Legacy – #ThreeWordWednesday (late again!), 03/26/2014

Cunning, Emaciated, Degenerate

Denis mounted the brownstone steps, thinking about the meeting he needed to attend later in the day. I’ve got to block this deal. Yes, it would probably make money — and destroy what’s left of a hundred lives or so. And destroy some greenspace. I don’t want any part of that. Fortunately for him, he wasn’t alone; there was a group at the company who wanted to stage a takeover, and Denis meant to help them.

His grandfather had picked a heck of time to demand a meeting.

He knocked on the door. Delagardie, who was nearly as aged and emaciated as his master, answered.

Before Denis could get a greeting out, Delagardie said in a barely-audible whisper, “Your grandfather is expecting you. Go straight up.”

The young man started for the stairs as the door squealed shut behind him.  Anyone expecting warmth and courtesy here had come to the last place where it could be found.

He stood outside the room for a minute. Something about the last minute summons bothered him. He and his mother had been estranged from his grandfather after the death of Denis’ father. While it was rumored that the old man was extremely wealthy it wasn’t an attraction for his grandson. With the idealism of youth, Denis had long ago decided it wasn’t a legacy he wanted any part of. In his eyes, the money was contaminated by the degenerate lifestyle and corrupt business practices his grandfather was infamous for.

“Denis. Come in. What are you waiting for?”

Reluctantly, he swung the door open and entered. Andrew DeFleur was laying in bed, his thin frame hardly seeming to hold the blankets off the mattress.

“Grandfather.” Denis bowed slightly. “You wanted to see me?”

“Yes. Sit down.”

Denis paused and then sat.

“I’m dying.  I doubt that comes as any surprise to you.”

What do I say to that? I’m sorry? What a shame? Should I care?

The old man put him out of his misery and chuckled with surprising strength. “I’ll spare you from trying to find a nice, hypocritical phrase. Your Great-aunt Esme would break into tears and that pious old fraud Uncle Jeffrey would preach a sermon over me. You don’t pretend — it’s one of the things I like about you. ”

“You hardly know me.”

A small, cynical smile came over Andrew’s face. “I know more than you think, young man.”

“May I ask why you had me come?” Denis said briskly. He had other and better things to do.

“Why, for the pleasure of your company, of course. Of course, not!” Andrew grasped a small glass of a slightly cloudy liquid and drank. “No, because I need to discuss my inheritance with you.”

Denis looked at his watch.  He had less than an hour to return to his office. He stood and prepared to leave.  “I don’t have time for this, grandfather, and I’m not  –”

“Sit DOWN!”

He did, involuntarily, feeling for the moment that he’d lost control over himself.

“Now.” His grandfather settled back on his pillows. “This isn’t something I can leave to just anyone.” A cunning smile crossed his face. “It requires someone decent, someone who is capable of making money but who doesn’t make money his first priority. Someone idealistic and fundamentally kind.  Someone like you, Denis.” The old man paused.  “There has to be some sacrifice involved, after all.”

Denis used every bit of his will to get up and leave, but he couldn’t budge.

Andrew swung his scrawny body up and off the side of the bed. “I wasn’t always like this. I don’t mean my age, but the kind of person I was.  We have a great deal in common, you and I — or we did, before my grandfather called me in, just like this.”

He reached out one apparently frail hand and gripped Denis’ wrist. With the other, he raised Denis’ chin so their eyes met and gazes locked.

He has a red highlight in his eyes, the paralyzed Denis thought. Why didn’t I ever notice that before?

A shimmer surrounded the old man and lifted away to form a sphere. It bobbed down the arm Andrew was using to hold Denis’, and slowly traveled up the younger man’s body.  It spread thin and sank into him.

The old man released Denis and collapsed onto the bed.

Denis, whose chin had dropped to his chest, slowly raised his head. He looked at the old man with no interest, stood, adjusted his coat and descended the stairs.

Delagardie met him at the door. “Mr. Andrew?”

“He’s dead.” Their eyes met, and Delagardie noted with pleasure the red glint in the younger man’s eyes. He handed Denis a key.

“I’ll make all the arrangements, sir.  You will be home this evening?”

“Indeed, I will.  But first I have a deal that I need to ensure goes through — and some friends to stab in the back.”  He left, a swagger in his step and a cold, cynical smile on his face.

Just a Feeling

6136085344_f675065475_zAnne turned on the radio and hurriedly cranked the volume down. The kids had finally fallen asleep and the last thing she wanted was to wake them up.

Suzette, her gentle Down’s Syndrome child, had been a good girl and slept right away, followed by Pat, the newest member of her little foster family – a golden-haired, dimpled six-month-old darling inexplicably left on the sidewalk in a baby carrier by a single mother who had apparently tired of being one. Matthew, the oldest at three, had been the tenacious one – wanting one more drink and one more story, until finally his eyes closed.

She wiped down the counter, loaded the dishwasher and started it. The music changed, and she grinned. I used to dance to that, she thought, and tried out a few rusty dance steps. Being a foster parent meant that she didn’t have much of a social life – at least not at the moment – and Anne hadn’t been out dancing since her divorce.

Spinning, a little off-balance, she giggled – and stopped abruptly at the site of a teary-eyed Matthew, standing at the entrance to the kitchen, holding the Hobbes she had crocheted for him.

“You’re supposed to be in bed.” Quietly, she walked over and scooped him up. “What’s wrong?”

“There’s a monster in my room, mommyAnnie!”

“A monster,” she said, “where?”

The little boy pointed up at an angle. “By the see’ing. Up.”

“Let’s go take a look.”

“No!” He struggled to get away from Anne. “Can’t go. Can’t!”

Anne was taken aback. Matthew had been the least trouble of any child put in her care, at an age to be helpful, and very much thnking of himself as a brave big brother. This isn’t like him …

“Ok, Buster.” She put Matthew on his chair at the dining room table and headed down the hall.

As she entered the room, she shut the door to avoid waking the other children and flipped on the light switch. Maybe it’s a spider. Or some kind of bug. But the walls were clean and gleaming in the light from the fixture. Nothing seemed to be hanging out of the closet, home for the monsters of her childhood.

On her way out the door, she stopped. Just for an instant, she felt something, rather than seeing it, but the moment passed and she decided that she had just picked up on Matthew’s heebie-jeebies. She shut the light off and headed back to the kitchen.

“Nothing there.”

“It ‘cared of you.” His eyes were still wide and he was sucking his thumb, something she hadn’t seen from him since the earliest days he’d been there.

“Scared of me? Why?”

“You girl.”

Scared of me because I’m female, huh? Just like most of the guys I seem to meet these days.

“You need to go back to bed, sweetie.”

Matthew shook his head violently. “No, pleez, mommyAnnie. Pleez. Mons’er’ll come back.”

“What did it look like?”

“Din’t see it. Feeled it. Feeled bad!”

Anne sighed. She still had quite a bit to do before bed. “Ok. Tell you what. You can sack out on the couch until I’m done. Will that help?”

He nodded and jumped up on the couch, pulling the afghan off the back to cover up with.

“Thank YOU!”

She went back to the kitchen and finished cleaning the stove. Opening the cabinets, she built a shopping list for the next day. As she worked, Anne felt a growing sense of unease. She tapped the pen on the counter and then went to look in on Matthew.

He had pulled the afghan up, almost covering his face. “MommyAnnie,” he whispered, “it’s here again.”

Anne knelt by the couch and brushed the hair from the little boy’s eyes. “Shh, honey. You must have woke up from a bad dream and it just stuck with you. It happens all the time.”

“No, no, no, no, no ….” Matthew teared up again. “It wants hurt me.”

“But not me?”

“It’s ‘cared of you.”

“Because I’m a girl.”

He nodded gravely and scrubbed the tears from his face.

She hugged him and they stayed there; neither moved for a long time. Abruptly, the tension broke.

Matthew scrambled off the couch and wrapped himself as far around her as he could. “It’s gone.”

I hate to admit this, but I felt something. I really did.

She cuddled him. “Think you can go back to bed?”


Anne walked him back to the room, tucked him in, gave Hobbes a kiss and went back to the kitchen thoughtfully.

“I don’t know what that was all about, but I’m glad it’s over.” She whistled as she emptied the dishwasher.Who ever heard of a monster that was scared of girls?” I guess Suzette’s safe, then.

She nearly fainted when an infant’s terrified scream came from Pat’s room.

Green Thumb, #FridayFlash, 06/02/2013

“I’m telling you, microwave ovens make poison!”

Tony was our trainer and when it came to working us out hard, there was no one better. But when he got onto one of his hobby horses, it was another story.

“One of my friends, he boiled water in the microwave and put it on one plant and took plain old tap water and put it on another one and the one that had water from the microwave put on it withered and died.

Bob looked at me and rolled his eyes.  I shrugged back. This was old ground for us.

Jeff, the new guy, shook his head. “Hey, it wasn’t a fair test.  Did he try boiling water the regular way? Boiling changes water.  It doesn’t matter how you do it.”

Tony glared at him narrowly. “Doesn’t matter. Lazybones! Up and give me three sets of ten burpees, no rest.”  As he watched us and did the “Marine DI” thing in our faces, I heard him mutter, “Wouldn’t make a difference. Nossir.”

Somewhere between set two and set three, the little kid in me that loved doing impromptu science experiments in my backyard decided to find out.

* * *

I set my parameters and picked up three seemingly alike basil plants from the produce department at Giant Eagle the next time I went in.  To do it properly, I should probably have grown my own, but I didn’t want to take the time.

The next day, I started.  The water went in identical glass mixing bowls – it was the only thing I could think of that could go in a regular oven and a microwave.  Who knew what having plastic or metal could do? I set them to boil and chill until they were the same temperature as the tap water. (Hey, I was something of a “science geek” once upon a time – what can I say?) All three plants were watered the same amount within moments of each other.  And the experiment was off!

* * *

I have to say that for a couple of weeks, it looked like the most boring experiment since Archimedes sat down in the bath.  All three plants grew a little, but there wasn’t any amazing deficit on the part of Micro (guess which plant that was), and Macro (the “regular” boiled water plant) and Control (tap water) weren’t substantially larger.

The next week in our training session, Bob and Jeff let me have it when I told them what I’d done.

“You’ve got to be kidding.” I thought Bob was going to drop his dumbbells.  Jeff shook his head.  I shrugged – not because that was the only way I knew to communicate, but because we were doing dumbbell shrugs and I had 10 more to do – 9 now.

“You’ll see,” Tony said, when Bob couldn’t resist kidding him about it. “You’ll see I was right and then you’ll stop microwaving.” When Bob snorted, Tony snapped, “And now, do 10 more shrugs.”

* * *

 It wasn’t until the second month that there was any difference between the plants.  Ironically, the smallest of the plants was Control, which made no sense to me. To my amused and only semi-interested eyes, it seemed that Control was shying away from the plants on either side of it.  I could almost see it trembling.

Day by day that week, it seemed to me that Control was losing leaves, although I couldn’t see where.  Finally, a week later, I decided to have the others over after our workout so I could show Tony how his friend’s theory had fallen through.  I was putting the finishing touches on some healthy snacks when the doorbell rang.

I opened the door to find Tony, Jeff and Bob.  They headed towards bottles of water, fresh veggies and dip.

“So what did you want to show us?” Jeff asked, around a mouthful of cauliflower.

“In here.  The one in the middle got tapwater, the one on the left got microwaved water and the one on the right, just plain boiled water,” I announced, and waved them into the kitchen. They preceded me – and stopped suddenly. I pushed my way through the three suddenly still men.

There was movement from the windowsill.  Micro unfurled a tendril from nowhere, pulled a leaf off of Control, and ran it through the remnants of the dip in the mixing bowl I’d used to prepare it.  Two leaves on its stem curled apart, revealing needle-sharp teeth and a tiny, dark-green gullet. Gulp. The leaf was gone.  Poor Control.  Macro followed suit from the other side and I swear I heard the smallest of squeaks from the scraggly little plant in the middle.

Bob idly crunched on a baby carrot.  “Well, you were right, Jeff.  Boiling water certainly does change things.”  He brushed a crumb off his coat and turned to leave.  “And Tony, I swear I’ll never water a plant with boiled water, ever.”

As he passed through the kitchen door, he turned to look at me.  “Just a question.  How do you plan to get rid of them?”

The rest of us exchanged glances. It looked as though I was going to be boiling water for a long time to come.

#ThreeWordWednesday (one day late :)), 5/23/13

Three Word Wednesday

Clever, Finish, Silky

Leslie sat at the intersection, leaned back and watched the semis blow by on the divided highway.

She couldn’t help feeling somewhere between smug and clever. Anderson didn’t have a chance. She reached back between the seats and touched the heavy briefcase. And now it’s all mine.

Leslie smirked and lifted a glass of whiskey from the cupholder. It went down smooth, smoky and silky and lit a fire inside. So fine.

Another trio of semis zoomed past. She signed and looked both ways. There just wasn’t any way to get on the road here. As soon as one group of trucks passed, another came along, driving too fast to let her in. There wasn’t enough space to step on it and get started, let alone get up to speed.

She caught a reflection in the windshield and glanced over her shoulder. A dark-colored Acura was approaching from the rear. Someone else who went the wrong way. Leslie sighed and leaned back, adjusting the rearview – and froze.

The driver of the Acura was – what was it? He? She? The other car stopped not a foot from her bumper and she risked another glimpse into the mirror.

From the neck down, it could have been any businessperson – no, a woman, she decided. It was wearing a grey suit, closed at the neck, with pearls draped around its neck.  But from the neck up, it was a horror, jaundiced, warty skin, reddish eyes and a loose, wet mouth like a crooked line drawn by a child, stretched in a twisted mockery of a smile.

Leslie reached over and touched the power lock control  All four door locks clicked shut.  Not that the other driver showed any evidence of getting out of the car,  but Leslie believed in safety first.  She eased up on the brake and moved toward the main road. The traffic pattern held – there was no break in the semis and she cursed the luck that put her on this little podunk road and not at an intersection with a traffic light.

With no warning, there was a thud and the car jerked. Startled, she slammed on the brakes. Leslie saw smoke that had to be coming from the churning tires of the Acura behind her, and she panicked as her car inched slowly toward the highway. She pushed the gear shift into ‘park’. The car kept moving. She yanked frantically on the hand brake to no effect. The tip of the hood was nearly over the white line and a double FedEx tractor trailer was coming, too close to have any hope of stopping.

Leslie grappled with the door handle before remembering she’d locked the door. She flipped the lock. Nothing. Jammed.  Oh, dear God, jammed. She tried opening the power windows, one window after another. Nothing.

Oh, why didn’t I spend the money on one of those hammers.  She pounded hysterically on the window as the car moved forward in a sudden lurch. A few more inches and she would be far enough out for one of the trucks to make very small pieces of herself and her car.

She turned around and looked at the driver of the car behind her. The red eyes were glowing with a manic glee and the bizarre grin stretched from ear to ear. She heard the engine of the Acura rev to an impossible pitch and her car leaped forward, straight in the path of a semi and its horrified driver.

At the finish, she had just enough time to reach back with a mixture of terror and apathy to once again touch the case that had meant so much just a few moments before.

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?

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?”


“Hold me, will you?”

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

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

“Emily, you know what we talked about…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Word Wednesday, 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.

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?”


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.


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.”


Frank dashed between two guys who were leaving their places and cut off another one approaching the same space. “Sorry, pal.” He pulled his zipper down and sighed in relief.

“Don’t do it.”

“What?” The interruption came from the man on his right. Between the splashing and the crowd around him, he wasn’t sure he’d heard him correctly.

“Don’t do it.” His new acquaintance was his height, maybe a little shorter, hair completely grey, cut in a way that felt oddly familiar to Frank.

“I think it’s a little late now,” he replied sarcastically, covering for his reaction. My god, he looks like me – say, oh, 20 years from now. If I had a really hard life.

“Oh, not that,” the other replied with the same sardonic smile. “I mean,” he looked around to see if anyone was paying attention. Intermission was nearly over and the others using the restroom were hurrying to get back to seats, to sons, wives or buddies. “I mean Angie.”

Frank twitched. “Sorry.” He zipped up and started to the sink. His companion came after him. “What about her?”

“I know what you’re planning for tonight.” Their eyes met in the mirror as Frank washed his hands. “Don’t do it.”

“Why not?” Frank focused on his hands, on the soap, on everything but the older man. He was angry. Who set this guy up? Charlie? Susan? Damn it!“Hell, why is it any of your business anyway? I’ve never seen you before in my life.”

“Oh, but I’ve seen you.  Everyday. Ever since about 1964 or so, when we were at the age when they say babies start developing self-awareness.  Remember the little mirror Mom strung over our crib?”

The question felt like a sucker punch to Frank.  He struggled to catch his breath and concentrated hard on the reality around him, trying to bring his world back into focus. Rich!It had to be his older brother who did this.  Hadn’t he just looked at Frank the night before, with a comment about how he’d been in a long dry spell with women and he hoped things were better with Frank.

“Tell Rich it didn’t work, whatever it was –“

“Rich had nothing to do with me being here. I’m YOU, Frank.”

“I don’t believe it.”

The older man rocked back on his heels, smiling. Frank thought his “older self” smiled like a shark on the prowl. “I know something only we know, something Rich and Susie and Steve have no idea about. Sister Therese, when we were 11 years old, remember? Remember looking through the dortoirwindows? How…”

“Stop!” Frank looked around. Not that anyone was that close, but it was not one of his more cherished memories and he didn’t particularly want to share it with anyone.  Of course, if this man in front of him was telling the truth – “Just be quiet.”

“Then listen to what I’m telling you. Yoube quiet for a minute.”

Frank paused, and then shoved his hands in his pockets. “Go ahead. You got two minutes.”

“Tonight you want to take her home, right? Take her home and stay.” Frank’s older self closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath.  “Believe me, you’d have enjoyed it.  A lot.  She’s amazing.” He opened his cold brown eyes and locked them with Frank’s. “But … even though she ought to be too old, you get her pregnant. She doesn’t tell you because when you decide it’s over, you tell her never to call you again.”

Frank shook his head to clear it. “I do what? Why?”

“Sandy puts the screws to you about Jenny. You can’t bear the thought of losing Jenny and you break both your heart and Angie’s and move on.” He continued, “Only one day you’re at the market where she shops and you see her and she’s big as a fucking house. Eight months along, easy. It takes you more than six months to find her – she moves. And when you do, she tells you to go away, that you made your choice and she doesn’t want you around her and your son.”

Frank gasped. My son? He turned away from the other. No one knew how badly he wanted a son. He loved Jenny, had from the moment she was born, but he’d wanted a son more than he could express. And Sandy had said “no”; no more children. A son!

There was something that was almost sympathy in the older man’s eyes. “I know what you’re thinking. But it doesn’t work out that way. When she shuts you out, you lose it. And when the smoke clears, she’s dead and the little guy is howling. You grab him and run for it. But they catch up with you and they take him and you’ll never see him again.”

Frank rocked back and forth.

“You get an all-expense paid vacation at the pen in Holloway. Not exactly fun-filled.” He grabbed Frank by the arm and shook him to get his attention. “We’re not that big, you and I.  Oh, we’re in good shape and all that, but we’re not very tall or nearly strong enough and I guarantee you that no one who has sex with you over the next 15 years will look anything like Angie.”

The younger man jerked his arm away, revolted.

“So here it is.  This is my last chance to change our lives. I tried this once before, but it turns out if you don’t take her home and she goes on the Subway, she’ll be killed. Some mugger or attempted rape. You know how she is – she fights back, only she winds up dead.”

“What kind of choice is that?”

“Not much of one, I grant you. Either way she winds up dead. There’s a third choice.”


“Take her home. Leave her there. Don’t touch her.”

Frank trembled. He thought of what they’d shared so far – it wasn’t enough, hadn’t been nearly enough. He wanted her. He wanted it all. Her long, soft hair, like flame, the tall, slender body … “I can’t – please don’t make me choose! Now that I know; now that I understand … I can change things. It doesn’t have to turn out …”

“Who are you talking to, bud?”

Frank spun around. An arena security guard was there, hands on hips.

“I was … where did he go?” He looked around, but the second period had begun and the concourse was empty, except for a few stragglers.


“Nobody. I mean, he must have taken off.” Frank brushed by the security guard and headed back to his seat.

After the game, Frank and Angie walked down the sidewalk. “Listen –“ They turned to each other almost simultaneously, and laughed. “I know you want to come home with me, but we both know you have to get back,” she said. “I’m just going to take the subway. There’s lots of people heading home, too. I’ll be fine.”

“I –”

“No, Frank, I insist. You get going. We’ll have time another day.”  She kissed him and walked briskly away, dodging through the crowd with the agility of a much younger woman.

He watched her go, torn. Looking down at his hands, he seemed to feel blood on them.

He could see her in the group ahead of him, auburn hair shining in the lights she passed, and he rocked back and forth in indecision.

He began to walk, slowly at first, then faster and faster, until at last he was running.


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.
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!

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!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!