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.

I Shall Be Waiting – #FridayFlash – 3/30/2012

[A/N:  Hope fanfic isn’t against the spirit of Friday Flash. 🙂
I’m a  big fan of an old TV show called “Combat”.  This is my take on how the LeMay family learns
about Caje being attacked and injured in the Combat! episode “The Leader”,
written from his sister Hélène’s viewpoint. I have never quite been able to believe that someone hurt as
badly as Caje was was suddenly “okay”, as Kirby is told at the end of the episode.
Just my opinion. The story has its roots In “Love Doesn’t Hide”, when Nonc Pierre tells
Paul that he has only seen Denis cry twice in his life, and once was when they
found out Paul had been stabbed.  This is what happened. <> = French]

I watch my father and husband dig up the front lawn of the house I grew up in.  For years, Papa complained about how sparsely the grass grew there. This year, finally, it grew in the way he always wanted, and now they’re tearing it up, Papa and Armand, to put in a Victory Garden.

The two of them stop, Papa pushing back his hat and wiping his forehead with a handkerchief.  Not a bandanna, not for Denis LeMay, the way that Nonc Pierre or Papère would, or even my brother Paul, if he was here.  I wish he was.

Maman comes to watch over my shoulder. “It’s too hot”, she says in French, almost to herself.  For a moment, I think she is going to go to the front door and get them to come in, but we see Nonc Pierre and Papère enter through the front gate, and both of us freeze.

The conflict between Papa and Nonc Pierre is very simple. Here you have two strong-minded, stubborn men who both love my brother very much and can’t agree on a single thing about him. For Papa, it is a matter of respect, the respect he doesn’t think he gets from Paulie, especially when it comes to the choices Papa has made for his son’s life. For Nonc Pierre, it is that he thinks Paulie should be independent, to choose his own path.  The latest battle in this family dispute is over Paulie and his best friend Theo going off together to fight in the war against the Nazis.

There’s no question where Nonc Pierre stands; when Martin Gautreaux came home paralyzed and in a wheelchair, he and Marcel Dubois showed up at the Gautreaux house with a load of timber and built a new room for Martin, widening the doors in the house to make it easier for Martin to get around.  Of course, they refused to accept any payment from Martin or his family.  They won’t talk about it, but Maman says that she thinks neither of them can forget the things they saw when they served in World War I. When I wrote Paulie about it, his next letter said that helping Martin probably laid some ghosts for both of them.  I guess he’d understand that better than I can.

It’s not as though Papa objects to the war as such.  Lots of our boys have left to fight and he’s gone with his friends to see their sons off. I know, too, that he has bought Victory Bonds and slipped money to young families whose fathers will never come home again.  He’d give all the money he has; he just doesn’t want to give his son.  Now that I have a son of my own, I have a little more sympathy for his viewpoint – or I would, if he didn’t want to control Paulie.

Sadly, Papa has more ammunition for his fears and for his position in this fight.  Theo Dubois died in action the first day of the invasion, D-Day as they call it. I can’t imagine how Paulie survived that.  He and Theo were like brothers – closer, in fact, if you look at my father and his brother.  I can’t remember Paulie and Theo ever squabbling, or at least not for long.

Since then, Paulie has been wounded a number of times, once seriously, when he and his squad were fighting alongside the British.  At least that’s what the letter from his lieutenant explained. We just found out that he has been wounded again, but we’ve received nothing more as of yet. Papa has grown querulous and easily irritated and we all dread the mail or the sound of footsteps and bicycle bells.

I miss my brother a lot.  He’d have wanted to be the first one to hold my and Armand’s son Philippe. He loves kids, and I hope he gets home to get married and have his own.

When we were kids, Paulie was my defender. He stood up for me when I wanted to do things and Papa put his foot down – he was the only person who could talk Papa around, oddly enough — and no one dared insult me or treat me badly when he was there. He was always my parfait gentil knight.  Of course, he’d laugh so hard if he knew what I was thinking.  Hélène, he’d say, you’ve been reading too many romances. I’m just an ordinary guy – don’t get carried away. And then he’d give me a big hug and go get us both some ice cream or one of Maman’s desserts and we’d sit on the side porch and just talk and laugh.

Papa is ignoring Nonc Pierre. I can tell from Nonc Pierre’s irritated expression and Papère’s resigned look.  Armand doesn’t look too happy either.  Here he comes.  I guess he has decided that to retreat was the better part of valor.  I don’t blame him for that.  Papère has given up aussi; he stops and gives his sons one last look before coming in.

Maman sighs and pours Armand and Papère glasses of lemonade. < Hélène, are they coming in too? >

< Non, Maman … > I pause, watching them.  For a moment, it looks as though they are arguing. Then Nonc Pierre puts his hand on Papa’s shoulder. Papa says something back and then they begin digging up the lawn together.

< Actually, unless they agreed to dig each other’s graves, Maman >, I say, smiling, < it looks as though they’ve made up for now.  Again. >

< Bon. > Papère shook his head. < Before God, I don’t know why they need to fight all t’e time.  When I t’ink how close they used to be …>

Then I see the mailman and something about my stillness catches my husband’s attention.

<What is it, ma chère? > Armand joins me at the window.

< Just M’sieu’ Terrebonne with t’e mail. >

Maman puts her glass down decisively and starts for the door. < Maybe t’ey finally sent us somet’ing about Paulie. >

I reach out and stop her. <Wait, Maman. Papa has it and he and Nonc Pierre are coming in.>

They enter the kitchen, Papa carrying a single envelop, Nonc Pierre behind him with the rest of the post, which he lays on the little table by the sofa.

< Denis, is it –? >

He holds the letter up so we can all see the handwriting. Now, I realize I don’t want to know what it says, and no one else seems to want to either. Finally, Papa rips it open convulsively and takes the enclosure out.

My heart stops as he reads, and suddenly, horribly, he begins to weep.

< Denis? > Maman reaches for him, and the letter falls to the ground. He clings to her and she helps him to the living room, where they sit together, rocking back and forth. < Ah, Denis, what is it? >

I am afraid to pick up the letter, afraid of what it might say, but I do.  Oh, Paulie .. oh, no.

“Dear Mr. LeMay:

I am sorry to have to write you again about your son.

I know this will be difficult for you to read. We were engaged in holding off the enemy and Private LeMay was set to keep watch.  He was attacked by a German patrol and was stabbed in the abdomen. Although we have told his squad mates that he will be all right, the truth is that he is gravely ill and has had to undergo surgery.

He is presently in England being treated and as soon as I have any further details, I will make sure you are informed as soon as it is possible to do so.

Please know that our thoughts and prayers are with you, your family and your son, who is a valued member of my unit.

Sincerely,

Lieutenant Gilbert Hanley

Second Platoon, 361st Infantry, King Company”

Armand holds me and tries to comfort me.  Then Nonc Pierre takes the letter from me and he and Papère read it together.

Papère staggers and Nonc Pierre catches him blindly. There is shock on his face and guilt.  Nonc Pierre, it’s not your fault!  He helps his father to a chair and then sits down himself, off-balance and with a lack of grace that is very unlike him. Maman reaches for the letter and he gives it to her reluctantly. She reads it, turning white with shock, and Papa holds her, as she, too, cries.

After some moments of general silence, punctuated only by our tears, I am shocked to hear a growl. It is Papa.

He stands unsteadily, glaring at Nonc Pierre in absolute fury.  He grabs my unresisting uncle by the shirt and hauls him out of his chair. ”Fils de putain!  Jamais, jamais je ne veux à nouveau vous vous voyez dans ma maison.” Never do I want you in my house again!

We all protest, but he pays us no mind. He pushes his brother to the front door and then pulls his arm back to slug him.  Papère and Armand look at one another, rise as one and try to pull them apart, Andre holding Papa, and Armand supporting Nonc Pierre. All four of them jump when I shout, unable to stand it any more.

Arretez! Papa! Stop it!” I was still crying, but now as much for the never-ending anger between these two men I love so as for my brother. ”Do you think Paul would want the two of you to fight like this?” I turned to my father. ”Papa, Paulie always tried to do what you wanted him to, but he wrote me many times when he was away and said he wanted a part in the war.  Nonc Pierre may have told him stories when he was a boy, but Paulie made up his own mind. You know that, if you are honest.”

Papa lets go of Nonc Pierre and nearly collapses against me. ”I want mon fils home,” he says, emphatically, through his tears. “I want your brot’er safe. Paul! Paul …”

Maman rises slowly. For a moment, she looks confused, like a sleeper awakened from a deep dream. She meets my eyes and I know what she is thinking because it is what is in my mind as well.  This can’t be true. This can’t have happened. She comes and puts her arms around both Papa and me, and then I feel Armand beside me, and Papère.  Only Nonc Pierre stands apart from us. He watches for a moment and then walks slowly through the kitchen, opens the door and steps out onto the side porch.

I pull away and follow him outside. ”Don’t you dare leave, nonc-nonc.” We both called him that, Paulie and me, when we were just p’tits.

He stands and looks at me for the longest time, and gradually his hazel eyes, so like my brother’s, fill with tears. One trickles down his cheek. He swallows hard, face set, trying not to lose control. I stand there with my arms open wide, and he walks to me and hugs me, and then this strong, proud Cajun man cries like a child for my brother, for the nephew he loves like a son.

Much later, after the others leave, and Armand and I take Philippe and go home, I sit on our side porch and think. If I could have been by Paulie’s side, if I could be there now, I would tell him how much I love him and how proud I am of him.  And then I would find a way to bring him home so that he didn’t have to be hurt any more, so that none of us have to be afraid that the day will bring a knock on the door and an Army chaplain with a mouth full of condolences.

I listen to the record Armand put on the player and pray for my brother. Je t’aime, mon frère. Wherever you are, Paulie, je t’aime. Come home well, cher. Come home soon.  I shall be waiting.

.– 30 –

The title comes from a WWII song by Vera Lynn.  You can find the lyrics here: http://www.lyricsdownload.com/vera-lynn-i-shall-be-waiting-lyrics.html

An afternoon with mon papa – #FridayFlash – 3/23/2012, Lisa and Philippe #4

[Author’s Note: This is a revisit to my “Cherries” universe, a follow up to this Flash piece.]

Lisa tiptoed toward the door.  Philippe looked up and smiled. “Don’t forget the milk, chérie!  Be careful driving.”

She waved her hands, and, too late, Philippe winced. “Sorry,” he mouthed.

Maman!” Her shoulders drooped.  Gaston came toddling around the corner at as full a speed as a eighteen-month-old could manage, and latched himself onto her legs.

Non, mon p’tit,” said a repentant Philippe as he scooped his son high in the air. “Maman allez.”

Non, papa.  Maman rester.”

“Don’t you love Papa?”

The little boy studied him solemnly for a moment and turned back to Lisa, arms outstretched. “Gaston allez!”

“Non, chéri.” She brushed his cheek, kissed his nose. “Have fun with Papa.” She exited as quickly as she could manage.

Gaston’s face puckered into a pout. He began sniffling, and it wasn’t long before he was crying.  Philippe futilely tried distracting his son.

Half an hour and nearly a whole box of toys later, Gaston was standing silently at the window, clutching the curtains and watching for Lisa’s car.  Philippe was stretched out on the floor trying not to fall asleep.  He propped himself on his elbows and watched the little boy compassionately.

He crawled over to the window and cuddled Gaston. “I miss Maman, too, when she goes.” His well-meant sympathy brought tears to the little one’s eyes, which ramped back up to full-fledged crying again.

Hé, p’tit. Maybe a song?”  He thought for a minute and began. “C’est la poulette grise qui pond dans l’église…” Gaston only got louder and Philippe stopped. “Ok, not a song.” He tilted his head to one side. “Although I must say I don’t think my voice is that bad.”

He rocked the little boy and thought. A book, of course! Forty-five minutes later, he had gone through Bonsoir Lune, half a dozen Golden Books and a toy catalog that had come in the mail that day. The little boy subsided into noisy sobs and Philippe felt like joining him.

“How about something to eat?” Gaston refused all offers, looking wistfully at the door where Lisa had disappeared.

Philippe walked the floor with his son, back and forth, and tried with no success to come up with a story of his own. Finally, he sat down on the couch and turned on the Habs, playing a rare afternoon game against Vancouver.  “Regardez, Gaston! Hockey!”  At that moment, Max Pacioretty finessed a shot past Schneider, who was spelling Luongo between the pipes, and the goal horn set Gaston off again.

Philippe slumped back in the sofa.  “Je me rends. I am a horrible father.” He gave Gaston a long, sad look, and the little boy quieted to hiccups.

***

Lisa sighed as she unlocked the door.  She loved her husband and adored her son, but sometimes she just had to get away for a bit.

As she closed the door behind her, Lisa froze in shock.  The room was a shambles, with toys and books scattered across the floor, the orange juice out on the counter, along with a banana, half a sandwich and a small pile of cookies.  The hockey game had given way to L’antichambre, and the sound was off.

“Philippe?” Lisa called quietly.

A small head popped up over the back of the couch. Gaston tried putting one finger to his lips and said, “Chut, Maman.” His little voice dropped to a whisper. “Papa dort.”

She came around the couch cautiously. Philippe was indeed asleep, Gaston’s favorite blanket partially covering his chest and the boy’s small pillow gently placed over his father’s face.

“Gaston aime Papa.” The little boy patted his father’s hand, crawled between Philippe and the back of the couch and carefully laid down next to him. Philippe stirred in his sleep and laid a gentle hand on his son’s head.

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.

When the Sky Was Blue – #FridayFlash

Michael shifted impatiently as his mom steadied the gyrocycle above the parking space. A rather blank, empty smile came over her face, and Michael understood.  The Proctors were everywhere and where they weren’t, there was always a Neighbor who would be happy to tell the Proctors about any dissatisfaction.  It was better to be seen smiling.

She turned to him and flipped the cover off his ventmeter.

“You’re in the yellow.  Make sure you charge up before we leave.”

“Got it, Mom.” He carefully assumed the expression he’d spent hours practicing before the mirror, the one that made him look like one of the kids in the Aero Guides manual.

The two of them pulled their gloves up to cover their wrists and put on the breathing masks. His mom grabbed the two tubes out of the back of the gyro and prepared to lift the door.

“Ready?”

“Ready on green!”

They joined hands and boosted to the front of The Store. She maneuvered them past slower people and made sure they were in the airdock, waiting with the others.  The dock vent shut behind them and they loosened their masks.

Over the door, there was a large sign. “The Proctors announce water today!” A Guide walked past them, shockstaff in hand. He studied faces as he passed. No one spoke. Everyone wore a smile like the one Michael and his mother had assumed in the gyro. Satisfied, he pressed a button on his uniform and the door irised open. Slowly, in order, the customers entered.

Michael went to get a carry for his mom, and helped her put the aquatubes in it. “While we’re here, I’ll use some foodcredits for bread.”

“Great, Mom!” As they walked to the water dispensers, Michael kept a surreptitious watch out. He loved to come to The Store – not because he necessarily wanted to buy anything (or that they could, anyway – his mom was only a Grade 3 ChildGuide) but because of the movement in the beams of the building. He was fascinated by the flutter of wings. The birds were small and brown, not very exciting, but it had been years, long before he was born, that the last bird had disappeared.

“Oh, no!” Ahead of them a man who was filling his aquatubes didn’t complete the disconnect fast enough and water spilled to the floor.  Everyone carefully avoided looking at him, and a Sensor hummed through the air and hovered in front of his face.

“I’m sorry – really!” he told the unseen watchers. “I was just tir—I mean, it was a mistake!” A Guide came out of a nearby door and grasped the man’s arm, pulling him along. “Please, you don’t understand.  Please, don’t!  Please, I’ve never had a writeup or even a speakup.” The Guide pulled him along, unhearing, and the door closed behind them. The man was gone as if he had never been

A Klenbot rolled out and absorbed the water. After a moment, it extended an arm and recycled the moisture into the storage tank.

“Waste not, want not.” Everyone nearby tapped their lips and then their chests, over their heart. Michael eyed the poster of the Leader, with the Holy Words printed boldly across them. Then he used the distraction to look a little higher, at the rustle of wings high above them.

He’d never seen a sky that was any other color than the brownish-gray that was the everyday experience, nor a tree or grass that grew outside.  Every home had a dwarved, small tree or two to help filter the air, and genetically-altered grass was everyone’s carpet. None of these was truly green – only a pale green-brown. And he would never have seen a bird, had it not been for the remnant that fluttered above them.  Michael had asked his mother once, when they played the music high so they could talk unheard, why the Guides or the Proctors hadn’t just gotten rid of the birds.

“Leader knows. Maybe they think it’s too much trouble.  Maybe they enjoy teasing us, those who remember how it used to be, when the sky was blue and you didn’t need a mask to breathe outside.”

While his mother filled their tubes, Michael wondered what color blue the sky had been, if it was the blue of the denim they wore, or the color of a Guide’s uniform or if it had been pale blue, like his mother’s eyes on the rare occasion when she was really happy.

“Let’s go.” They went to get the bread and then stood in line to scan the chip in his mother’s hand. As they advanced up the line, they came abreast with the AirFill. Michael deftly transferred enough air to bring his tank to green and closed the valve.

“That’s well done! You must be top of your Cadre!” A heavyset older man behind his mother reached out and Michael knew enough to fist bump and tap fingers in the Aero Guides fashion.

“Thank you, sir.”

“That’s a fine boy, there, Ma’am. A Proctor in the making if I ever saw one!”

“You’re too kind, sir.” His mother dropped a curtsy.

After they paid, they refixed their masks and boosted back from the airlock to the gyro.

“Belt hooked?”

“Yes.” Michael settled back against the seat against the thrust of the cycle and dreamt of feathers and birds in a blue sky.

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.