How it was, how it is – #poetry – 2/15/2013

She remembers four roses
He gave her, shyly
Four months after they said “I do”
and how they always took turns at movies —

For her – Ghost, by him
She sat through “Under Siege”
And they giggled over jokes
No one else would get.

Yesterday, he came home
Slammed the door and
Swore at her for fifteen minutes.

When he watched Steven Segal
She sat crying in the bedroom
Singing “Unchained Melody” between sobs.

Regret – #FridayFlash

[Author’s note:  You can read this as a war story standalone. Or, if you’re a Combat! fan, this is my take on what happened to Doc #1]

Regret

“Un autre verre du vin rouge, Mademoiselle. S’il vous plait.”

The young woman looked down the bar at the ragged GI sitting there, bearded and scowling, but who’d spoken to her in good French and with decent manners. Ignoring the two sergeants and a corporal who’d charged up to her, waving scrip, she poured the red wine and set it down in front of the soldier.

Merci beaucoup.” Their eyes met, and he considered trying to engage her for later, after the bar closed, and decided against it.

She saw the idea come and go and shrugged to herself. There were other Amis there.De rien, M’sieu’,” she tossed back casually as she picked up the money in front of him and moved back to wait on the non-coms.

I should have gone back – marrrde, I should have. Why didn’t I? In his heart, he knew why. I’m a soldier. I follow my leader. I obey orders. But I should have gone back.

“If you don’t let go of that glass, it’s going to shatter.”

The quiet voice broke through his reverie. Caje looked over his shoulder to find Saunders there, and released the glass, which wobbled uncertainly until he steadied it. “Sarge.” The Cajun turned back to face the bar, body rigid, face set.

“Still angry?”

“What do you think?” The scout hissed at him, avoiding looking at the man who led his unit, the man he thought of as a friend, or as much of one as he’d let himself have, after Theo.

“I think you’re still angry.” There was a tiny bit of wry humor in Saunders’ voice, but it faded completely with his next words. “How many times have I told you that you can’t carry this stuff around with you? Haven’t you learned yet?”

“I obeyed the order. I’m here.” He slammed the wine back and nearly choked.

“We couldn’t have gotten him out of there. I’m no doctor –“

“No, you aren’t.  And now, neither is he!” His voice rose to a shout, and he stopped suddenly as he realized he was attracting attention, and not in a good way.

Saunders pressed on, disregarding Caje’s anger. “One, he wouldn’t have made it, not at the pace we had to travel. And two, the Germans had moved around us.  Even if he’d had a chance, sending someone back would have been suicide.”

“I could have made it. I’d have found a way. Maudit, Sarge! It was Doc! He wasn’t like us, he wasn’t…” Caje’s voice trailed off, pain evident. He thought of the gentle medic. Of all the people to leave alone, dying –

“We pull out of here tomorrow. Should I tell Hanley you’re staying behind? You want a transfer?”

For a long moment, the scout focused hard on the empty glass. To have to start over again. Leave the others behind, maybe never knowing what happened to them. Slowly, he began shaking his head. “No. No, I’ll be ready.”

“Good.” Saunders knew better than to push the Cajun scout. He waved off the waitress and turned to leave. “You’re on watch tonight.”

“I’ll be there.”

The non-com exited into the twilight while Caje glanced at his watch and then signaled for another glass of wine.

Waste Not, Want Not – Threewordwednesday

[Author’s note:  A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a Friday Flash called “When the Sky Was Blue“.  Some of the commenters said it felt like part of a longer story and after a lot of thought, I came to agree.  This is a first pass as to how that universe and some of its customs might have had their beginning.  I think I might feel a novel coming on… :)]

John Proctor cupped his hands around the tiny plant in a futile attempt to nurture and support it. But first one leaf dropped, then another and the forlorn stem sagged.

He sighed and sat back on his lab stool.  Well, that’s that. He’d been diligent in collecting and filtering water samples and had done his best to refine the outdoor soil samples he’d collected, but no matter how remote his travels were, he couldn’t get away from the toxins which had spread, like tumors, from hundreds of years of industrialization and all that went with it.

A child’s amateur interest in green and growing things had become the man’s profession. For most of his work life, he’d gone from radio show to talk show to television interview to newspaper interview, preaching about the damage humans were doing, not only to their world but to themselves. As a rule, he was dismissed as alarmist and a “crackpot”.  Most people liked their lives as they were and weren’t willing to make the major sacrifices needed to fix the damage. Now they were dying by the thousands, born and unborn — quick and painful deaths, untreatable and for which there seemed to be no anodyne.  His scientist’s mind calculated that at the present rate, Earth’s population could become non-sustainable in less than five years.

Proctor held face up to the weak sun. That was another issue.  He sighed again.  There were so many – but it was time to stop weeping over what was done and uncorrectable and salvage as much as possible.  He spun his laptop around, and in a few decisive keystrokes, he started a new email.

From: jproctor@leaflab.com

To:  PresPriv521@whitehouse.gov

Subject: Project Ark

Per our discussion last week, my last experiment just died.  There is no time left, and you must begin the procedures I outlined when I was in Washington DC in February.  What good resources we have need to be collected and rationed. Use must be rationed.  It’s time to revive that good old Yankee saying our great grandparents lived by: “Waste not, want not”…

Definitions – #FridayFlash 3/16/2012

Emily waited quietly in the lobby, sitting stiffly on the dark green sofa that had seen better days.  The receptionist’s desk was unmanned, with only a phone and a sign that said to ‘call “222” to be admitted’.  She sighed. Even the sign on the wall opposite her was 80s retro – she knew that David had liked to keep up with new styles, and equally well that he couldn’t afford it.

His story was a common one – a small company or chain run under by competitors on the Internet or in the big box malls.  Emily knew it had to be weighing on him, that service and quality didn’t matter as much as cost.

David, his black hair almost completely gone grey, opened the door and leaned out. “Emily? Did you want to see me?”

The lines on his face had deepened so she almost didn’t recognize him – he didn’t look anything like the dapper man whose commercials used to be common fare on local TV. He looked like a man on the verge of giving up.  Giving Up.  Maybe even the ultimate “giving up”. Her jaw firmed.  She could help him and she was determined to do it, determined not to lose her friend.

“Well,” she started, uncertain. “Actually, it’s – can we go somewhere private?”

“Let’s go to my office.”

———-

“You can’t be serious!”

“Yes, David, I am.  I can’t bear to see how things are with you and I want to help.” Her voice, which had started off strong, faded, as she pleaded with him in a near-whisper. “Please let me help.”

David stared at his hands as though he’d never seen them before.  “Emily, you’d only be throwing bad money after good.  The stores are going to close – we’ve lost our market and all but a few customers. GoodFit is going to go away and there’s nothing to be done about it.”

“Yes, but – you must have debts that have to be paid – that you’ll sleep easier when you know you don’t have to worry about.”

“I do. And they’re my responsibility, not yours.”

“Can you pay them?”

“I’ll figure something out.”

“Let me help you and you won’t have to. Besides,” she said, suddenly shy, “I seem to remember you helping us…”

David turned to look out the window. “Emily.” He stopped, uncertain as to what he wanted to say.

She began again and he raised his hand for silence. The clock on the wall was loud in the stillness.

Finally, he turned back to her. “Yes, I accept.  It will make things easier for me, no question about that.”

“I remember, how good friends we’ve been, you and Linda and Mark and I, and the children…”

David managed a smile. “And now you’re being a good friend again.” He cupped her face, gently. “Everyone should have such good people in their lives.”

“Oh, David…” Emily’s eyes filled with tears.

“Now, now.” He hugged her gently and patted her on the back, almost as a child.

She pulled herself together and stepped away, fumbling in her purse. She slid the checkbook and pen out, took one of the chairs in front of the desk and wrote firmly.

David was reluctant to take the check, so she sat it on the desk and stood. On the way out the door, Emily turned suddenly.  “David, this will make things right for you, yes? You won’t… you’ll be all right?”

He smiled and nodded.  “Yes, my dear. This makes everything all right.”

She relaxed, nodded and turned to go.

After David heard the door close, he picked up the check and looked at it for a long time. He walked around his desk and took an envelope from a drawer and put the check in it.

“I couldn’t have done it otherwise, couldn’t have left Linda and Evvie with the debts,  but now…”

He laid the envelope on the corner of his desk and opened another drawer.

———-

Emily waited in the lobby for the elevator. Dear David. I was so afraid he’d … take another way out. Now, it should be all right. The elevator doors opened.

As the elevator closed and began to move, she heard the gunshot and began to cry.

Survival Instinct

The couple burst out of the woods, panting.  After a moment to recover, the man reached up and took a leaf from the woman’s hair and brushed her thin face. She smiled wanly and pulled her coat, beaten up and now far too large, around her.

“Emily? You ok?”

“For now. They’ll be back on our trail soon.”

“Except for Bill,” he said grimly.

“Yes. Luke?”

“Hmm?”

“Hold me, will you?”

The wind rustled in the late Autumn trees and ruffled the moonglade on the lake. Emily trembled in the chill night air, despite Luke’s arms around her. The two of them jumped at every blown leaf, every sound in the underbrush.

Luke stepped back from her and took the gun from his pocket.  He snapped out the cylinder and looked at the single bullet.

“Emily, you know what we talked about…”

“Yes. We don’t have any other choice, do we?” She wiped a weary hand across her face.

“Not if we want a clean death, no.” One by one, the companions they’d escaped from the city with had been prey, and after a brief time, predator. A Walker had bitten each of the changed ones and the little group did their best to free their friends, one by one, until at last only Emily and Luke were left.

“No food,” Luke snapped the cylinder shut, “one bullet and no one to run with.  No safe place to be.” He turned her around and held her closer. “We’ve seen too many people go over  – and I don’t want to spend the rest of however long chasing down – others – and eating them.” He paused. “And I don’t want to leave you alone. Or be left alone, come to that.”

“Me either. Zombies used to be a funny idea for commercials.  Too bad the ad guys didn’t realize what the real thing was going to be like.”

“I imagine they know now.” Luke’s laugh was completely humorless. He stepped back and gave her a worried look.  “I wish you’d reconsider.”

“No. Guns – I couldn’t do it and I won’t let you do it to me.  Drowning doesn’t seem so bad; I can even stay afloat if I have to. As cold as the water is… well, after a little while, I won’t care so much.”

“I should never have let you watch Titanic.”  He held the gun aloft with one hand and sank the other into her hair, pulling her toward him for a deep kiss.  “I love you.”

Emily stepped back and traced his features, brushed her fingertips over his lips. “And I, you.”

They both started in terror at a sudden sound behind them. A raccoon scuttled into view and they chuckled nervously.

“Thank goodness the animals didn’t become Walkers after they were eaten.  We’d have never made it this far.”

Abruptly, Luke walked away from her and toward a spot on the shore of the lake where a strong current rippled the surface.  “Don’t watch, Emily.”

Emily turned her back. She heard splashing as he walked deep into the water. After a long pause, the gun roared.  The full moon reflected off the tears that poured down her face as she imagined the damage to his beloved face. Stiffly, she turned and saw his body being carried out on the current, out to the middle of the lake.

I can do this, I can do this… But somehow her feet refused to move.

Behind her, there were noises too loud to be made by an animal. Over her shoulder, she saw moonlight reflected from waving arms and torn bodies.  The Walkers had arrived.

Stumbling away, she made for the shore and stepped gingerly into the icy water. A clean death, a clean death.  I can’t let them catch me. She dove for deeper water, heedless of the horrible cold and of the blood that lapped against her.  Shaking, she forced herself to swim out to the center and treaded water clumsily. On the shore, figures lurched back and forth, but didn’t come into the water.  In the moonlight, she saw Walkers on other shores. Well, I’m committed now. Nowhere to run to, baby, nowhere to hide.

Moments passed and she realized that dying was going to be harder than she thought. How do you make yourself drown? Every instinct told her to stay afloat; whenever she started to sink, she struggled back up.

A few feet away, a shadow rose from the water.  Emily flailed to get away and came to the horrified realization that it was Luke’s body.

“Oh, love… “ She touched his shoulder, his hair – His hair? She pressed down and realized that his skull was intact. Rolling him over, she could see his face hadn’t been damaged.  The moon came out from behind a cloud and showed her the bullet wound in his chest.

“Luke – Oh, my g—why didn’t you shoot yourself through the head?”

Briefly, she tried to hope.  He hadn’t been bitten, after all. Then, the body shuddered. It doesn’t matter… Emily was paralyzed with cold and with terror as Luke’s eyes opened, glazed white and filled with a kind of manic glee. She exhaled and fought to sink, tried to breathe in water, tried to die by her own choice.

Luke – or what had been Luke – dropped past her, to her bewilderment.  She struggled past where he’d been and forced herself down, down, gagging on the lake water, her survival instinct keeping her holding her breath.

Suddenly, her scalp protested. Luke had sunk his pallid fingers into her hair in a macabre perversion of his final caress on shore, and was pulling her back to the surface.  Her lungs screamed for air as they breached the surface.

No, Luke – a clean death was her final thought, as he brought up his hand, clenched around the gun he’d  retrieved. He smashed her skull and began to feast.

Three Word Wednesday, 1/4/2011

Naughty, Tactic, Zenith

Xeri focused briefly on the terrain in front of her and then strode briskly on a course three degrees to the left.  I’m sure this is where it is — it’s the kind of tactic he’d use.

Nearly half a wake period later, she stopped in front of three rocks, sculpted together by the wind. For years, they had met here, played, grown and bonded, to the despair of their parents. Naughty girl, she could remember her mother crying, and after we’ve worked so hard to establish the contract with Caetor Brandis. Do you know what you’re doing?

Xeri had shrugged her shoulders and nonchalantly accepted her punishment. I can’t help it if Ixle Brandis thinks he wants me. It will be Falai or no one. She repeated the words to her father, who visibly sagged and returned the mate-price to the Caetor. The following winters had been very difficult — and would have been worse had Falai not done what he could to help her.

What’s past is past. She climbed the rocks, finding the familiar hand and footholds, until she reached the zenith. Her vision blurred with tears, but she brushed them away angrily. Falai would laugh at me.  He had been gentle and practical — even-tempered, not given to much emotion; a stark contrast to her volatile nature.

You give me fire and I –“

You gentle me. Yes.”

It had been their balance.  Now she had to find a new balance, alone.

Xeri reached out with her mind — here, there — trying to sense what he’d left behind. There?  No, there! She let her sense brush it gently, bring it to life. Slowly, before her eyes, a spark glimmered and grew. It was all that was Farai, all that was left of him. She cupped her hands in front of her, and the light floated to them, settling in.

“Xeri.”

“Yes, kerame?” The light glittered on her face in the wake of a single tear.

“Always with you. Always.”

“I know. And I with you.”

“Let me go now.” When she hesitated, his face shimmered briefly in front of her. “You must, mekera.”

“Yes.” She spoke the word of release under her breath, and the light rose, and thinned and vanished on the wind.

“Always…”

Three Word Wednesday, 9/14/2011

Backward, Ease, Omission

Testing, testing… That sound you hear in the background is rain. If anyone actually finds this recording, you probably didn’t need to be told that. Chances are good that you know it backward and forward, along with thunder and the sizzle of dissolving – . Strike that.

Right now, I can still ease against the window and relax. Sort of. There’s a drip outside the window that’s really annoying, but it’s not like I can do anything about it. So far, window glass seems to be proof against the corrosive effects of the weather – more than you can say for living tissue and things like wood and shingles and even the grass. Mowing the lawn is a thing of the past, as you also probably know. I’m looking out at what used to be finest Kentucky bluegrass. Now it’s a barren pitted mess, mostly down to bedrock. Of course, I won’t be raking the leaves, listening to birdcall in the morning or being awakened by the dogs who had lived in my neighbor’s back yard any time soon, either. I’m just glad I live in a stone house with a slate roof. At least I think I am.

Of course, I have other problems. I’m down to the last 12 of the five-gallon bottles of water I’d managed to bring into the house when we – I — … sorry. [silence] Didn’t mean to break down. When my late spouse and I realized what was happening, we did what we could to try to get past what we were sure was a temporary situation. Our local water guy brought these out, when it was still possible to be outside. First, we tried a charcoal filter, but whatever it was in the water couldn’t be filtered out. So if you haven’t tried that, don’t bother. I spilled some of the water on my hand and – oh, well. I didn’t really need my left little finger anyway. (Did I mention how much that drip outside is really bugging me?)

Pat’s not here anymore. I think maybe the almost-constant rain caused a breakdown. All I know was I awoke to the mutter of “why are we bothering?” and the sound of footsteps, a closing door – and screams. I still hear the screams. By the time my brain responded, it was too late. I felt so guilty; I still do. I think that maybe I didn’t do enough or should have done more. I don’t know. I didn’t push my beloved out the door, but maybe I was guilty of a sin of omission. Maybe it was that drip outside. Maybe I have no idea what I’m talking about.

Hey. Had to stop there for a moment.

And another moment. Or two. There. So I’ve had lots of time to do all kinds of things I wanted to, even if there’s not much use in it. Believe it or not, the Internet still works, although the electricity is almost ready to quit, but most of the people I knew online are gone, and the ones who aren’t gone physically are pretty gone mentally. You can only watch so many people and animals die, you know. You do know, don’ t you?

Which makes writing pointless, kind of. When the aliens finally show up, or whoever, they’re not going to be reading flash fiction. And it’s not like I have anyone else to write for – Pat never really was interested in reading my stuff anyway. Back in a minute.

Ok. Back. Made dinner. Didn’t eat it. Opened the window real quick and tossed the plate into the backyard. All the food dissolved right away. Just like yesterday and the day before. And the day before that. I’m going to run out of plates before long, but if anything of civilization survives this mess, we need to save some of the water. Beats all the fancy detergents, and I’ll bet those plates are squeaky clean. Hang on.

Well, that was more than a minute. I needed to sleep. Guess I did for a while, but I got woken up by thunder and a crash. The Lemons’ flagpole just fell on their car. Too bad. And the rain, that woke me up, too. I wish it would stop. It’s not relaxing any more. Wish it would stop. Wish it would stop. Wonder what silence sounds like. I remember that. Kind of.

And there’s that damn drip again. You know what? I think I’m going to go fix it. Right now.

Don’t wait for me. I won’t be back.