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.

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.

No Good Deed

Ella Frey had a soft heart – to paraphrase the song from “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown”, she was kind to all the animals and every living thing. So when she saw the children tormenting a small cat on her way home from the market, she stopped to give them a piece of her mind.

“What DO you think you are doing?” Her fierce tone stopped the three boys in their tracks – at least for a second. Then two of them, recognizing that her age meant she wouldn’t catch them if she ran, bolted. The third, Jeremy Ratchett, reacted too slowly to avoid her grasp.

“Hey. We’re just fooling around, y’know? No big deal.”

His nonchalance caused her to see red even more than she was already. She scooped up the huddled youngling cat as carefully as her fury would allow and shoved it in the boy’s face. “Look at him, Jeremy! LOOK at him! He’s terrified! Imagine how you’d feel, if someone or something larger than you hurt you! Wouldn’t you be scared?”

The boy looked away from her.  “Maybe I don’t have to imagine,” he muttered so low that she could barely make out the words.

Her anger leaked out suddenly. “I’m sorry, Jeremy.  But if you know, why would you do this?”

He shrugged and stared fixedly at his shoes.

“Look.” Ella let his arm go and cuddled the cat to herself. “Jeremy, if you ever need a safe place, you can – can come to me, okay?”

He looked up with something in his eyes that looked like hope. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

Jeremy left, but kept glancing over his shoulder. Ella watched him leave and then scratched the cat’s head. “Oh, dear, kitty.  Was that a good idea?”

No good deed goes unpunished.  Ella had had her rescued kitty (which she named Jack Sparrow – she loved Johnny Depp) for two weeks when she realized the cat had brought some visitors with him. Ella was reading in her favorite chair when she felt something on her leg.  Several somethings, in fact.  When she felt one of them bite her, she looked down to see seven or eight fleas. She knew that meant there were probably hundreds in the carpet.  Maybe thousands.

“Oh, for —“

The fleas on her leg simultaneously jumped to her outstretched hand. If she could have seen their eyes, she’d swear they were staring at her.  Impatient with herself, she shook her hand and dismissed the thought as fanciful, if not outright nuts.

“You’re losing it.” With a brisk nod, she made up her mind to do what she needed to.

The next day, after a visit to a local pet shop and a trip to take Jack Sparrow to the vet (which he protested about vociferously coming and going), Ella was ready to tackle the flea problem in her house. As she moved from room to room, she thought about the life she was taking and her conscience began to whisper to her. Uncertainly, her finger slipped off the spray button on the can she held.  “They’re pests, yes, but …”

As if her thought was parent to it, a one foot square area of the wall she was facing was suddenly covered with an untold number of fleas. There was a shift of light, and then a letter appeared on the wall. Y.

“Wh—“

The Y disappeared. The fleas reformed. STP.  And again, after a moment. NOT.  And finally: KIL.

Her arm fell to her side in her confusion and the can was dropped, unnoticed.

Finally, her mind cleared. But, if they’re sentient, is it right to kill them? She retrieved the spray can and looked at it.  Did I really see that, or have I finally lost it? Did I inhale some of this and now I’m hallucinating?

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous.” When she raised the can to keep spraying, fleas leaped on her from all directions. She staggered through the living room, the little pests in her eyes, her nose, her mouth, stopping her breathing.  The can fell again, but this time she didn’t notice it.

Jeremy pounded on the door, hands shaking, out of breath. Oh, man, I hope she meant what she said. Steps approached the door and it swung slowly open.

Ella stood there, eyes glazed, a rictus smile on her face. “Jeremy, how nice.” A flea hopped from her hair to the hand holding the door.  They both stared at it. “Oh, never mind that.” Her hand jerked and the flea ended up on the ground.

Jeremy seemed to reconsider for a moment, but perhaps remembering what awaited him at home, he swallowed hard. “You said – you said. If I needed a place.”

“Of course, dear. Come in.” Ella stepped back to let Jeremy in. “You’re very welcome. We’re glad to have you.” As he passed her, her smile widened. “Very glad indeed.”

Best of Friends (9/2/2011)

My Journal, 3/1/2011

Today the weight loss contest started here at work.  I know what I weigh (and I don’t like it), but I’m going to lose.  Absolutely.  I decided I need some motivation, so I’ve hung up a picture of Jim from Facebook on my cubicle wall, along with a picture of myself as I am now.  It’s a reminder that I hope I’ll get to St. Louis by the end of the year and meet Jim face to face, but not looking like that. I expect it’ll help.  I hope so, anyway …

My Journal, 4/10/2011

Having trouble getting my eating under control. No surprise. But I’ve been working out so I know that will help. Still, every time I feel like eating something that’s really wrong, I look at the picture of Jim.  Since he owns a Gold’s Gym franchise, I know he understands the process of getting in shape and I can imagine him encouraging me not to give in to temptation. He even “liked” the status I posted the other day about having lost weight. What a great friend …

My Journal, 6/1/2011

Today was the weigh-in for the first half of the contest.  I was really disappointed to only have lost about 7 pounds.  In three months, I should have done better.  When I came back from the locker room where the weigh-in was, I was too ashamed to meet Jim’s eyes. How am I ever going to get to meet him, looking like this? He hasn’t been posting on FB either, lately.  I’ll bet he’d be so disgusted if he could see me right now …

My Journal, 7/14/2011

Here I am at the midpoint of the second half. I’ve hardly lost a thing. I can just see the sneer on Jim’s face, the contempt. “I see people all the time who are getting fit.  Why aren’t you?” I can just hear him now. Probably that blonde he friended the other day was one of them. I just know that’s his type, not someone like me. Not a frumpy, fat person like me …

My Journal, 8/31/2011

Final weigh-in. I lost a whole 15 pounds this summer.  Nothing I did was right. When I got back to my desk, I tore down the picture of him and threw it away.  I could hear him laughing at me, probably the way he laughs at me when he’s with all his hotshot gym buddies. I really thought he liked me, but he fooled me.  Well, no more.  I’ve had all I’m going to take …

St. Louis Dispatch
September 5, 2011

LOCAL GYM OWNER MURDERED

In what is surely a cautionary tale about befriending strangers on the Internet, James Sawyer, 37, the owner of a local gym, was shot down at his place of business by Berta Ingles, 42, of Harton, Ohio, a small town outside of Youngstown.  Sawyer had previously friended Ms. Ingles on Facebook.  “I think he did it out of kindness,” said Al Forman, Sawyer’s grieving business and life partner. “He wasn’t that into Facebook anyway — he used it mostly for business purposes. She apparently saw things differently, because she came in shouting that she wasn’t going to put up with him laughing at her any more. I have no idea what she was talking about. Jim wasn’t the kind of guy who laughed at anyone.” Ms. Ingles is presently being held in MPC for psychiatric evaluation…

The Locket

“Where do you want this, Grandpa?”

Bill turned around and rubbed one work-roughened hand over his forehead, wiping away the sweat. “Put it over there, Jeremy.” He waved generally over to a blank spot on the far side of the small apartment. “Just anywhere.”

“Ok.” The teenager dodged around the stacks of boxes with the innate grace of the young and stood by Bill, concerned. “You okay?”

Bill mustered a smile. “Sure, Jeremy. Fine.  Just tired.” He dropped onto the sofa and closed his eyes for a moment, then sighed and looked around the room.  Whoever thought that 35 years could be packed up into a dozen or so boxes?

“Dad? Jeremy?” He heard his son on the stairs, puffing as he brought the last box up and dumped it on the stack.

“Over here, David.” His son joined them, hands on hips. My son, the desk jockey. Dave worked out and played tennis, and was in pretty good shape, but somehow he seemed soft to his father. Bill couldn’t help it – he loved his son, but he had a former factory worker’s innate distrust of people who earned money by sitting behind a desk using their brains instead of their hands.

Dave looked around at all the boxes, and said again, “Dad, you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you. Sure you don’t want some help?”

Bill laughed. “Son, I’ve got nothing but time. And now I’ve got something to do.” I would have driven your mother crazy, if… There was a tiny tremor around Bill’s mouth, just a little one that neither of the others noticed. “So don’t worry about me.”

For the next week, the apartment resembled a badly-run thrift store. Bill had meant to have a system about unpacking the boxes; after all, he and Jeremy had labeled them so they’d go in certain rooms and even done a brief list of the contents. Though he started out with the best of intentions, it hadn’t quite worked out the way he intended.

Eventually he managed to get almost everything put away and was down to the last couple of boxes. They held things he’d cleared out of his wife Evelyn’s desk, barely even looking at the items as he packed them away.

Most of what was in there was office supplies, and notes on things she’d been working on but never finished. He put the stapler, tape and other things aside, thinking he could donate them somewhere. He sifted slowly through the notes. Bill overruled the part of him that was ridiculing his impulse to keep the notes as an early sign of turning into a packrat and stored them away.

At the bottom of the box, there was a small brown envelop.  He didn’t recognize it until he turned it over and saw the mailing label. For several moments, he simply stared at it. Slowly, he reached back in and took it out, opening it and shaking the contents into one shaking hand.

He lifted the locket into the light by the delicate chain and watched the engraving sparkle as it swung softly back and forth. Eventually, he opened it and looked at the pictures inside.

For their 25th anniversary, he’d found the photos her dad had taken of them as they got ready to go to their prom, had them reproduced and put into the locket. Evelyn had loved it and wore it all the time, right up until she’d had to go into the hospital. Then there were so many other things to think about – treatments and paperwork and being able to stay with her as much as he could – and he didn’t know what she’d done with it.  When he finally had time to ask, it was too late, and she’d slipped away from him without another word. I wanted to put it in your hand in the casket, Bill thought. I wanted …

He shuddered for a moment, then picked up the envelope, put the locket back inside and replaced the envelope on the desk.

Bill caught an unfamiliar odor and sniffed the air. What is that? Is something burning? He realized he’d left the soup he was heating up for lunch on the stove. He hurried into the little kitchen and grabbed at the pan without thinking.

The handle was hot and it seared his hand. He jerked back and knocked the pan on the floor and soup went everywhere.

Suddenly, all the pain that he’d buried behind his stoic façade, behind the rule his father had pressed on him from the time he was old enough to understand – “Men don’t cry” – broke free. He lowered his head, hot tears streaking his  face, dripping onto the worn work clothes that he’d put on that morning without thinking, as if it were just another work day and he could come home, and she would be there.

“Ah, hell, Evelyn. Why? Why did you leave me? Oh, honey, what am I supposed to do without you? What am I supposed to do?”

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.

Like April, Only It’s May

[Thanks to @ReginaldGolding on Twitter who thoughtfully let me borrow his blog title as a writing prompt.  I’m not sure this is what I had in mind when I started, but here it is anyway]

Jim wrote something in the family checkbook register, then stopped abruptly and flipped it over, looking at the calendar on the back. Then he flipped it over again, puzzled.  “What’s today’s date?”

”Hmm?” came from his wife, Anne, who was stretched out on the couch, reading.

“The date.  Today’s date. What is it?”

She thought for a moment, turned the page, and said, “May 20.”

“You’re sure?”

Anne stopped reading and looked at him over the book. “Am I sure? Yes!”

“Not April?”

The book got closed and tossed onto the coffee table. “Is this some kind of joke, Jim?  Are you feeling all right?”

“No. And yes.”

“It’s late May.  Almost June. What’s this all about?”

“I had the weirdest feeling – was convinced it was April.”

“Well, I suppose that could happen.” She reached for the book again, uncertainly. “I had an aunt who would put the previous year on her checks into June, some years.”

“I don’t think I’m that bad.” Jim smiled wryly. “It was just strange, that’s all.” He jiggled the iced tea glass by his calculator and it answered with a rattle of ice. Empty. For a moment, he debated asking Anne to get him a refill – she’d settled back down with the paperback – and decided it wasn’t worth the lecture.

Just as he was about to open the refrigerator, he felt a little unsteady and the room blurred around him for a moment.  What was that? Vertigo? A minor earthquake? He shook his head and opened the refrigerator door without looking. Reaching in for the pitcher, his hand closed on empty air. He glanced around the door and saw that the iced tea that had been there not an hour ago was missing.  There was a large bowl of stew covered in plastic cling wrap in its place.

Jim opened his mouth to call Anne, closed his mouth and decided to look again.  Stew.  No iced tea.

He padded back into the living room.  “Anne, where’d the iced tea go?”

“Iced tea? In April? Especially one this cold?”

Annoyed, he snapped back.  “Okay, very funny.  I admit I made a mistake, but I don’t think you need to rub it in.”

“Mistake? Jim, what are you talking about?” Anne raised up and looked over the back of the sofa at him in astonishment. In place of the paperback she’d had when he left the living room, she was holding a small piece of cross-stitch in a hoop.  And instead of the light t-shirt and knit slacks she’d been wearing, she had on the fleece set he’d bought her for Christmas.  Beyond her, outside the windows, it was snowing.

Jim landed in the nearest wing chair with a thump. The glass in his hand landed on the carpet unheeded.

“Jim! Honey, what’s wrong?”

The room trembled for him again. This time, when he opened his eyes, Anne was back in the t-shirt and slacks and robins were playing near the daffodils on the front lawn.

“I’ve finally lost it.”

“Jim, you’re scaring me.”

“I was just in the kitchen and there was stew where the iced tea had been and I came back in here and you were in your fleece doing needlepoint and it was snowing –“ He stopped at the look of dismay on his wife’s face.  “I am not making this up, Anne.  I swear.”

I think we need to call Dr. Willoughby.”

“We can’t.”

“Why not?”

“I saw him in town yesterday.  He said he was taking the train to Serling this morning.”

“Oh.”

He watched her as she sat, perplexed, a worry line between the finely-drawn brows. Then it happened again, and he was back in April.  Again, and he was back in May. Again, and this time he seemed to be in both months, with two Annes staring at him in fright and snowflakes and flowers dueling for window space.  It was all too much for him and after one last spasm, the room went black.

* * *

The author sat back from the computer and thought.  I just don’t know what makes sense
here …

“Got a problem?”

She looked at her husband wryly.  “Well, yes. I can’t decide about the setting for this story.”

He shrugged. “Flip a coin. Unless there’s some pressing reason why it has to be one way or the other. At least you’ll make up your mind and be able to finish.”

“Okay.” She reached for her purse and took out a quarter.  “Heads, it’s April, tails, it’s May.”

She flipped the coin and it spun in the air, shimmering in the sunlight from the nearby window.

Bread

The mother and son contemplated the overturned bread truck with mixed emotions. Though they hadn’t eaten for days, the interior of the innocent looking white vehicle might hold more than they wished to see. Josie told her son to hide nearby while she investigated.The doors must have fallen shut after the truck was looted, because the inside was mostly empty of everything save some debris and the slowly transforming corpse in the driver’s seat. Josie, driven by morbid curiosity, leaned forward to gaze upon all that remained of the the unfortunate soul.
Fungal growth transformed his skin bizarre shades of yellow and green like some horrific chia pet, while long velvety shoots grew from his eyes, nose, and ears, permanently fixing him to his seat.
She knew she should hurry before other scavengers returned, but simple human decency prevented her. She wanted to close his eyes.
Leaning over the driver, she broke off the eye stalks. Weird tendrils reached out for her like spectral hands. She batted them away, loosing more spores into the air like a fine mist.
She tried to shield her mouth and coughed, sharp loud exhalations racking her body.
“Mommy?”
She closed the lids, a futile gesture since their thin skin would soon sprout more alien tendrils. As she turned back to address her son, she spotted, out of the corner of her eye, the clear plastic of a loaf of bread wedged between driver and door. She made to grab it when her son called again.
“Mommy! Someone’s coming!”
Noticing the mold inside the wrapping, she threw the loaf aside in disgust. They hadn’t eaten in days but were not yet desperate enough to stomach such fare, even given their supposed immunity to the spores’ malignant effects. They might not lose their minds to the alien fungus, but simple food poisoning could kill them just as well. She ran out to her son.
None too soon, she reached Jack and ducked behind a large piece of concrete debris – carnage from the past weeks’ mayhem. They peered over its edge at the walking dead, descending upon the bread truck as if they needed the food. But of course, they did. Their masters beckoned, and they would not stop until the Earth was picked clean and seeded with their monstrous spores.
Finding nothing, they exited and walked, single file, in the direction of the mother-ship. Josie hugged her son, remembering similar lines for bread and unemployment only weeks before, lines they might have shared with those same unfortunates. She knew that she and her son would never walk such a line again.
At least their deaths would be clean. She wiped the green spores from her clothes, grabbed Jack’s hand, and ran into the shadows. 

————–

April Fools!

!sdrawkcab ... hsalFyadirF s'tI

!sdrawkcab ... hsalFyadirF s'tI

The excellent story you just read (CATHERINE RUSSELL’S “BREAD”) appears here on my blog as a part of the Great April Fool’s Day FridayFlash Blog Swap, organized by Tony Noland. You can find my story for today (ALL THE KING’S HORSES) at Catherine’s website, (who, by the way, was a joy to work with!)  http://ganymeder.com To read all the dozens of stories swapping around as a part of the GAFDFFBS, check out the GAFDFFBS index over at Tony’s blog Landless. For hundreds of thousands of words of fantastic flash fiction stories, check out the FridayFlash hashtag on Twitter. It happens every Friday! 

In Flanders Field … (Part I)

This is part of my “Guardian Angel” universe … for more explanation, see my Combat! story website at http://tec4.co.cc. It is set, as you might imagine from the title, during WW I. Part I of however many it takes me to write the story.  Exception: The April 1 blogswap between myself and another participant, who will be writing stories from a prompt by Tony Noland and publishing them in each others’ blogs.  Trust me, it will all make sense on the day. 🙂 <> is for dialog that would be in French if I didn’t want to confuse the non-French speakers.

“Deux semaines, quatre jours …” Marcel sighed and shifted back and forth, easing his boots out of the mud at the bottom of the trench and splashing the man next to him in the process.

Lieutenant Pierre LeMay looked away from the periscope rifle he was using and sighed. “Marcel, what in t’ell are you doing?”

“Sorry, Pie – Lieutenant. I just hate being stuck in t’is mess.”

Pierre chuckled. “Marcel, how is it any different from tromping around home?”

“Home was never t’is cold! And at least we could go inside and get warm and dry!”

“You should have taken Thierry up on his offer to join him in the Quartermaster’s office.” He went back to reviewing what he could see of the enemy’s position.

Marcel looked at his oldest friend, hurt. “I didn’t want to. We agreed to fight together, you and me.”

Pierre grinned. “Well, you can’t have it both ways, mon ami. Either you’re here and cold and wet, or in an office somewhere warm and dry.”

His friend muttered something under his breath in French that Pierre couldn’t quite make out, but which he could guess the general tenor of, and his grin widened. He put the periscope down again when a soldier splashed down the trench and came to a halt, saluting.

“Lieutenant LeMay, sir?”

“Yes, Private?” He returned the salute.

“Here are orders from Captain James, sir.”

“Thank you, Private.”

The young man stood at attention, pale and shivering.

“At ease, Private.” Pierre stopped in the act of opening the orders and looked at the runner. “Have you eaten today?”

“No, sir.” The young man wrapped his arms around himself in a futile attempt to keep warm.

“I think we can spare something,” he continued, scanning the orders. “Sergeant Dubois?”

“Yes, sir.”

“See to this man. Get him something to eat and let him warm up”, he continued, “inasmuch as that’s possible.”

“Yes, SIR!” Marcel herded the young man toward Stores. The two of them saluted an inattentive Lieutenant LeMay.

Bon Dieu, Pierre thought, do the people who write up these orders have any idea of what conditions are like here in the field? The terrain in front of him was torn by shells and as marshy as a Louisiana bayou from the continuous rain that had fallen for the last week. I’m going to lose half my men if we are supposed to go over the top into this mess. Why did I ever let them promote me?

The German positions in front of him were well dug in. The reconnaissance patrols he’d sent out assured him of that. They were entrenched behind earthen walls topped with barbed wire and wood and reinforced by machine guns on either flank.

It’s a good thing the Germans ignored us for so long. The initial placement of American troops had been south of the Allied positions, away from the German offensives. We’re under strength, too. They have promised me replacements every week for the last two months and we’ve received three men, where I need ten – or more. And those men were as green as the first leaves on a bald cypress tree. He folded the orders and replaced them in the envelope.

The first replacement, Koblentz, forgot everything he learned about his gas mask and had died in a surprise attack. Pierre had tried to reach the young man after getting his own mask on, but Koblentz had panicked and run, apparently thinking he could get away from the yellow-green cloud. The lieutenant watched, sick at heart, as the replacement floundered, tearing at his throat in agony until he finally died, contorted, in the mud.

Marcel cornered him afterwards, away from the others, and told him there was nothing he could have done and that he shouldn’t blame himself so for things that were out of his control. Rarely, Pierre lost his temper and told Marcel in Cajun patois that it was his fault, that from the moment he landed at St. Naizaire and received a commission, his job was to protect and guide his men. < T’ere’s not enough training, Marcel. I can’t train men and use t’em to fight at t’e same time. I’m ready to resign my commission and go back to fighting as an ordinary soldier. >

His friend let Pierre rant until he was done and then told him that he couldn’t quit. < They’ll put some green as grass lieutenant who has hardly picked up a gun up here and t’en all the men you’ve saved will get killed bien sûr. If your conscience is gettin’ t’e better of you, I t’ink t’at would bother you more t’an anything else. >

Pierre glared at Marcel and told him in the strongest language he knew that it was no time for him, Marcel, to make sense and if he couldn’t be any more help than this… He stopped and the two of them shared a rueful smile and a chuckle.

“T’at was some good swearin’. Denis couldn’t have done better.”

The lieutenant snorted and shook his head. He was still disappointed – when he had time to think about it – that his elder brother hadn’t been able to get past the physical.

“So do you feel better?”

Pierre sobered. “No. But it’ll have to do for now.”

(To be continued …)