mentioned in Revelation, you know, where all the business men, leaders and yadda, yadda are supposed to hide under and plead for their lives.” “Maybe, let’s order. What’re you having?” “My usual. I’m opting for someone to make an authentic cappuccino because it might be the last good deed they do that’ll get them right into heaven.” “Phuh, yeah! Anything goes in an Apocalypse.”
Steve went to the counter to order their coffees as Jenny looked out the storefront window. No religious organization or brilliant mathematician predicted this. It took everyone by surprise. In fact, what was happening had everyone stunned to the point no one would dare hint they knew it was coming. “No one will know the day or the hour”. She heard rumbling in the distance as she watched stragglers carrying suitcases, backpacks, filled pillow cases, “containing what’s important… What’s important?” Steve put Jenny’s cup under her nose and she jumped. “Deep in thought?” She took the cup and smiled, “Look at them. I hope they’re just taking a few things on the way to be with loved ones. Like for a sleepover. Now for a taste-test.” She sipped her cappuccino through the slot in the lid.
“How is it?”
“Not bad! I guess what everyone’d been hinting about after Mark skipped town when all this started is true, the coffee got better. I’ll bet he beat out the traffic. The assistant manager’s still here and the baristas who’ve stayed absolutely love working with him. Mark was such a misuse-of-power horse’s ass anyway. I don’t miss hearing him berating his workers as the background ambience… wow, look at that.” Jenny and Steve both looked out the front window of the Arbor Boulevard Starbucks and watched the smoke rise from what used to be the University. They felt the ground rumble but the location was far enough away not to get the worst of the aftershock. People in the café looked up, watched for a moment and then got back into what they were doing: talking, writing, sipping coffee and enjoying toast or a pastry. “No more homework worries. The University had a lot of control in this town. It’s funny and by that I mean scary-strange that aftershocks are concentrated around the university while the outer parts of town aren’t as severely hit.” “Not enough control, it couldn’t stop that from happening,” Steve gestured at the soon-to-be-available space and inhaled his white chocolate mocha. “Ahhhhhh… this smells great. Feel like a bagel?” “A scone for me without icing, please.” “Sure.”
Jenny glanced in the direction of the interstate that right now resembled a parking lot. “Lucky you, this one just came out of the oven.” “Oven! Starbucks bakes? When did I miss that one?” “Yeah, they can’t get shipments as often thanks to facilities closing, transportation problems, and other apocalyptic issues. They already had those ovens for warming the sandwiches. This new one was installed as an overnight project one night they were closed. I asked the guy behind the counter. It’s like a gourmet kitchen oven – super big. They’d rearranged their storage space clearing out a back wall for it. Nice touch.” “Well, I’ll just have to keep coming to this one then. Thanks.” There was another rumble and rising smoke. “Oops, there went the stadium, football practice cancelled,”
Jenny removed the lid from her cup to sprinkle four packets of sugar-in-the-raw over the froth. “Need another packet?” “Think so? My son turned me on to this when we lived in Italy, the land of real cappuccino; anyway, he sprinkles a couple packets of sugar over his froth. It’s good. I don’t mess around when it comes to this. Four packets are just perfect.” “How’s he doing?” “Surprisingly well. There’s not as much trouble in Turkey these days. Those people have had their share and now it’s calmed. Figures it’d take an apocalypse to whip their politicians into shape. This last guy who was trying to be a dictator but for some reason changed his mind – can’t imagine – is turning out to be a good one. God laying down His Cards will do that to a person. If there’s an EU left after all this, I’m sure the country will finally be welcomed in. Right now, currency, investments, these things are on the back burner. Family, community, offering refuge and praying are tops on the list.” “How about your daughter, how’s she faring?” Jenny sat back. “Needless to say the medical profession isn’t going to catch a break. Not as many go to the doctor, a few of the doctors left of course, but people remaining still need a doctor until no one needs a doctor anymore if it comes to that. She walks to work for now, gets a couple days off during the week, my grandson’s health care is free, daycare is on-site free, and she’s still paid enough in appreciation for not abandoning her post. We hope the whole world isn’t going to be destroyed. I just keep feeling it doesn’t have to be. After all the chemical warfare, governments using starvation to control their people and the sickness caused by starvation, people have changed, y’know, become more conscious and active for as long as they can about what should have been done from the beginning. That’s got to count for something.”
Jenny and Steve instinctively turned their heads in the direction of two men on horseback trotting up the hill. “I can’t remember the last time I saw police on horseback around and never this far from downtown.” Steve nodded. Neither of them could take their eyes off the horses. As they got closer, they both realized one of them was a strange color. “That poor horse looks like he was at a frat party. Is he green?” Steve’s face began to blanch. “He is, pale green. The police here haven’t lost their sense of humor but it’s sure not in very good taste.” Jenny blindly reached for Steve’s arm. “It’s not a cop. Neither of them are cops. Look at the other one.” It was pure white and the rider was wearing a gold cap. He had a bow slung over his back. She glanced back at the pale horse. Something about the rider gave Jenny a feeling of dread. “I’m getting that Poe feeling in the pit of my stomach.” Steve, stupefied, just nodded. “Men on horses, horsemen, Jen they’re Horsemen of the Apocalypse!” Now it was Jenny’s turn to be stunned. They watched as the Horsemen reached the top of the hill, crossed the street, stopped at the Starbucks window, and looked directly at her. In an instant she knew as if it were being spoken, “No worries. It’s not the end. Some will survive.” The Rider of the white horse touched the rim of his gold cap in a slight tilt. “Did you get that … Steve?” Her gaze held fast on the Rider, Jenny’s mind momentarily drifted away from the café, right now it was just the two of them. “Survivors.” Jenny nodded back to the Rider and they turned to continue on. “Holy… oh my!” Protruding from the rump of the pale horse was Mark’s head, his eyes wide in confused alarm, his lips sealed shut resembling a raised welt of flesh, as he tried to look from side to side.
“That’s… So much for pleading for your life …” “Yeah.” The Rider of the green horse turned his head and gave them a grin waving a boney finger in a “tsk-tsk”.
Finally the Horsemen were out of sight. Jenny and Steve looked at each other. “I… did you… huh … hmmh … nothing.”
“Well… another cappuccino?”
THE CRICKET SWAM
“I was crawling along and took a wrong turn”
He was saying,
“I’d jumped to save my life but got flushed away
I should have known from the make, it was porcelain
Its waterway went on forever and I couldn’t get my bearing
Saw a pipe ahead so I grabbed a hold
Water kept rushing beneath mocking, ‘you’ll be back’
I didn’t want that to happen, hoped my strength would hold
Made a short jump up and in, and behind me it stayed
I passed out for a while after all that
Woke and stretching antennae sensing around
And pushed on so long it seemed forever
With no end to be found
Then I heard that familiar menacing sound
And knew what could come
So I scurried ahead and looked harder
Spotted a much smaller space in a skinnier place
I hopped high as I could and it worked
I wriggled on in although a tight squeeze
Crept, going a long way
Then popped out into a drum made of pure white
Exhausted as I was I hoped I wouldn’t get flushed
Wouldn’t want to go through that twice
So I crouched under a tower
In the center right here with ridges like a slide
A place to hide hoping water wouldn’t come
And then passed out once more
Something like a door slammed and woke me from sleep
Making it dark and much quieter than before
I heard not a sound and settled in again
Until there were noises and a light came on overhead
When you lifted the lid and that child’s voice said
“There’s a bug”
I’ve heard children’s voices before this wasn’t my first
Heart sinking I stood very still and I prayed
Do you see what I mean, what I’ve gone through today?”
Well, we listened to him talk, us three, attentive as could be
Then discussed among ourselves to figure what was best
“There’s no problem we can see
You’ve managed floating quite a way”
At his point I interjected I simply had to say
“I’ve got an idea that might save both of us our day
This isn’t a toilet you see but a washer for clothes
You were asleep under the agitator way down there
Trusting me, it’s true, is the only thing left you must do”
We started the water setting the tub size on small
With no intention of using laundry soap at all
When he started to float we scooped him up in a cup
And put a lid on to carry him out through the door
Then tossed him into the grass near to the sidewalk
Said goodbye and good luck watch out for the street
Road kill means dead meat or squished cricket he’d be
Went back inside and reset the machine’s drum size
To continue what we’d begun doing today
He rested for a while beneath a pine safely hidden
Then decided to set out and explore what’s around
At the edge of the sidewalk thought now he might cross
Kept my warning in mind almost made it safe and sound
But a semi came upon him caught him up in its wheel
Eighteen to choose from take your pick
“Big truck faster than I’d thought” the cricket realized just then
“But these tires are new and their tread runs so deep
I can travel for a while and get off a different street”
When they came to a light he crawled under the carriage
Wobbly-woozy from miles of spin, one thing he hadn’t calculated in
How he survived it I couldn’t describe or know where to begin
He found a place on its far side with no heat just a cool ride
And traveled comfortably straight through to the truck’s final stop
“Where’d he wind up”, someone asked me a couple days ago
Yellowstone Park I was told, we’d been wondering too
A bird alighted low, said she was a friend and had spoken to him
But since then I haven’t heard, there hasn’t been a word
IT COULD HAPPEN
I can’t say I’d mind if an ATM spewed out 20s above and beyond my withdrawal like I read about in the paper! “So-and-So got a surprise at her ATM when instead of receiving her 50 dollar withdrawal, the machine gave an additional 300.” What amazes me is the number of people who return the money to the bank, hence, why we have that headline. It’s insured. Relax. The receipt says 50 dollars and your balance is what it should be, take it as good luck. You’ve heard “Never look a gift horse in the mouth”? Well then don’t. I wouldn’t. C’mon Seabiscuit! In fact, you know what? I’m leaving that thought as a wish for my very own ATM glitch.
It was less than a month later I thought the way my day began was better than anything I could’ve imagined…
I went out to window shop on one of those gorgeous warm days that happen between cooler days during transition time winter-to-spring, just for the chance to get outside. Forever the idealist I imagined Seabiscuit trotting at my side as I sauntered along the sidewalk breathing in that heavenly warmth, when a newly opened electronics store advertising sinful discounts on everything but their entrance and glass front caught my eye. With visions of movies and music dancing in my brain I made an immediate left and entered into a technological, video, and CD wonderland. Knowing I’d probably wind up with more bags than I’d want to carry, I power-walked back to the house for my car rather than my tug-along wire shopping cart, and returned to the store where I readily, gleefully succumbed tossing this and that into the mini cart, that I’d chosen the mini was in itself an act of restraint on my part. Did I need them? Didn’t care. I let my mother’s sense of not letting a good sale pass by take hold as if it were necessary to ‘stock up in case of apocalypse’ while repeating to myself “do not exchange it for a bigger cart, once it’s full that’s it”. Registers were bountiful with cashiers and baggers making a perfect first impression to accompany a perfect first experience in the name of customer service and to top it off my bagger happened to be a very… pleasantly muscled young morsel, heh heh… young man. I carried on conversation with the woman in line ahead of me then with pleasantly muscled and my cashier as my cart was loaded, after which my purchases and I floated back out to the car. While loading the hatch I remember thinking there seemed to be too many bags for my order, but I had a serious case of starry-eyed spring fever, slammed it shut anyway and drove home.
I pulled into the driveway, stopped, got the mail and began thumbing through the envelopes. There was something there from the government. My fleeting thought was, “what could this be – not tax time” as I got back into the car, pulled up, parked, and went inside. I threw the mail on the table and began unpacking. I’d been right that one bag wasn’t mine at all. In it was a hard to find DVD player / VHS converter that I excitedly noted was region-free. I placed my prize on the coffee table, decided to keep the sturdy handled bag it’d been placed in for filling with odds, ends and clothing for Good Will, but as I was folding it I felt something like a lump in the bottom. Having transitioned from spring-fever directly into “it must be Christmas” Spirit, I unfolded the bag to discover a bank envelope with cash and a receipt showing a balance I wouldn’t in my wildest dreams wish were mine. I realized it must’ve belonged to the woman whom I’d been talking to in line, figured she must’ve tossed or dropped it in when she attempted to put the bag into the cart as our muscled attendant was rearranging her heavier items, and now that I was thinking of it that’s exactly what’d happened. He’d stopped her, removed the bag to reorganize, my cashier’d begun ringing my order, she moved her cart to give me space and they’d both overlooked what had been left behind. Anyway, I knew I wouldn’t want to be her, which didn’t stop me from giddily thinking to myself, “it can happen” as I took out and counted the cash, put it into my wallet without thinking twice, put the envelope and receipt in the paper trash, set up the player, then took boxes and paper to the empty drum in the backyard for burnables and lit the fire. I stood watching the flames while exhilaration from my stroke of luck coursed through me, then calmed as I became mesmerized by red-orange tongues tantalizing the air. I let my mind wander wondering how it might taste to the flame, thought of how I’d use that in a story, laughed at myself and at the way fire like television static captivates attention as if it were a good movie. After it had burned down enough that the fire didn’t reach over the rim, I walked back inside.
I put a DVD in the player, sat down and as one of my old favorites from childhood began, I began going through the mail. First order of business was the envelope from the government that to my surprise had sent a social security check. I was stumped. “I’m not old enough for this… yet. What am I saying? I’ve never applied.” When I finally stopped long enough to focus on the name I realized it wasn’t mine anyway. The check was just over two grand so I decided to see whom it belonged to. With my movie still going on in the background (I knew it by heart) I grabbed my laptop and googled. The woman, Antea Tuturrone, was recently deceased. My first thought was I’d have to be a Good Samaritan and give it back not that I couldn’t use the cash, but her being dead changes things or at least I thought it should. It’d be lost in the shuffle as she was being processed from living to dead. I wished I knew how efficient the system really was and if it were possible to keep the name alive for a second disbursement. In the movies it happens, and as the well-worn adage goes, the idea came from somewhere. I stopped what I was doing and drove to the ATM. Looking over my receipt I thought, “Well, it’s not as much as my buddy from the checkout line had but I can live with it. Thank-you Antea. You’ve made my day! You were my Tower of Pisa, you’ve been my Mona Lisa.”
That night I dreamt I was in pain that kept intensifying, and when I tried to jump up I couldn’t because I was trapped. My body jerked awake tingling as I opened my eyes to a brilliantly sunny morning. Throwing back the covers I saw a large brown mark on my right shin. I hadn’t bumped into anything that I could remember, shouldn’t it be black and greenish-blue anyway? Maybe even yellowish? I staggered into the living room and glanced down at the laptop that’d been left on. “What’s with me, I don’t normally do that!” I pressed a key and my screen came on to my newly deceased friend’s obituary. “I did just run out the door, didn’t I…” As I was skimming through, sighing a “thanks-just-the-same” for her contribution, I saw she’d been cremated. “Missed that the first time.” The service had been held at Brimstone Canyon, ”Huh, twisted…” a funeral parlor a couple of states over, then her ashes were brought back here to be spread over ground surrounding a willow tree in her front yard. She’d left her home to a couple who’d taken care of her, and also left them a considerable amount of cash, which instantly quelled the deceit twinge that’d hit me between the eyes like getting slammed with a billboard. “The check won’t be a loss. Don’t know how I’d feel about having her ashes in the front yard. Maybe Halloween… Willow trees… hmm.” As I moved the cursor to close the window I glanced down at her picture. If I were the superstitious type I’d’ve sworn Antea’s eyes were looking straight into mine. A shudder shot through me. “What the… !” I closed the window, emptied the cache, closed out of the internet, and logged out. “Genius. Spooking myself.” I plugged the laptop back into its charger, lifted the screen to make certain I’d logged out, closed it again, and left to walk down to Your Local Café, a restaurant that’d been recently remodeled inspired by New York City’s Auto Pub that used to be located on767 5th Ave, NY, NY. The town was very proud of it and the owner who’d renovated it himself after frequenting the Auto Pub during a vacation he’d taken. He’d even brought home a menu. Inside I checked the section called “The Drive-In” to see what they had playing. “Horror! Yes!” As I slid into the mock ’54 Buick front seat and reached for the specials lists of the night, a feeling of foreboding began to build in the pit of my stomach. The scene zooming-in on a gas station a medical employee was pulling into was familiar.
I turned my attention back to the night’s specials and heard “Are you ready?” Without giving my server a glance I placed my order. “Anything to drink?” Her voice came across a little too stern, so I looked up and was startled. “Ma’am, would you like a drink?” “Oh, ahmm… oh, water’s fine for now.” There was something about her eyes, the way she was looking at me or I’ve seen her face. I couldn’t place it but at the same time I knew it. When she left I looked back up at the screen. The pale elderly man filling the medical worker’s car with gas was deceased. As he stiffly turned to face the medical worker I remembered. The medical employee was stealing social security money from deceased patients. In fact, there were a couple of other people from the nursing home he worked at who were in on it with him. What I’d done flashed across my mind as I thought about my ‘friend’s’ obituary. I felt woozy as the color ran completely out of my face. My waitress’ eyes were Antea’s. “This is nuts!” I waved at a busboy and asked if he could get a waiter to bring me a Bombay Blue Sapphire Martini, two olives, if they had the garlic-stuffed ones that’d be great. My attention drifted back to the movie. “I love horror, I’m going to enjoy it. I promise never to do this again at least when it comes to Social Security that doesn’t belong to me. Damn!”
A calm came over me just as a waiter brought my drink. He was elderly and reminded me of the actor in the movie. “You know you look just like that actor.” He laughed. “You know if I were I wouldn’t be here.” “I don’t know if I’d have the right temperament to wait tables.” As much as I loved the place I couldn’t see myself doing it. He pointed at my waitress. “Ellen’s been a waitress all her life. She waits circles around these youngsters – a real pro.” “I don’t doubt it.” “Still, it feels good to sit at the end of the day.” I couldn’t help but smile as he gave me a wink. I was feeling much better. The martini seemed extra comforting, and strong. “I’m going to have to leave a good tip just for the drink” as I anticipated dinner. Ellen brought the food and we got-to talking. She pointed out a painting the restaurant’d just acquired that was right up my alley, homes along a riverbank some with waterwheels, boats docked along side, people sitting or walking along the distant shoreline yet all 50s style in their manner of dress. “I’d just love to be there,” I said as I imagined rowing one of the small boats. “I was born in the 50s, I don’t mean to live in the 50s but I mean the whole scene. I wouldn’t mind living there.” “Is there anything else I can get you?” She smiled. “No, thanks, this is more than enough.” I took another deep mouthful of the martini.
I opened my eyes in a boat on a river. There were people on a distant shore I kept calling to but they didn’t hear me. I tried to move the boat across to the opposite bank but it wouldn’t budge. I couldn’t lift the oar that seemed stuck inside it. My skin felt strange like it had too much tanning lotion that’d hardened. I looked across the river and saw two people staring at me. They weren’t in proportion. It was the elderly waiter and Ellen standing in the restaurant. My table behind them was empty. Where was I? Ellen was holding my shoulder bag. She took out my wallet, dropped the bag on the floor, and removed the cash. “How about you never do it again?” The elderly waiter had lined up four bottles of Bombay Blue Sapphire Gin with bar towels sticking out of them. He lit each one. “I think our day is done Antea. Ready to go?” “Yeah, how about I buy you a drink?” They both laughed as he threw each bottle toward a different corner of the restaurant and the last one behind him as they exited the door. “The fire department! Where’s the fire department!” I screamed it with every fiber of my inner being but I couldn’t speak, and helplessly watched as the flames engulfed the restaurant. “How? It’s too fast!” It was hot, I felt hot and the painting caught. I wanted to escape but I couldn’t. I was trapped.
I heard myself scream. “I screamed! I can get out of here!”
My arms broke free as I flailed them about in an attempt to put myself out. I fell out of bed tangled in my blankets onto the floor with my heart pounding. Throwing them off my head my body, fiercely tingling, jerked into a standing position as my eyes glared horrified into a brilliantly sunny morning.