Happy Belated #ThreeWordWednesday

The sullen man next to me on the bus made me uneasy.  He was dressed in less-than-clean clothes and didn’t appear to have shaved for about a week.  I had the distinct impression (reinforced by his sotto voce mutterings) that he was irrational.  I was stuck, though – the seats were full and people jammed the aisles, shifting and dodging in a nearly Brownian motion at each stop. I exchanged a glance, and raised eyebrows, with my other seatmate over the man’s bowed head. The third member of our happy little group was the sullen man’s polar opposite – Hugo Boss, clean-shaven and just, well, clean; he nearly looked like he was spit-shined. Ex-military, I’ll bet, I thought briefly, and pushed aside everything to try to order my workday before I hit my desk.

This was a long ride, all the way down Lakeshore Boulevard and then on the freeway to East Ninth.  I’d missed my usual express bus, which got on the freeway right away.  I wouldn’t do that again.

The squeal of the doors at yet another stop broke into my reverie. A pretty lady in a business suit and heels got on and shifted into the mass of standees.  She was pregnant – at a guess, about five months. She grabbed the overhead bar – which she could just reach – and balanced herself with the briefcase in her other hand.

The spit-and-polish businessman gave her one look – just a glance, really – and went back to his iPad. Just as I was about to stand and offer her my seat, the man next to me beat me to it.

In a gentle voice that I could barely hear over the noise of people’s voices and MP3 players whose earphones leaked a cacophony of music, the man, with a sweet smile that completely changed his face, said “Please, ma’am, have my seat.”

The Allegory of the Long Spoons (look it up) talks about the difference between heaven and hell being that in heaven people feed each other and in hell, they only worry about themselves.  For me, from now on, there’s going to be an Allegory of the Bus Seat. And maybe, too, a lesson about impressions and how misleading they can be.

Fyrheart #FridayFlash 11/10/12

From the moment we could walk, every child in the village knew what berries were good to eat and which weren’t. Those who didn’t immediately learn the lesson found themselves ill and, we were told, at least one of us had died from eating from the wrong plant – but we took this tale told by our elders as a fable, as likely true as the Blackbeast that wandered the woods around us seeking bad children to eat or the Fire Sprites that were supposed to dance in the flames in winter.

Still, none of us knew what to make of this bush, new to us, sprung up almost overnight.  The berries hung from the bushes, shaped like glistening red tears, nearly clear, with a single shimmering seed visible. Susha, a girl I thought to be afraid of nothing and willing to dare almost anything, reached out a tentative hand and nearly touched one of the ruby temptations, but jerked her hand back and put it behind her, as if she feared being burned.

“Are they hot, Susha?” Little Pitar inquired in his gentle voice. Poor Pitar. His elder brother, Martu, was the britad of his father’s pride and could do no wrong. He used his position to make the little one’s life miserable. We had all seen the bruises that were evidence, though strangely, they were invisible to our parents, who feared Martu’s father and his influence with our ground lord.

“Are they hot?” Martu mocked him. “I doubt it.” He elbowed his way through us and snatched a berry off the bush, tossing it down his throat before anyone could stop him.  Not that we would, of course.

His head jerked twice, for all the world like a hen pecking at grass seed. Then he coughed, once, twice, three times.  The third time, a tongue of flame passed between his lips and singed the stand of sweetstrips in front of him.

There was silence for a moment. Anthe, the great friend of my childhood, looked at me in amazement.  “Did you see that, Mak?  Did I?” his bright blue eyes wide.

“We did.”

When nothing more happened to Martu, some of the others went ahead and took a single berry each.  One after the other, they spouted fire, except for Susha, who merely coughed up a tiny cloud of smoke and then laughed as it spread itself thin on the breeze.

“No more! These are mine!” Martu stood between us and the bush. “Mine!”

He wasn’t that much bigger than the rest of us, but we all knew where he stood and where we did. No one wanted to bring trouble down on his or her parents, and Martu was trouble. Turning his back on us, the bully grabbed handfuls of the berry from the bush and crammed them down like Long John after the fast.

At first, it was amusing to see him spouting flames from his nose and mouth, and in one memorable spurt, from his nethers. Hands were stuffed in mouths to stifle the giggles Martu would never have forgiven.

“Martu, what’s on your hand?” Anthe’s voice was puzzled.

“What?” But then we all saw it. Martu’s hand – both hands, actually, were slowly turning a strange dark green, a weirdly familiar color, and scaly –

As one, we stepped back.  Every one of us knew what he was becoming, even if we didn’t understand how. The skin of the last Fyrbeast to menace the village was wrapped around the chimney of the Broderhall. Every child knew the story of Karne Stronghand and how he brought the fyrbeast down with a well-shot arrow, but only after many sevendays of death and damage to animals and crops.  Now, we were about to have another such among us.

Martu’s head snapped back and his face merged together, elongated.  His voice changed from the cries of a human child to a frightening alien bellow.  Two bumps appeared on his back and began to tear his shirt.

“What do we do?” Suddenly, all were looking to me, as the eldest. It was a responsibility I didn’t want.

“Do it now, Mak, while they can still see it’s him, see how he changed.” Anthe was grappling at my belt, for the hatchet I never went without.

“Do it!” “Yes, you must!” The cries went up from every side. Martu’s eyes, the only truly human part of him left, pleaded with me, whether for saving from the horrible change or for the mercy he had never shown anyone else, least of all his younger brother.

For myself, I thought that the bully might enjoy ravaging our village and any other he came across once he adapted to being a fyrbeast. I took the hatchet from Anthe and swung it twice.  The girls turned away and were sick.  Some of the boys, too.

It took us an hour to drag what was left of Martu back to the village. His father raved and swore, but in the end it was plain as the Guide Star what had been in the process of happening.  It took nearly a sevenday and delayed the harvest, but the men went into the fields and forests in pairs and brought back every one of these new bushes they could find.

We had a bonfire with them the following night. Every sound brought anxious glances to the skies. We had destroyed all we found – but who knew if all were gone? Or who might have found them and eaten?

Today’s my Birthday – #FridayFlash – 4/20/2012

[The last of my Combat! contributions, for now.  FYI:  Paul “Caje” Lemay was a character in Combat!, probably best known as a vehicle for Vic Morrow.  Played by Pierre Jalbert, a French-Canadian actor, film and sound editor and Olympic-calibre skiier, Caje was supposed to be Cajun, and acted as the squad’s translator, in addition to being the guy who was best with a knife. He’s my favorite character from the show and I’ve written a ton of stories about him, the squad, his family and the Cajuns which you can find at: http://www.tec4stories.com.  BTW, the French in this story isn’t quite as ‘intuitive’ as in previous stories, so if you want translations, you can follow the footnotes.  The segment at the end is in <> and indicates something that ought to be completely French if i wanted to confuse my English-speaking readers.]

Today’s My Birthday

Non! Sors de là, Américain!” (1) The woman spat at the feet of the astonished GI. “Tu n’es pas bienvenue ici!” (2)

Caje, bewildered, stepped back involuntarily, and tried again … “Mais, madame, c’est mon an —

She waved her broom at him and scowled. “Ferme ton bec!” (3He watched as she went back into the small building and slammed the door.  He’d been told it was a place where he could get some wine and warm up. Obviously, he’d been told wrong.

The scout shivered in the cold for a moment, then pulled his beret from his shoulder and put it on.  He trudged back to where the squad was bivouacked.  Doc and Billy were the only ones there. Both of them were reading letters, and Billy was idly chewing on a chocolate chip cookie. Caje brightened.

“Hey!”

They looked up.

“We got mail? Where’s Brockmeyer?”

Doc glanced at Billy, who looked back. “Sorry, Caje.  He didn’t say you had anything.” The medic winced a little at the look of disappointment on the Cajun’s face. Billy jumped up and extended the box in his hand to Caje. “Yeah, but my mom sent some cookies! Have one …” His voice trailed off as the scout shook his head and backed out of the rundown former shop.

Non, merci, Billy.”

Rien? He tried to console himself that the package he was sure his family would have sent was probably chasing him around France. Maman never forgot a birthday.

He staggered as someone landed a thwack on his back and chortled, “How ya doing, pal?” in his ear.

“Kirby! Merde!

“Hey, Caje! Listen to this!” He waved the letter in his hand in Caje’s face. “I got some great news –“

“Not now, Kirby.” He pulled away from the BAR man and went on.

“Geez, what bit him?” Kirby looked at Brockmeyer, who had been walking with him.

Brockmeyer shook his head. “Well, one, it’s his birthday. And two, he didn’t get any mail.”

“Aw, that’s too bad. But he never tells anyone anything. How was I supposed to know that?”

“Dunno. It’s not like we can whip up a birthday cake for him anyway. So, what’s your great news?”

***

Caje continued down the street.

“Hey soldier!” A cheery looking man in clean fatigues that marked him as a civilian masquerading as “just one of the troops” flagged him down.

“I’m not …”

“Hey, not trying to sell you anything.” The man waved at an open truck with some strange-looking equipment in the back. “I’m Jim Ford with GEM razors. We set these booths up so you guys can send messages back to the States! How about it, pal? Want to say ‘Hi’ to the home folks?”

Caje swallowed. He wanted to say “Hi” to his parents and the rest of his family, all right – while standing on his front porch with a glass of his mamans lemonade and a plate of jambalaya in his hand. For a moment he considered, and then nodded a little wearily.

“Great! Great! Hey, Skip, get this GI set up to record his message, will ya?”

“Skip” put him in front of a microphone with headphones on. “Ok, pal. When I wave at you, start.”

Caje nodded.  But what to say? Suddenly, he knew …

“Chu aprés féter ma fête aujourd’hui …” (4) The lyrics to the Cajun birthday song rang out in a clear voice that would have surprised his squad. He’d never heard the end of Brockmeyer’s teasing about singing flat.

He sang out his longing for home and family, finished the song, and continued: “Tu me manques, maman, et toi aussi, Papa, Helene, Phillippe, Nonc Pierre, Tante Charlotte, Papère … Vous me manquez tous beaucoup …()”  He stopped and struggled with his emotions, willing himself not to give into the tears that were threatening. “Je vous aime tous. Je voudrais être là …(6)” He waved at the technician and Skip slowly turned off the recording equipment.

“Say, soldier … “ Ford spoke softly from behind him. “We’ll get that back to your folks – if you’ll just fill out this slip with their names and an address.”

* * *

As Caje left the booth, there was a hesitant tap on his arm. The woman from the café stood there, tears in her eyes. <I’m sorry.>

Pas de problème, Madame.”

<No, you don’t understand.  My son – his birthday would have been today. He would have been about your age.> She paused to wipe tears from her face. <I’ve been so angry; he died fighting with the Resistance. All I could think when you came today was that you had been safe in America while he was fighting. But you aren’t safe now – and when I heard your song and that it was your birthday, and how much you missed your family … well, I’m sorry.  Please – please come back with me. It would be my honor to celebrate for your Maman et Papa, who cannot be here with you today. And for my son also…>

Merci, madame. Il me fera honoré, aussi.(7)” He took her hand and tucked it in the crook of his arm, as he would have his mother’s, and they walked back down the street together.

– 30 –

(1)    No! Get out, American!

(2)    You’re not welcome here!

(3) Shut up!

(4)    I could only find the first line of this in Cajun French, but the English translation goes: “I’m celebrating my birthday today. I’m here with all my friends. All my presents have been unwrapped but you’re the only present I wanted.” (And I’m pretty sure it’s not WWII era, but I’m using it anyway :))

(5)    I miss you, Mama and you, too, Papa, Helene, Phillippe, Uncle Pierre, Aunt Charlotte, Grandfather … I miss you all so much.

(6)    I love you all … I wish I was there.

(7)    Thank you, ma’am. I would be honored as well.

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.

Lisa and Philippe #3, Three Word Wednesday, 9/28/2011

Cherish, Guarantee, Nausea – Thought I’d have some fun following up Cherries and this story

Lisa clenched her teeth tightly as the wave of nausea passed over her.  She glanced at the timer set on the bathroom sink and closed her eyes. Just five more minutes… Not that there’s any real doubt, is there?

Philippe peeked around the corner of the door, wary. Lisa’s temper had been a byword for the last week, and he didn’t want to set her off.

She smiled wanly. “It’s okay. I won’t snap your head off.”

He entered, sat down beside her on the side of the bathtub and handed her a mug of steaming hot licorice tea.

“Are you sure this will work?”

“Yes.” He gave her a sideways glance. “I guarantee it. I remember… Maman… Stephane.  It’ll help.”

She sipped slowly and he put his arm around her to pull her close.

“I love you, Philippe.”

“I know, ma belle. And I cherish you.”

The timer chimed. They both started, and then exchanged a long look.

“You look,” she said. “I can’t.”

Philippe stretched out one long arm and picked up the stick. “If there’s a line, yes?”

“Yes.”

A smile slowly spread across his face, like the sun dawning in the bathroom’s small window. He pulled her to him more tightly and kissed her on top of her head.  “So, what shall we name him?”

“Him?”

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.

Friday Flash,6/3/2011 – The End of the Rope

[A/N: Warning … strong language and domestic violence (physical and emotional)]

The woman stopped typing briefly, and hastily wiped the tears from her face so she could see. It didn’t help – through blurred eyes, she fumbled for the home keys on the keyboard and kept going.

 “ – So you see, Doctor, at this point, I don’t know what to do. I can’t stay; I can’t go. I’m caught and I really need to find a solution. You won’t be able to call me. Jim answers every phone call and opens all my mail. Fortunately he doesn’t understand email, so please, if you can help me, email me back. I can check it while –

 A bellow from upstairs interrupted her.

“Jenny, get up here!”

With a sigh, she hit the Send button and turned off the screen. Slowly, she climbed the stairs. “Yes,” she said quietly. “What did you want?”

“Make me some hot cocoa. And bring me a peanut butter sandwich.” She turned to leave, and just as she reached the door, he said, “Where are my jeans?”

“I don’t know.  Where did you take them off?” Her tone was quiet and deliberately non-confrontational. It was a bad idea to let him hear her irritation; she had a pair of broken eyeglasses downstairs as mute testimony to that.

“I don’t know either.  Never mind.”

She started back down the stairs, but when she was half-way down, he called again. “Bring me that new Custer book that came today!”

“Okay,” she called back. Two steps later, he yelled again, shrilly: “Where’s my hot cocoa?”

“I’ll be up in a minute, okay?” She tried to speak up loudly without yelling or emotion. His hearing was going but his vanity wouldn’t let him admit it, and if she spoke up too loudly, he’d accuse her of being bitchy. Can’t win, either way.

In the kitchen, she mixed the cocoa and put it in the microwave. While she waited for it to heat, she made the sandwiches. He only said one sandwich, but she knew if she only took one sandwich up, he’d want two. If he complained about the second one, she could eat it herself. Although likely enough if she said so, he’d say that he really wanted them both, and if she wanted one she should have made one for herself instead of eating his. “Selfish bitch” and “backstabbing whore” were two of his favorite names for her and she was so used to hearing them that she didn’t really hear them any more.

When the microwave beeped, she took the cocoa out and poured it in a cup. She put the sandwiches on a plate and went into the living room for the book. Balancing the plate on the book, she started up the stairs again.

“Took you long enough,” he muttered, with no words of thanks – not that she expected any. He sipped the cocoa, and scowled. “This isn’t hot enough!” He sat up enough to throw the contents of the cup in her face. “What’s wrong with you? Can’t you do anything right?” He slammed the cup to the floor, careless of the mess he made on the carpet.

She tried hard to be stoic, but the tears restarted, fat drops that rolled down her face and dripped off her chin, making tracks in the hot cocoa.

“Oh, oh. Niagara Falls again. You’re such a big baby. Why did I ever marry you?”

She turned and left.

“I suppose you’re going to go downstairs and sit on your fat ass in front of the computer for the rest of the day,” he called after her. “Lazy bitch.”

Later, she stood in the living room, face pink from the cocoa, and stared blankly for a long time, unmoving. Finally, she looked at the bottles of medicine on the small table – he wanted his pills by his chair so he could take them on some obscure schedule that only he understood. Lithium. Metformin. Melatonin. She put those aside and picked up the last bottle. Seroquel. Take 4 at bedtime.  Even though it hadn’t been prescribed for her, she’d once shaken one of the large caplets out of the bottle during a particularly bad day, broken it and taken a very small bit. She’d been out for half a day afterwards. She considered it thoughtfully for a moment, and then put it down when he yelled again.

“Get me some more fucking hot cocoa! And this time, do it right.”

On her way back up the stairs, she stopped by the Seroquel again.

“I guess it’s okay. Sorry I threw it at you before, but if you’d just do what you’re supposed to, I wouldn’t have to get mad.” He drank some more and put the cup on the nightstand.

She stood back and watched him as his eyes closed and he drifted off to sleep, then turned and made yet another trip down the stairs.

* * *

Fifteen minutes later, her hands moved carefully over the keyboard again.

I’m sorry to have bothered you, Dr. Riordan. I think I’ve found a solution – the only one I could, really. Please understand; I’m at the end of my rope and there was just nothing else to do.”

She moved the mouse, clicked on the “Send” button, and then sat back. Soon she would never deal with insults and yelling and insufficiently hot cups of cocoa again.  Forgive me, she thought, to Whoever was out there, as she closed her eyes and waited.