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.

#ThreeWordWednesday, 3/5/2014 (fiction)

Credible, Decrepit, Pensive.

It had been more than 30 years since I left my hometown.

Frankly, I never expected to return. My folks had died when I was still in my 20s, my sister left the state, and it was just me. There was little to call me back, even though I was still about an hour away from home.  Somehow, the adventure gene was one I hadn’t gotten.

Then a group of my friends found me on Facebook. I don’t even know why I signed up. Curiosity, I guess. I reconnected without any desire to come home, or do the reunion thing.  In the span of time, 30 years isn’t much, but somehow time had attenuated my memories and the feelings attached to them.  So I did a credible job of responding to the “remember whens” and “whatever happened tos” and kept my emotional distance.

Then, about 2 weeks ago, someone posted that the houses on the street where I grew up were about to be demolished.  Some developer thought the small town needed a big-box strip mall and they’d chosen that area for it.

So here I was; I sat in the driveway, pensive, with no interest in going further.  No one had bothered me – the houses were already empty – and the place I had called home for 22 years was decrepit. The owners who’d had it after my folks died hadn’t taken very good care of it, I thought.

You’re going to call me weird, but I’ve always thought that an abandoned house was one of the saddest things imaginable. When I was a little girl, my grandparents’ house in the country was a target for people who’d decided to dump their unwanted pets. More times than I can count, I remembered a bewildered pet sitting by the side of the road, waiting for a loved person who would never return.

These houses felt the same way to me – as though they wondered what they had done wrong, why their families had left, feeling cold and lonely as the days passed.

I started my car and put it in gear, backing down the driveway and pulling out onto the deserted highway.  On an impulse, I tooted the horn as I drove away; I remember, thanks for the memories. So long.

Happy Belated #ThreeWordWednesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

#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.

Waste Not, Want Not – Threewordwednesday

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

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

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

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

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

From: jproctor@leaflab.com

To:  PresPriv521@whitehouse.gov

Subject: Project Ark

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

Three Word Wednesday, 1/4/2011

Naughty, Tactic, Zenith

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

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

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

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

You give me fire and I –“

You gentle me. Yes.”

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

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

“Xeri.”

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

“Always with you. Always.”

“I know. And I with you.”

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

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

“Always…”

Three Word Wednesday, 11/16/2011

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Impetus, Solace, Vindication

(Author’s note: This is the inevitable result of reading too many Mills & Boon/Harlequin romances)

She’d just turned the corner when he came out of the building ahead of her unexpectedly. She held her head up – under no circumstances would she give him the satisfaction of seeing how badly he’d hurt her.  Never again. Her pride gave her the impetus she needed to keep her face bland and uninterested.

“Ursula?”

His voice, warm and sensual, struck through to her core.  She wobbled. It’s just these stupid killer heels. I’m not affected by him, not at all.

“Jean-Paul.” Her eyes met his, calmly, she hoped, afraid he might see through her pretense. He’d always read her emotions far too easily.

“Why did you leave?”

“How can you ask that? After what you did?” She made a futile effort to yank her arm away from his restraining hand.

“You didn’t see what you thought you did. Only what Prunella wanted you to.”

Ursula turned away.

Jean-Paul pressed on. “Think about it! Nom d’un nom d’un nom! Would I want her when I could have you?” He sought her eyes, sought vindication.

Something broke inside her then. “Are you telling me the truth, Jean-Paul? Did you really not –“ Ursula couldn’t continue.

He pulled her into the solace of his arms. “Mon Dieu! I swear it, bien-aime!”

Their lips met in a passionate kiss, and the pink covers slammed shut.

“Ohhh, I knew she’d believe him! That Prunella!” The reader put The Frenchman and the Innocent Secretary aside and picked up The Nanny and the Spanish Prince. “I just love these books!”